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Change the Size of a Knitting Pattern

Updated on June 16, 2015

Tiny Scarf Knit in the Round

Math for Knitters: Fear Not!

As a knitter with an engineering degree, I recognize knitting as applied mathematics. Combine arithmetic and geometry with yarn and get whatever sizes and shapes you want to create. You need not know calculus, thank goodness, but if you can work percentages and ratios you can scale a knitting pattern up or down in size as needed instead of having to pick a size that doesn't fit perfectly.

Be master of your knitting by using some arithmetic and your gauge swatch (which you knit for every project, right?!) I'll use a scarf as an example, since it is a simple rectangle and the math is very simple. I have knit several Dr. Who reproduction scarves--enormous, monster scarves that overwhelm a small person. I decided I'd like to make a scaled-down version that was more practical for everyday wear, especially for the South, where the warmth of a nine-foot-long, extra-wide scarf is rarely called for.

The Dr. Who scarf is worked in stripes of various widths and the pattern states how many garter ridges (one garter ridge is two rows) in each color band. I wanted my smaller scarf to be 1/2 as wide and 2/3 as long as the larger scarves, so I cast on half the stitches called for in my pattern (20 instead of 40) to begin. The scarf is a stripe pattern with different numbers of garter ridges in each color. If a stripe was 3 ridges wide, I reduced the number of ridges by 1/3, so I knitted 2 ridges instead of 3. For numbers not divisible by 3, I rounded to the nearest multiple of 3, e.g. 10 is closest to 9, so two-thirds of nine is 6 ridges. This is easy mental math for scaling a simple pattern.

My Full-Scale and Scaled-Down Scarves - Math Can be Fun and Attractive

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Full-Sized Season 12.5 Dr. Who ScarfA full-sized scarf next to a scaled-down scarf
Full-Sized Season 12.5 Dr. Who Scarf
Full-Sized Season 12.5 Dr. Who Scarf
A full-sized scarf next to a scaled-down scarf
A full-sized scarf next to a scaled-down scarf

Knitting? There are Apps for That! - Knitting Calculation and Counting Tools

Knitting needles may be low-tech devices, but that doesn't mean we can't enhance knitting with electronics where appropriate. Use apps to help you with knitting calculations or hire me to do a size conversion for you.

Knitting Calculator
Knitting Calculator

Quickly do the calculations needed to convert among yarns of varying yardages. This app is handy when you find a sale at the yarn shop and want to buy enough for a project.

 
Stitch Counter
Stitch Counter

Count stitches with a tap of your Android device.

 

Scaling or Sizing More Complicated Projects

Sweaters and Such

Changing length is usually a simple thing to do. Just knit more rows to make longer sleeves or a longer skirt. Changing width can be tricky, however. When changing the number of stitches in a row, make sure you don't interfere with a pattern stitch, e.g. a 4 stitch repeat means you must add or subtract stitches in groups of 4. Also make sure that increases or decreases remain spaced properly around a garment.

For projects with shaping such as sweaters, I recommend Elizabeth Zimmerman's percentage system, as explained in her excellent book, Knitting Without Tears. There is also a wonderful resource below which gives charts for sweaters in multiple sizes at various gauges--just knit a swatch and find your size on the appropriate chart.

Those with more confidence in their math skills can work out the percentage size reduction and translate that to armhole decreases and other more involved shapes. Proceed at your own risk, though, and be prepared to rip if necessary. Taking frequent measurements as you go or trying on at key junctures can help keep you on track. Be sure to write down what you do so you can do it again if you like the results!

Technical Knitting - Learn about design, gauge, and sizing

Get a sweater "recipe" book or learn to create your own patterns from scratch.

The Knitter's Handy Book of Sweater Patterns
The Knitter's Handy Book of Sweater Patterns

Knit a swatch, find your gauge, pick a style, find your size. All the math has been done for you!

 

Quick Poll

Do you ever resize your knitting patterns?

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    • jennabee25 profile image

      Jenn Dixon 2 years ago from PA

      I'm afraid I usually stick to the patterns. When I try to change anything, bad things happen, and I end up with a misshapen end product.

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