This lesson is little different than some of the others I’ve written: this one is designed to share a little less about how I use Stitchmastery and provide more of an insight into the design process itself.
A problem that designers often struggle with – and one that you may well have encountered yourself with the #stitchmasteryis7 anniversary mitten-along – is all about the size of pattern repeats.
I’m on the record having strong feelings about this: I don’t think “one size fits all” patterns are particularly great. If we are going to go to the trouble of making something, knitting something, shouldn’t it fit? One of the greatest joys of being a maker, for me, is that I can make something the right size to fit my own particular size and shape. I’m on the not-very-tall side, with small feet and hands, and a curvy figure.
As a knitter I always look for patterns that offer a size that works for me. Even scarves and shawls don’t always work in one size. What’s a nice cozy double-wrap on my 6-foot tall best friend is long enough to drag on the ground for me. And a lovely shoulder-covering shawl on me is barely a kerchief on her.
And so, as a designer, I’m always looking for ways to size patterns, to grade them. (This is what grading means – the scaling of a pattern to multiple sizes.)
Where it gets challenging is with larger pattern repeats. I want to share with you some of strategies for grading them, specifically in the context of mittens, hats and socks. It’s a bit different for garments – items with a larger stitch count, and I’ll cover that situation in a different column.
Let me share examples with you from two of my own designs.
I’m going to use a small mitten chart as an example, not really to proportions, but you’ll get the idea! Colourwork mittens often come in a single size, because of the complexity of the colour patterns.
But they really needn’t.
Many colourwork mittens have a ‘seam’ element, dividing the front from the back. It’s there for two reasons: to hide the jog in the colourwork, but also to help with sizing.
A one-stitch vertical stripe worked in the contrast colour looks tidy in this pattern:
You can hide extra stitches around that seam: widen it to 3 stitches, which adds two stitches to the chart, four stitches overall – another size!
And then adding background stitches around the motif, and changing up the seam adds another four stitches overall. It’s the same colourwork pattern, the expansions don’t require any complicated changes at all.
You can also play with the centre pattern. In this example, the chart shows the largest size. If I want to go smaller, I can remove some of the outer edge of the colourwork pattern, without disturbing the overall pattern integrity.
In this sample chart, I’ve added borders to indicate stitches that only apply to the larger size. Note the decreases highlighted in red. This necessitates a special note for round 29: those decreases only apply to the larger size. If space permitted, and my pattern was targeted at less experienced knitters, I would likely choose to produce two different charts here. But you can see with these borders how the two sizes would relate to each other.
These types of modifications and work very well with even the most complex of patterns – a handful of edge and seam stitches are a powerful thing.
I designed a sock pattern for my first book, using a combination of cable and rib motif. The pattern stitch as it appeared in the original stitch dictionary was a 12-stitch cable and rib combo. The size of the repeat gave me very few options for sock sizes: 48, 60 and 72. These are too far apart for sock sizes. When working at fingering/4-ply gauges, I like to have sizes no more than 4-6 stitches apart. So I started messing with the pattern.
The key for me is to create a larger chart, to see how the motifs fit and work together. I create at least two or three repeats across and up and down, to see how the patterns fit together.
And looking at this gave me lots of ideas for changing the pattern in small but helpful ways.
In ribbing patterns like this, the width of the purl rib is less obvious – and therefore more easily modified without changing the substance of the pattern.
I created a 14-stitch version by adding an extra purl stich either side of the cables. That gives me more sock options, adding 56 and 70.
Now I’ve got 48, 56, 60, 70 and 72: 48, 60 and 72 use the 12-stitch repeat; 56 and 70 use the 14-stitch repeat.
When including the charts in a pattern write-up, you can simplify somewhat, and have a single chart, with columns that are marked as only for specific sizes. (This works better than it did for the colourwork pattern, since there’s no shaping to worry about.)
I chose to go this way because the difference in the pattern is less visible – I’ve just added a bit of width to the plain sections. You can also add width to the knit ribs with relatively little visible effect. Making the plain knit rib 3 stitches wide instead of 2 gives you even more options – you’ve got, potentially 12-, 13-, 14- and 15-stitch repeats and all the multiples that those offer. It’s true that the sizes won’t look exactly the same, but the change is relatively minor, and as long as you explain how you’ve graded it in the pattern instructions, you’ll be fine.
I sincerely doubt that a knitter would even notice that their own work has a slightly wider purl rib than the sample shown in the photos, and chances are good a knit rib difference won’t be noticed, either. Now, I’m not suggesting you lie to your knitters! I’m just saying that these variations still can safely be considered as producing the same design.
But you can also scale the entire pattern.
This becomes particularly useful when you’re creating a wide range of sizes, and you want the overall motif to be proportioned properly. For example, in this case, I played with two different aspects of it.
On the left, I kept the same overall proportions for the motif, the same rib width, but just had the o-shape get taller and wider by adding one more out-cross (and of course therefore its corresponding in-cross). This creates a slightly elongated effect, which you may or may not like.
And then I went one step further: I widened the knit ribs to 3 and 6 stitches. I think this one looks a little more balanced. One aspect of the original cable was that the width of the purl section in the center of the ‘o’ motif is the same as the width of the core rib. This second version retains that, and I think it’s a bit more pleasing, and a bit more balanced.
Although not “the same” pattern we started with, it maintains the look and structure very nicely.
I hope that these suggestions give you some ideas for grading your patterned knits. A properly graded pattern with multiple sizes allows you to better fit an item, if you’re making it for yourself – and if you’re selling the pattern, it gives you a broader potential target market. Good for everyone!