A-Z of Pattern Adaptation: Armholes

A-Z of Pattern Adaptation: Armholes

True to my word, I’m introducing another feature … the Knitting Pattern Adaptation A-Z will take you through many issues you’ll need to consider when you’re adapting a knitting pattern (vintage or otherwise). I know what you’re thinking and no, I’m not entirely sure what I’ll do when I get to ‘X’ either, but I’ll knit that stitch when I come to it.

So here we go. A is for … Armholes (including Sleeves). No don’t shudder like that! This issue is one which is likely to put many people off adapting vintage patterns – vintage torsos were smaller than our own, and knitwear used negative ease (more of this in a future article), so you’ll find that the bust and shoulder measurements are too small for your own modern figure, or the armhole depth means a tighter sleeve than you’re used to. While you don’t want to stray too far from the vintage silhouette, you might find some adjustments necessary, so … you’ve widened the bust measurements successfully using your tension/gauge swatch as a key, but that means that the shoulder measurements are now just that bit too wide. Or you’ve calculated the depth of the armhole and it’s half an inch too tight … what to do?

The obvious answer is that you need to decrease more stitches and add more rows to the armhole shaping – still not feeling too confident? Well if you’re comfortable with something more than basic mathematics, you could re-calculate the curve using a trigonometric formula. If you’re anything like me, you’ll read up about how to do that, go over it five, six or ten times to try to bludgeon it into your head, then give up and turn to another method.

If you’d rather not boldly go where mathematicians have been before, you could try using some free online software to make your calculations for you, such as this handy piece of kit.

If you want to at least try to get to grips with the theory and  tread somewhere in between, the best way forward is to break down the sleeve anatomy and commit what you know to knitter’s graph paper, then re-plot the curve using your own measurements.

The most common sleeve you’ll find in vintage patterns is the fitted sleeve, the armhole of which will also accommodate variations (pleated, puff, box-cap etc), so let’s have a look at that shape.

Obviously you’ll be guided by your pattern as to how the sleeve is shaped, so you’ll need to assess how to make your adjustments by examining your original pattern and working out how it was designed, keeping an eye on the shaping proportions.

Armhole Shape

  1. Create some knitter’s graph paper using your tension/gauge guide (handy instructions right here).
  2. Use your pattern as a guide and work out the original armhole shaping on the graph paper, row by row.
  3. In a different colour, place markers for your preferred bust width, armhole height and shoulder measurements. Re-plot the armhole decreases to reach your own required shoulder measurements.

Sleeve Shape

  1. Use your pattern as a guide and work out the original sleeve shape on the graph paper, row by row.
  2. Bear in mind that the sleeve cap height will not equal the bodice armhole height: the cast-off edge of the sleeve will be distributed equally over the front and back of the shoulder and therefore adds to the sleeve height.
  3. You’ll often find that the initial cast off as the sleeve shaping begins will roughly equals half of the amount of stitches to be decreased overall – this is a good guideline to follow when you revise your sleeve shape.
  4. Re-plot your sleeve shape using your own carefully taken measurements (more about Measurements in another A-Z article).
  5. To decide how many stitches you want to cast off at the top of the sleeve, establish a rough ratio of sleeve-crown height (excxluding cast-off edge) to arnhle height (eg, the sleeve-crown height might equal about three quarters of the armhole height, meaning the cast-off edge measures about one quarter.
  6. Plot a line from the cast off stitches to the top of the sleeve crown, and the shoulder of the armhole.

To a certain extent you will be guided by your pattern and will see a rhythm forming where the decreases are steep or shallow – allow this to guide you using your revised measurements so that the shape you end up with is as similar to the original pattern as possible.

There are many different approaches to calculating sleeves and this is a pretty simple method, but hopefully this will give you a head-start. If you want to read up further about fitted sleeve theory, I also recommend this fitted sleeve article from the ever-fabulous Knitty.com.

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