A-Z of Pattern Adaptation: Charts

A-Z of Pattern Adaptation: Charts

C is for … Charts.

Planning out your pattern adaptation is a system of logical steps. Often when we’re faced with a series of unknown quantities, the instinct is to panic or flee, or at least write it off as beyond our experience, but that’s one of the delights of knitting patterns: everything is solvable if you commit what you know to paper and connect the dots. Even those who tell themselves they’re rubbish at maths will be surprised how logical and straightforward a bit of simple arithmetic can be – see it as a way of creating a definitive map for your garment to guide you around the contours and stitch territory.

The kind of charts you’ll create when you approach your pattern will depend on how comfortable you feel with logistics and mathematical conundrums. The way I see it is that you can approach the problem from an analog or a digital angle: analog is for those whose shutters come down immediately they see a mathematical equation and who would prefer a visual sketch of their garment, digital is a spreadsheet approach which uses purely numbers. I prefer to use both – the analog gives me a firm visual, the digital confirms my calculations and (hopefully) doesn’t leave room for error. Here are the three chart methods you might find me using on a long winter night:

1. Analog Charts: That is, commit everything to pencil and paper. I still use this approach when I’m deconstructing a vintage pattern as it helps me to get my head around what the intention of the original designer was.

2. Digital Charts: An essential tool for knitwear designers, created using spreadsheets which do the calculations for you. Particularly useful when you’re plotting out more than one size.

3. Colourwork/Stitch Charts: For use when the pattern you’re knitting from uses colourwork or stitch patterns.


When you look at a pattern, you’re facing unknown territory. We’re very used to knitting from patterns without question, putting our faith in the designer and taking every instruction as gospel. When we knit from someone else’s instructions with the intention of altering the design or materials we need to do a lot more questioning – this in turn gives us a better idea of what the original garment construction was, enabling us to go off-road and make our own adjustments.

You can do this in two ways:

a) transfer everything you know about the pattern into a sketch, including measurements;
b) create an actual-size pattern by using knitters graph paper.

The first approach is best handled by arming yourself with a good sketchbook and pencil. Then, using the pattern instructions as a guide, draw out the main shapes involved (by reading the pattern through you’ll be able to follow the increase and decrease instructions to create the shape).

The pattern’s introductory text may have already provided you with some basic measurements, but don’t rely on those – the only way to be completely sure is to work out the measurements for yourself, so the next bit involves a bit of simple arithmetic: take the original tension gauge and use it as a key to unlock the pattern. For example, let’s take the Bestway Tea-Time pattern (which is handily free to download). Instructions for The Back are as follows:

  1. Tension = 7 sts/10 rows to 1″ (2.5cms) on No.10 (3.25mm) needles.
  2. Main stitch pattern is worked over 10 rows.
  3. Cast on 102 sts. Knit for 4″ (10cm) in k.1 p.1 rib.
  4. Increase to 122 sts (122 ÷ 7 (sts. per inch) = 17 3/8″ (44.1cm).
  5. Work 7 pattern repeats without shaping (70 rows. 70 ÷ 10 (rows per inch) = 7″ (17.5cm).
  6. Shape armholes by decreasing, reducing st. count to 98 sts. (98 ÷ 7 (sts. per inch) = 14″ (35cm).
  7. Continue without shaping to shoulder (67 rows = 6.75″ (16.75cm).

The sketch you end up with will look something like this (probably better if you’re a more skilled artist than I):

You can then continue to sketch out the rest of the pattern elements. Once you’ve uncovered the original garment construction, you can take your own measurements (more of which in a later post), re-sketch a blank outline and apply your adjustments using your own tension swatch.

Actual-Size Pattern
The second approach involves creating a full-size version of the original pattern using knitter’s graph paper (find out how to make your own graph paper here) or dressmaker’s spot-and-cross paper and is not that dissimilar to the above method – the difference is it gives you a completely accurate picture of what the original measurements were. You can then use this as a base for your revised pattern, translating the shaping into knitted fabric by using your tension calculations.

The image below shows the original measurements of the Tea-Time jumper plotted out in blue, with my revised measurements in red.


Digital charts are much beloved by professional designers and create a safe method of double-checking your mathematics and calculations by using a spreadsheet. They are almost essential when you’re planning to grade your pattern for more than one size and allow the computer to make the calculations for you, leaving little room for human error.

If you’re familiar with spreadsheet methods, essentially what you’re doing is getting the spreadsheet to carry out the same calculations you made in the ‘sketch’ method above, as ever by using the tension gauge as the key and creating multiplication and division formulas in different cells for you.

I’m not going to go into it in-depth here as it’s a fairly lengthy subject (although I might do in a future post), but there’s a basic ‘how-to’ guide here. If you want to go into it in more detail, Craftsy also offer a good (fee-based) course on Sizing Knitwear which gives you an idea of how to set up your own spreadsheets.


Whenever you see a classic fair isle yoke you’re instantly reminded of those great 1940s patterns. On closer inspection you’ll find that the majority of those patterns will be written out line by line rather than give you the graphic charts we’re more used to nowadays. Colour patterns are usually worked in repeat groups which you might need to adjust if you’re planning to widen a garment, and the best way to do this is to chart out the original pattern by decoding the original instructions – stitch patterns can be worked out in the same way. I will go into this in more depth in a future blog post (clue, it will start with the letter ‘F’).

However you approach your charts just bear in mind that you don’t need to be a complete maths expert or a fantastic fashion illustrator – these charts are meant for your use alone so as long as you can read and translate them clearly, it really doesn’t matter what they look like!

Happy charting …


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