There are a few resources which anyone approaching pattern adaptation…
D is for … Deconstruction
The first thing you need to do when you’re about to adapt an already existing pattern is to get to grips with the original and glean as much information as you can out of it – to do that you have to look at each element to see what makes it tick.
Most knitting patterns, even vintage ones, are broken down into segments which we’re familiar with today and will guide you through making up the garment: Materials, Tension (or Gauge), Measurements, Abbreviations, Instructions and Making Up.
Even if you’ve never heard of the yarn suggested, this section can tell you a lot about what might be a good substitute. Have a look at the garment image, how it drapes – does it have a ‘soft’ look to it, or a sheen, or is it a firm fabric with good, clear stitch definition and a firm drape? The size of needles used (a conversion chart will come in handy) is the biggest clue – the general rule of thumb for a standard fabric drape is the finer the needle, the finer the yarn. UK imperials needle sizes 9 – 13 (US sizes 5 – 1) are the metric equivalent of 3.75 – 2.25mm, and are the most common suspects in these vintage patterns, so when you come across these needle sizes you know you’re generally dealing with a fine yarn (anything from 4-ply to 2-ply.)
This is a vital key to unlocking the pattern. Not all vintage patterns will give you tension guidance, although it was becoming more standard by the 1940s, and even a good percentage of 1930s patterns will include it. If the pattern doesn’t include a tension guide, it’s by no means the end of the story, but you’ll need a lot more guesswork.
Read through the instructions thoroughly, step by step, to identify any problems. If you come across an indecipherable enigma, turn to your swatch and try it out on a test piece or pick up your notebook and try to sketch it out. Vintage patterns can contain errors so sometimes you’ll need to trust your instincts when you think something’s not quite right. Don’t forget the vital part at he end, the ‘Make Up’ section. You can find all the clues you need here about the construction of your garment and you may even be able to fill in some gaps that weren’t clear from the main instructions.
4. Piecing Together the Original Measurements
One good way to break the pattern down is to draw up a table of statistics taken from the instructions. There may be a ‘measurements’ section included at the beginning of the pattern, although these often don’t give you the ‘actual measurements’ and won’t allow for any negative ease. It’s a good idea to check this by going through the pattern and working the actual measurements using your tension/gauge guide.
Using the Bestway ‘Tea-Time Jumper’ as an example (available to download here), we can work out the following:
|Yarn||Golden Eagle Lustre Suede 3-ply|
|Needles||10 & 12|
|Tension/gauge||7 sts & 10 rows = 1″ (25cm) over main pattern no No.10 needles|
|Bust measurements||34″ to 37″ (85 to 92.5cm)|
|Length from back neck-lower edge||18″ (45cm)|
|Sleeve down underarm||5″ (12.5cm)|
|Waistband ribbing||4″ (10cm)|
|Stitch pattern group count||Groups of 12 sts + 2 extra over 10 rows|
There are gaps in our information: measurements such as the depth of the armhole and the length from armhole to hem would be useful here, as would a more accurate bust measurement (the broad range of 34-37″ (85 – 92.5cm) implies some stretching and ease), so by using your tension guide and reading closely through the pattern, you can make further assumptions about these measurements.
For example, from the pattern instructions you can work out that 67 rows are worked from the start of the armhole shaping to shoulder edge, which equals 6 3/4″ (16.75cm). How did I reach that total? The tension guide tells me that 10 rows = 1″ (2.5cm), so I divided 67 (rows) by 10. Now for the bust measurement: after the waistband ribbing, the pattern increases the stitch count to 122 sts where it remains until the armhole shaping, making it the widest point at the bust. To find the measurement for this widest point, I divided 122 (sts) by 7 (st tension) = 17 3/8″ (44.1cm). Double that to give you the actual bust measurement (approx 35″ (87.5cm)).
Once you’ve taken your own measurements (more of which later), compare them with the pattern’s original measurements to find out where you need to make changes.
In effect, by deconstructing your pattern you’re demystifying the process, and when you use this information in conjunction with your sketches and charts (see ‘C is for Charts’ in an earlier post), you’ll find yourself ready to launch yourself into adapting the pattern to your own requirements.