Daily Archives: March 29, 2010

On sizing with needles

In the knitting world there are different ways of changing the size of the thing you are knitting. In general, we expect knitting patterns to include more than one size, or if not multiple sizes then at the very least some form of guidelines for modifying the size if necessary. Most of the time this happens by changing the number of stitches and possibly also the number of repeats of a particular stitch pattern involved in the garment.

However, occasionally you will encounter a knitting pattern which accomplishes a change in sizing by changing the needle size, and maintaining the same (or, mostly the same) pattern instructions otherwise. The effect is that the number of stitches stays the same, but the gauge – and thus the size of the finished object – changes. This approach is less common, and I know that some industry guidelines actively discourage it. In general, I would argue that it is not an ideal approach in all situations, but I am quite in favour of applying this technique in certain instances. My Viper Pilots sock pattern as well as my 14 Karat sock pattern (pictured below), both used this technique, and the glove pattern I’m about to release this week (sneak peek below) also uses this method. The socks I’m working on for Elinor’s Socks Revived contest will likely also employ the changing-size-by-by-changing-gauge technique. I thought I’d take a moment to explain why I use this approach in some scenarios.


First, let me say that I don’t think this is an ideal approach for all garments. Sweaters or knee socks or other garments that need to be fitted to a large portion of your body should absolutely come with a variety of size instructions and this is best accomplished by changing the number of stitches. Changing the gauge in both row and stitch may not accomplish the exact proportionalitiy you want.

However, if we’re talking about relatively small garments that are going on your hands and feet, there’s a better likelihood of still achieving good proportional fit by changing gauge. By changing needle size you can easily achieve a better fit in circumference, while still maintaining the freedom to adjust length as needed. For example, in both the Viper Pilots and 14 Karat socks, I still include instructions to work the charted pattern until X inches before you wish to start the toe – this still accommodates a variety of foot lengths. The same can be said for gloves.


Using this approach also allows you to maintain integrity of the stitch pattern being used, without having to add or remove stitches. This is important for patterns which would become quite visually different with a change in stitch number, and when there is no obvious repeat of a motif.

Still, the main reason I like to use this approach – for socks in particular – is to conserve yardage. I have size 11 feet and I am extremely mindful of that fact when I select sock yarn for my own socks or for my designs. You will not find me using sock yarns with yardage less than 350-360 yards per 100g(ish) skein, and in fact i’m much more comfortable if that number is closer to 400 yards than anything else. My sock yarn stash reflects this.

Essentially, if you have big feet and are worried about having enough yarn left to do the socks you want at the length you want, the easiest way to add more worry to that equation is to increase the stitch count. More stitches use more yarn. I’m pretty comfortable up to about 72 or even 74 stitches in circumference on a sock, but upwards of that number I get pretty nervous. If you can achieve the same size difference of adding 6-8 stitches over 2.5mm needles than what you would get by simply increasing to 2.75mm needles, then I’m going to go for the needle change if it means the sock will fit me AND it will still look good and meet my yarnly needs. (The socks below are two separate sizes, worked using exactly the same pattern instructions – the difference is one needle size.)


Now, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, but Glenna, if we change the gauge how do we know we can still use the same yarn? Well, sometimes you don’t. You may well have to use a different yarn from what the original pattern sample uses. (I will often make suggestions when I do this). When it all comes down to it, I do not see this as a problem.

Many yarns are versatile and will accommodate a slight gauge change without too much trouble. This is, incidentally, why I tend to prefer the moderate fingering weight area – not too light, but still squishy. Yarns like Tanis Fiber Arts fingering weight, Madelinetosh Tosh Sock, Dream in Color Smooshy, Sweet Sheep Tight Twist, Fleece Artist merino sock, these all come to mind in this category. Many yarns will allow a slight change in gauge and still look good at either gauge. If you change the gauge drastically enough that you need to jump an entire category – i.e. from fingering weight up to sport weight, or sport weight up to DK, then that’s possible, too.

Whether or not you are using the same yarn as the pattern sample, you still have to ask yourself the same questions about whether or not you are getting the gauge you want. And the modern knitting world we live in has So. Much. Yarn. We have a lot of options if we want to change the yarn – and if it’s worth it to you to knit the pattern the way you want, it’s worth taking the time and effort to find the right yarn.

This has been today’s knitterly ramblings from my brain. Catch you again next time, with yet another pattern release! I’m on fire, I tells ya. On fire.


Filed under design, fearless knitting, knitting knowledge