I’m in an awkward, teenager type stage with my knitting right now. I’m no longer a novice. I can read a pattern, I know how to make a bunch of different stitches, I’m comfortable with one method of casting on. But at the same time I still have a lot to learn. I’m somewhere in the advanced beginner (or maybe intermediate?) range in skill, which means I know enough to be overwhelmed by what I don’t know. With my last project, tackled one of those challenges: how to adjust a knitting pattern for a different yarn weight.
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The Project: Lace Socks
I picked up two skeins of yarn from a local shop a while back. I didn’t have a specific pattern in mind when I bought them, I naively assumed that any skein labeled “sock yarn” would be the right size to use in any sock pattern that used standard sock weight yarn.
When I got home I started looking for a pattern to use. However, I kept running into a small problem: I wanted to read through the pattern before I committed, but (for good and obvious reasons) that just isn’t possible with digital download patterns.
Then I remembered a knitting pattern designer that I’d seen recommended in a Twitter thread a few months previously. On her website, A Bee In The Bonnet, the designer had a couple of free patterns including a lace sock pattern. After reading through the pattern, I felt confident that this was something I could actually make. So, I printed out the pattern, picked one of the yarns I’d bought (Baah Sonoma yarn in Smoke’s On You), and got to work.
Before starting on the socks I did a gauge swatch. Actually, I did three. The first one was on the pair of double pointed needles of unknown size that came with The Crafter’s Box sock kit I did last winter. When it was clear that those needles were way too big, I placed an order from the Etsy shop YarnShop4You for two new sets of double pointed needles, sizes 0 and 1.
On the smallest needles I was able to get fairly close to gauge, about 35×44 instead of 32X40. According to the size chart I was between a small and a medium, so I decided to make the smaller size in hopes that my finished socks would end up between the two. It seemed like a solid plan. I thought it would be fine.
Reader, it was not fine.
The 1×1 ribbed cuff looked right, but when I transitioned to the lace portion of the leg things started looking off. When I tried on the leg it still fit OK, so I decided to keep going. However, after I finished the heal flap and turned the heal it was clear that the socks were going to be comically large. It looked like I had at least 10 stitches too many.
So, I pulled everything out and assessed my options. After looking at this explanation of yarn weights by Knit Picks, I was pretty sure that what the store had labeled as “sock weight” was DK weight and according to the pattern I needed fingering weight yarn. Checking the yarn manufacturers website confirmed this. Because the pattern used very small needles it was physically impossible for me to make gauge with the yarn I was using. I briefly considered buying a different yarn in the correct weight, but I really wanted to work with what I already had.
I was already using the smallest possible needles, so going down wasn’t an option. I thought about using a completely different pattern, but most other sock patterns had the same gauge requirements. The only option left was to figure out how to adjust a knitting pattern for a different yarn weight.
Adjusting the Number of Cast-On Stitches
This was my first time trying to work out how to adjust a knitting pattern for a different yarn weight, so my changes were mostly educated guesswork. Because knitting is a non-destructive process, I went right into the project without any additional testing. I figured the worst thing that could happen if I failed was that I’d need to pull out all my work again.
Because I’d already knit about 75% of the original sock pattern, I had a pretty good understanding of what was going on. The cuff was a simple 1×1 rib, so as long as I took an even number of stitches out it would be unaffected.
The lace pattern on the leg needed more thought. The lace pattern was an 8 stitch repeat, so I wanted to take a multiple of 8 stitches out to avoid messing with the pattern too much. Based on my too-big sample, I needed to take at least 10 stitches out. Removing just 8 stitches wasn’t going to be enough to get the tight fit I wanted, so I opted to cast on with 16 fewer stitches than the smallest size (64 stitches). This meant that I cast on 48 stitches to start.
Once I had knit the cuff and about 2″ of the leg, I tried the socks on. The fit was just right, so I continued on until I had 6″ of leg total, as specified in the pattern.
Adjusting the Heel
When I got to the heel, I used half my total number of stitches (24) to form the base of the heel flap. I used this same number for the rows, as the pattern used this 1 to 1 proportion for the heel flap. It worked out perfectly.
Turning the heel was a bit more of challenge to figure out. After going through my options, I decided to knit 4 stitches less than the original pattern for step 1. My logic was that was trying to knit to just past the center of the heal and since I had taken 8 stitches out of my working section then taking 4 out now would balance things. This meant I took 14 stitches rather than 18. I am reasonably sure that it worked out right, but I often get a little lost when turning the heel and fudge things a bit. Either way, it was close enough for my purposes!
The gusset used a simple decrease pattern and so didn’t need any significant adjustments. I picked up 12 stitches along each side (half the number of rows in my heel), and then the one extra stitch on each side as specified in the pattern.I just worked the pattern until I got back to my original stitch count of 48.
Finishing the Toe
Like the leg, the main part of the foot didn’t need any adjustments. I just knit until I was the correct distance from the end of my foot (about 2.5 inches)
Once I got to the toe I made one minor adjustment to compensate for the longer length in my stitches. The sock uses a round toe, so the change was very simple: every time I knit a decrease row, I then knit one fewer plain rows before moving on to the next decrease row. So, if I was supposed to knit 6 plain rows I knit 5 or if I was supposed to knit 2 plain rows I knit 1. This alteration was another educated guess, but lucky for me the toe ended up looking exactly as it should have on the first try.
The only real issue I ran into was that I ran out of the Baah yarn I’d been using right before I got to the toe on the second sock. I hadn’t paid attention to the yardage requirements to begin with (oops) and then I messed around with the pattern, so I came up just a little bit short. I didn’t want to buy a second skien just for the toe, so I subbed in the Madeline Tosh yarn for that last little bit. It’s a little less soft and a little bigger than the Baah, but still worked just fine. And having one slightly different toe makes me laugh, so I consider it a win.
I’m overall very happy with the socks. The result is a little less dainty and fine then the original pattern, they fit my feet well and turned out really cute. I learned some important lessons about how to adjust a knitting pattern for a different yarn weight. I also now feel like I understand more about yarn weight and in the future will be paying attention better attention to my gauge. I feel like if everything had gone smoothly I wouldn’t have learned as much, so I’m even happy about the parts that were frustrating.
I also found the lace pattern enjoyable to knit. The way it was written made it really easy to read my own knitting as I was working. This meant that if I put it down and picked it up a few days later, I could easily figure out where I was in the lace repeat.
Another benefit of this project was that I now feel confident that I can adjust sock patterns when I need to. that makes me a lot less nervous about using new patterns. The great thing is there are so many cute options everywhere, including in the A Bee In The Bonnet Etsy shop, to try! Next time I want to knit a pair of socks I’m definitely going to try one of her paid patterns.
Do you know a good method for altering knitting patterns? Or have you just been fumbling around like me? Let me know in the comments!