How to change needle size in knitting pattern

How to change needle size in knitting pattern DEFAULT

How to Adjust Your Gauge in Knitting

We all know that we're supposed to knit gauge swatches and do whatever we have to do to make sure we're getting the same number of stitches per inch as a pattern calls for. If you don't take the time to check your gauge and it ends up being way off from what the pattern suggested, you'll end up with a project that's much bigger—or smaller—than you intended.

But it's not always easy to figure out what to do to alter your gauge. If you've knit a swatch with the needles specified and it's not right, what can you do?

Go Up a Needle Size

A bigger needle is what you need if you're getting more stitches to the inch than the pattern calls for. (Which makes sense, because a bigger needle makes bigger stitches, so there will be fewer of them per inch.)

Go Down a Needle Size

On the other hand, if you're getting fewer stitches per inch than you are supposed to be, going down a needle size should get you more stitches per inch.

Change the Type of Needle

Even though needle size is supposed to be consistent, different needles are not always exactly the same size, and the way you knit might be altered a little bit when you use needles made from different materials.

Using a different kind of needle is said to be particularly helpful if you're getting stitch gauge but not row gauge. Row gauge is not always important, of course, but it can be if, say, you're knitting a garment sideways.

Change the Way You Knit

This one is only possible if you know different styles of knitting, but it's likely you'll get a different—maybe even wildly different—gauge when knitting English versus continental.

In the picture shown here, the bottom blue stripe on the top swatch was knit English and all the rest was worked continental. We got four stitches per inch on a size 8 US (5 millimeters) knitting needle working English style, but we had to go down to a size 6 US (4 millimeters) to get the same gauge working continental style.

It's great to know different styles for a lot of reasons​ but we switched from our normal form for this particular project because of a repetitive strain issue.

Make Sure You're Happy

If you have to alter your needle size, type, or style of knitting in order to get to the gauge you need, make sure you stop and look at the swatch before you cast on. Are you happy with the way the fabric looks and feels? Sometimes getting to gauge with a much smaller needle will make the fabric too stiff, and you'd be better off choosing a different yarn or pattern rather than moving ahead with the project if the finished garment won't make you happy.


needle size is immaterial

Yes, this is a post in which I reiterate a frequently made point: that while gauge is really important when you are knitting a pattern, needle size is completely immaterial.

When you want a hand-knitted item to fit correctly, the only thing that matters is that the fabric you are knitting is as similar as possible to the fabric the designer wants you to knit. That is, that you are knitting with the same number of stitches and / or rows per inch (or per 4 inches, or 10cm) listed in the pattern. It doesn’t matter if the designer achieved that fabric on a 2.5mm needle and you need to use a 6.5mm needle. It is only important that the gauge matches. The needle size is immaterial.

Mel and I have been knitting together for many years, and we know that our gauge with the same yarn on the same needle can vary wildly. If I swatch for a pattern, on a certain needle, Mel generally finds she has to go up at least two needle sizes above mine to achieve the same gauge and the same fabric. Swatching and matching gauge is the most crucial element of our pattern writing and sample knitting process. Our awareness of our different knitting styles, and distinctive gauge-y anomalies, frequently informs the way we work. For example, because I find I often achieve a weirdly ‘square’ gauge when knitting colourwork (that is, a gauge with the same number of rows as stitches to the inch) and because this is quite unusual (few other knitters, it seems, produce this) we’ve found it can be useful for Mel to knit a swatch to the same stitch gauge, and for us to take the row gauge in the pattern from her swatch rather than mine (because, overall, the gauge of her swatch is most like the ‘average’). So while we are continually thinking about gauge – and how best to swatch – Mel and I do not think about which needle size we knit with because we know that needle size is immaterial. In creating samples and writing patterns, we are only ever aiming to achieve – and to measure accurately – a certain number of stitches and rows per inch.

One of the most frustrating things as a designer is when a knitter pays no attention to a pattern’s gauge or swatching instructions, but simply looks at a pattern’s recommended needle size, and casts on. Then they get in touch to let you know the thing they knitted doesn’t fit.

“it’s so big I’ll have to felt it”
“it’s so small it wouldn’t fit a child.”
“did you swatch?”

It might surprise you that such exchanges most often concern accessories : gloves, shawls, hats. This is, I suspect, because while knitters are generally happy to take the time to swatch carefully before knitting any garment they actually want to fit properly, they are bizarrely unwilling to do so for a hat. The lure of the small, quick knit is irresistible. There is yarn at the ready. The pattern includes a recommended needle size. Knitters don’t check their gauge, but simply cast on right away.

In 2015, I was developing my first yarn (Buachaille), and one thing I knew from the outset was that I didn’t want to list a recommended range of needle sizes on the ball band. First, I was aware that seeing a needle size prompted knitters to think of a yarn in ways that might be misleading (“that’s obviously a 4 ply”, for example – when the yarn might not be that at all). Second (and perhaps more importantly) I knew that seeing a black-and-white statement that this yarn should be knitted on a certain needle size made many knitters feel uneasy about the necessity of working with a needle that could be many sizes larger or smaller than recommended to achieve a pattern’s listed gauge. I really wanted knitters to feel more confident and more relaxed about gauge – and achieving such confidence to a certain extent means forgetting about needle size – because needle size is immaterial. So I hatched a plan to dispense with recommended needle sizes altogether in my pattern writing.

At that time, I was developing a collection of accessories and I thought that rather than starting the pattern with my usual:
“Cast on with 3.25mm / US3 needle” I would instead say:
“Cast on with gauge-size needle,” re-emphasising the fact that gauge, rather than the dimensions of the needle, was the only thing of importance.

This was a decision with which, it has to be said, my technical editor was not at all happy. We began to release the patterns as part of our weekly club, and it turned out knitters weren’t happy with it either:
“Can’t you just give us an idea which needle size was used?”
For a short time I brazened it out:
“just swatch, and find which needle gives you gauge” – but the clamour grew ever louder. Knitters really wanted to see a recommended needle size, and so I was encouraged – and felt compelled – to provide it. My compromise was that my patterns would list the size of needle with which each sample was knitted with a clear disclaimer that this was provided for information only, and was in no sense a substitute for careful swatching.

Describing needles as “gauge-size” and including a needle size “for information only” has been our practice going forward. We receive a small number of queries about our somewhat unusual nomenclature: “what on earth does gauge-size mean?” But it only takes a moment to explain that “whatever needle gives you the gauge specified in the pattern is your gauge-size needle,” and frankly I would rather we dealt with such queries than those of the “it doesn’t fit” variety. In the three years since our introduction of the “gauge-size” wording, I would say we’ve had far less “it doesn’t fit, and no I didn’t swatch” enquiries than previously. It’s difficult to say if that’s because we’ve shifted the emphasis from needle size to gauge, and continually reiterated the importance of swatching, but whatever the reason, it is good to see.

And yet, I was prompted to think again about my compromise of including a “recommended needle size” in our patterns when putting together our Milarrochy Heids collection. All of the hats in this collection were knitted in the same yarn – Milarrochy Tweed – but the samples and patterns were created by thirteen different designers. I knew that gauge can vary very widely, but I was still surprised to discover how differently our designers knitted. Some were clearly super-tight and others obviously super-loose knitters. In one example, using the same needle size, across a 4 inch swatch, there was a seven-stitch difference in the gauge achieved by two different designers. This created something of an editorial conundrum for us. The patterns were all knitted in the same yarn. Did we effectively introduce a technical inconsistency into the collection (and also potentially confuse knitters) by suggesting, in one pattern, that they knit with a 3mm needle to achieve a gauge of 23 stitches per 4 inches, and then, in the next pattern, suggest that they knit with a 3mm needle to achieve a gauge of 30 stitches per 4 inches, using exactly the same yarn? Or did we (my preferred option) dispense with recommending needle sizes altogether, simply list the required gauge, and instruct knitters to swatch to achieve the right fabric on their “gauge-size” needle?

Once again, I was counselled against dispensing with listing a recommended needle size (not least by some of the designers). So I looked at other edited collections of patterns produced by different designers that used exactly the same yarn. There were different approaches to this issue, but reading between the editorial lines, it was obvious that the most common solution was to list what was effectively an ‘average’ recommended needle size for any given gauge. This meant that if the numbers of stitches per 4 inches differed significantly, so did the recommended needle size. So we decided to try this approach for Milarrochy Heids. Looking across the patterns, and the range of needle sizes used, it was fairly easy for my editorial team and me to develop a sense of what an ‘average’ gauge might be on a 3mm, a 3.25mm, a 3.5mm needle and so on. If we associated each gauge with the average needle size used to achieve it, we’d avoid introducing a potentially confusing technical inconsistency, on the one hand, and, on the other, avoid the wrath of knitters upon opening a book completely devoid of recommended needle sizes (the horror!)

So listing what was effectively “average” needle size for information only was our compromise with each pattern for Milarrochy Heids. Yet, throughout the editorial process I’ve remained unhappy with this compromise. I knew that the designers might feel freaked out (or irritated) that their pattern’s ‘recommended needle size’ was not, in fact, the one with which they knitted. I also knew that there was the inevitable likelihood of some knitters simply glancing at the recommended needle size rather than the gauge and casting on – ignoring my strongly worded, and continually reiterated, instructions to swatch.

So in the book I included the following clear statement:

“Though all knitted in Milarrochy Tweed, these hats are as different as their designers, and are worked at different gauges. Gauge is crucial to the fabric the designer wishes to achieve as well as the fit of the finished hat. So it’s important to swatch and, if your gauge does not match that which is specified in the pattern, to swatch again, going up or down a needle size where relevant. Whichever needle gives you the specified gauge is your “gauge-size needle.” You’ll usually select the size immediately below for your “below gauge-size” needle, unless differently instructed. Don’t rely on your instincts (“I always knit with this yarn on an xx needle”) and please don’t simply start knitting with the needle upon which gauge was achieved in the sample (which is included in the pattern for reference only, and a starting point for swatching).”

Anyway. All of this is the context of just one of the many behind-the-scenes decisions and compromises that I have to make in consultation with my editorial team when developing a collection. I describe it here because – only a week after publishing Milarrochy Heids – we have become aware that knitters are not swatching or checking gauge before casting on their hats and are simply casting on with the ‘recommended’ needle size . . . with the inevitable result of a finished hat which does not fit as well as it should.

So may I once again reiterate the key – and really the only point – that ever needs to be made regarding gauge: the needle size with which you knit is completely immaterial. The only thing that matters is that you achieve the gauge listed in the pattern, and the only way to do that is to SWATCH.

Here endeth the lesson.

Perhaps one day I will feel brave enough to stop listing needle sizes altogether. Who knows?

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What is the effect of changing knitting needle size?

What is the effect of changing knitting needle size?
Most, if not all, knitting patterns specify the needed gauge and needle size to achieve a finished garment that looks good. If you change your needle size into something different from your pattern, you will get a finished product with a different gauge.

If you need to change your pattern’s planned size, it is okay to change your needle size. But you have to remember that you can only change it within a small tolerance in gauge. Make a swatch before you sew on your pattern to ensure that it will work well.

Be careful not to choose a needle size that will give you a gauge that is too loose or firm. If your gauge is too loose, your garment will be saggy and may not wear or drape well. If it is too firm, your fabric will be too stiff and uncomfortable to wear.

List of Contents:

What is the best knitting needle size for beginners?

Remember that your knitting needles’ size affects your experience and finished product. You need to know which needles are perfect for you. Medium-sized-needles are generally the best size for beginners.

Medium sizes range from six to ten inches. A 10-inch knitting needle is a good starter size because it is small enough to use comfortably. If you are still not sure, you can make a test swatch before knitting to check your gauge.

What are the best needles to knit with?

There are many types and sizes of needles that have different attributes. But material choice only comes down to personal preferences. Many believe that wooden needles are the best for knitting.

Wooden needles offer knitters an even knitting speed, a smooth finish, and a warmth and softness to the touch. But, these needles are generally the most expensive type of knitting needles.

Other knitting needle materials include metal, plastic, and pored resin or glass. Metal needles are more durable than their wood or plastic counterparts. But they are cold, hard, and not flexible. Beginners may find them difficult to use.

How to adjust gauge in knitting?

Your knitting gauge will determine if your finished product’s measurements are what you expect. You need to ensure that your gauge is correct to get a garment that looks appealing. But if you feel that your gauge is not right, you can adjust your gauge by trying these simple things:

Get a bigger knitting needle.
You can go up a needle size if you are getting more stitches than the number on your knitting pattern. Remember that bigger needles make bigger stitches. Going up a size will give you fewer stitches and might help you get the correct gauge.

Get a smaller needle.
You can go down a size if you feel like you are getting fewer stitches than your pattern’s specific numbers. Since smaller needles make smaller stitches, it should give you more stitches. Hopefully, this will help you get the correct gauge for your knitting pattern.

Change your needle type.
Remember that needles of different materials are not always the same size. If your row gauge is not right, you can use a different type of needle.

Change your knitting style.
Knowing how to knit using English and Continental style may be affecting your gauge. Sometimes you will have to go up or down a size because of your knitting style.

How to change needle size while knitting?

Some patterns will tell you to work some stitches on smaller-sized needles. And then, change to larger-sized needles to work a different type of stitches. Some find this step overwhelming. But it is a simple process. Follow this simple guide to change your needle size:

If you have interchangeable knitting needles, you can simply unhook your current needles and change them into the new ones. You can start knitting after doing so.

If you do not have interchangeable knitting needles, you can easily set your new needles beside the old ones. Start knitting with the new needles until all your stitches load onto them.

How to change needle size in circular knitting?

Some knitting patterns will tell you to change your needle size after a specific number of stitches until a particular marker. You can simply remove the marker, pick up your new needle size, and begin knitting with it.

As you start knitting with your new needles, all your stitches should load onto them. Be careful not to load any stitches onto the old needles, as doing so will make things more complicated for you.

How to resize a knitting pattern?

Although it might not seem like a common thing to do in knitting, some patterns need some resizing or reshaping. You can encounter it in simple garments like a scarf, cowl, or shawls. Here are a few simple steps to help you resize a knitting pattern:

  1. Make and measure the correct gauge swatch.
  2. Many people do not like making swatches because it feels like a lot of extra work. It also does not necessarily guarantee that your garment will fit perfectly. But it tells you how your yarn and needles will work and look together before you begin knitting.

    The purpose of making swatches is to stimulate the fabric of your finished garment as closely as possible. It is why you need to knit your swatch with the same yarn, needle size, and material. If you do it correctly, your swatch can help you avoid a time-consuming redo if there are mistakes.

    You also need to remember that in-progress swatches do not give you accurate finished gauge readings. So, you need to make your swatch correctly. You can always unravel it if you need to be frugal with your yardage.

  3. Determine the appropriate number of stitches per inch.
  4. First, you need to determine how many stitches will fit in one inch. Do this step by dividing your
    width into your number of stitches.

    Next, you need to measure how big around you would like your finished garment to be. After doing so, you need to multiply your number of stitches per inch by the number of inches around.

  5. Get the measurements of the person in the areas where the garment should fit.
  6. Multiply the measurements by your gauge to determine the number of stitches that you need to knit.
  7. Adjust for stitch pattern multiples if you need them.

How to shrink a knit sweater?

You do not have to throw away your sweater if it became too stretched out for you over time. There are simple ways to shrink your knit sweater:

Shrink your sweater in your washer and dryer. You can do this method for wool, cashmere, angora, and mohair sweaters.

  1. Turn your sweater inside out to prevent fading. You can also put your sweater in a pillowcase to prevent its fibers from snagging in the washer.
  • Wash your sweater on a hot cycle that is much shorter than a full cycle.
  • Time it for 10 minutes and check on it every few minutes.
  • Dry your sweater on low heat for about 25 minutes. Make sure to check on it every 5 to 6 minutes.
  • You can put your sweater in the dryer for another 25 minutes if it is still too big for you.

    Reshape your wool sweater. You can do this method for a stretched-out wool sweater.

    1. Fill a sink with cool water. Add one tablespoon or 15 ml of bleach-free detergent to the water and mix it by hand.
    2. Soak your sweater inside-out for 5 to 10 minutes. Make sure that you check on it every 3 minutes and agitate it in the water. Remember not to twist or bunch your sweater as this can damage the material.
    3. Blot your sweater with a towel to remove the excess water.
    4. Place your sweater on a flat surface. Grip your sweater with your hands to gently squish some parts together. Ensure that you put your hands firmly on the sweater and use your fingers to push the material inward.
    5. Let your sweater air-dry and keep it away from direct sunlight and heat.

    Shrink your sweater with an iron. This method works best for 100% cotton sweaters.

    1. Put your sweater in a pot of boiling water for 5 minutes. Add 240ml of white vinegar to prevent the colors from fading.
    2. Remove the sweater from the pot and absorb excess water with a towel.
    3. Place your sweater flat on an ironing board and cover it with a cloth to protect it from heat damage.
    4. Iron the sweater on high heat for 5 minutes.

    Tailor to make your sweater smaller.

    1. Put your sweater on, then pull out the sides to see how large it is. Decide how closely you want it to fit your form. Doing so will help you determine where to start your seam.
    2. Turn your sweater inside out to find the seam. This area is where you need to start altering. Make sure that you press your sweater completely flat and symmetrical on a flat surface.
    3. Use chalk to draw a line where you want to make the seams. Then, take in about 2.5 to 1.3 cm on the side. Stick pins along each side of the sweater to mark where your seam will be. Do this step starting at the armpit, or whichever part is the biggest.
    4. Take in 2.5 to 1.3 cm on each side of your sweater and put pins where you want to place your seam. Keep the pins in place when you sew the seam.
    5. Set your sewing machine to make a zig-zag or dart stitch. Sew along the edges of the sweater. Remove the pins as you sew your seam. Ensure that you stop sewing just before the ribbing or hem to prevent an odd flip out of fabric at the bottom.
    6. Sew a seam on the other side of the sweater. Then, flip your sweater right side out to try it on.
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