Fit & knit a 40s pullover series: deciding to change gauge & yarn weight

Hello everyone! This is the first meaty installment of my fitting and knitting a 40s pullover series. On Sunday I posted the pattern I’m knitting, Cable Pullover No. 3298, so make sure to download it if you’d like the pattern, too!

Sorry in advance that many of these posts will be a little boring looking since much of what I’ll be talking about is looking at sections of the pattern. Can’t all be pretty. 😉

Let’s get started today with some basics. Keep in mind throughout this series that this is just my way of doing things… by no means am I ever saying you have to do exactly the same thing! I’m just walking you through how I usually tackle making adjustments to a knitting pattern.

I always study the pattern first

It’s true. If we’re talking about a sweater, I never just look at the gauge, swatch it, and start to knit it. Like, never ever. Ever.

Even if it’s a modern pattern from a well-known designer, I read through the entire pattern first. Several times.

I try to envision how it’s put together (raglan? set-in sleeves? bottom up or top down?). Then I start thinking about if I want to make any changes (resize the pattern? knit it longer? change the neckline?). I need to have an idea before I start to knit, even if I’m not going to get to the alteration for awhile (say, switching a turtleneck to a crew neck).

Before I get started making any changes to the Cable Pullover pattern, I need to work out some things with the pattern first. This is the stage when I start to get chummy with a pattern.

But wait!

Don’t freak out if you’re a newer knitter and the prospect of what I’m going to talk about in this series seems daunting, because you’re not that familiar with reading patterns, or with jumping ahead in them. The best way to get more comfortable with knitting and with altering the fit, size or style of a pattern is to really understand what’s going on with it. Just start slowly. Look up terms you don’t know. Get out a calculator. Draw out stitch patterns if you need to. Sketch things out, even if you suck at drawing (and trust me, I suck at it). Don’t be afraid.

Pep talk over! Let’s begin. 🙂

The stitch gauge in the pattern

Everything is built on the gauge, so I find that bit of info first. It’s usually at the beginning of the pattern. For now, I’m ignoring the row gauge. The Cable Pullover pattern has a stitch gauge of 19 sts over 3 inches. Here’s how I know that:


Most vintage patterns will phrase it like most modern patterns, over 1 inch or 4 inch increments. Well as it turns out, this one had to be over 3 inches to get a round number, so if I was swatching this pattern at the same gauge, I’d measure over 3 inches.

But want to know what that is over 1 inch? Just divide.

19 ÷ 3 = 6.3333

Why would I do that? When I’m thinking about changing the size of a pattern or changing the gauge it’s knit at, I break down the gauge to a 1 inch increment. It makes the math easy. (Note: a proper swatch would not be over only 1 inch. But I use 1 inch as a guide for my math.)

If it’s not an even number, I round it to one or two decimal places. Like so:

6.33 sts = 1 inch

So that’s the stitch gauge of the pattern as written, 6.33 spi (stitches per inch). I need to know that if I’m going to change anything in a sweater pattern. But even if I wasn’t planning to make any changes, I’d figure this number out anyway, because I want to make sure I know what size the sweater will actually end up! Some patterns don’t tell you the finished width, or sometimes they do tell you and they’re a little off. I always prefer to know going into it by checking the math myself. (I’ll talk about how in the next post.)

Is the gauge over stockinette stitch or a pattern stitch?

The Cable Pullover pattern doesn’t specify. When it doesn’t, I assume it’s over stockinette stitch. Now keep in mind this pattern does have cables, which draw in the fabric and make it less stretchy at those points. But I read ahead in the pattern (we’ll talk about that soon) and figure that since each cable has two purl stitches on either side of it, that effectively works like a bit of ribbing,  plus there’s an extra two-stitch purl section towards each side seam. That will all add stretchiness that the cable twist rows take away. Plus, there’s only 4 cables on each front/back. So I think it’ll all kind of balance out and let it be pretty stretchy. I would never assume this over a highly cabled pattern (and I doubt in that case the gauge would be over stockinette anyway), but I feel comfortable with making that assumption here.

And since I already started knitting this sweater, hey, if I’m wrong, you’ll get to see how that pans out. 😉

What weight of yarn does the pattern use?

When you’re knitting with a vintage pattern, you don’t have the luxury of being able to pop onto Ravelry to find out what weight of yarn the pattern used. In the Cable Pullover pattern there are 3 different yarn options: Fleisher’s Sweater Floss, Fleisher’s Wonderized Casa-Laine Sport Yarn, or Fleisher’s Sweater and Stocking Yarn. Of course, all are discontinued.

You can try your Google fu and see what you can turn up for these yarns, or you can compare the pattern’s gauge to those listed by the Craft Yarn Council in their Standard Yarn Weight System. That page is a great resource if you’re not super comfortable yet with yarn weights and needle sizes, and need a bit of guidance on what’s recommended. (Although of course, your gauge with a particular weight/needle size will not necessarily match the ‘standard’. It’s just a starting place!)

So the pattern gauge is 6.33 stitches per 1 inch. The CYC standards are over 4 inches, so I’d just multiply that by 4, which gives me:

6.33 x 4 = 25.32 stitches

(And now you can see why this pattern measured the gauge over 3 inches, not 4 inches, since it 25.32 is not a round number so you can’t very well measure a swatch over that!)

Rounding that to 25 stitches = 4 inches puts the pattern yarn in the sport weight category. One step heavier than fingering weight / 4 ply, one step lighter than DK weight. If I was planning to knit the pattern as written or use the same weight of yarn to knit a bigger or smaller size, I’d now know what weight of yarn to use. (I’ll talk a bit about estimating yardage soon.)

But I’m not!

Deciding to change the yarn weight

When I picked this pattern to knit, I already had a yarn in mind. Sometimes I do that, which is kind of backwards, I admit. But one of the goals here is to follow how I really do things after all, right?

I was set on using some red DK weight yarn in my stash, Wollmeise Merino DK. The recommended gauge for that yarn is 22 stitches = 4 inches, or 5.5 spi. Again, doesn’t necessarily mean you’d knit it at that gauge, but it’s a starting point. Sometimes I don’t decide on what my goal gauge is until after I’ve tinkered with the math a bit to figure out what will work, and then I’ll swatch (and block the swatch of course) to get that gauge. And then further tweak my plans if needed.

If I pick a heavier yarn, how will that impact my knitting?

My chosen yarn is heavier than the yarn used in the pattern. So that means I won’t be able to get the pattern’s stitch gauge of 6.33 spi with my yarn.

Okay, I might be able to if I went down to a much smaller needle size than recommended for DK weight, but then I could be verging on knitting a too-dense sweater because the yarn would be too heavy for the gauge. It wouldn’t have a very nice drape.

If I wanted the pullover to end up larger than the pattern’s given size, using a heavier yarn is one way to make that happen! I could do a gauge swatch, decide what gauge I liked for my yarn, and then see what size the pullover would be if I knit it at that gauge by doing a little math. (And I’ll talk about how to do that soon.)

However, if I want the pullover to end up about the same size as the pattern’s given size, I’m going to have to do some math to change the numbers in the pattern.

And that leads us to…

Next time

Next time, I’ll show you how I figure out what size the finished pullover is supposed to be at the bustline. Technically The Cable Pullover pattern tells us this measurement already, but I’ll talk about why I calculate this myself, and show you how to do it if your pattern doesn’t have this information.

 Catch up with the series:

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