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You've chosen your next (or your first!) pattern but what next? Here's what our LoveKnitting experts recommend to get you off to a successful start on your new project.

Choosing a size | Understanding sizing on a pattern | How to measure yourself | Reading a pattern | Reading a chart | Understanding gauge


Choosing what size to knit

There are a number of factors involved when choosing which size of garment to knit. It's not simply a case of choosing the size that corresponds with your bust or chest measurements, or deciding whether you are a small, medium or large. We all like to wear our knitwear differently, some people like a roomy garment, while others like a snug fit. Some garment shapes are designed to be worn tight next to the skin, while others are intended to be worn on top of other clothes. The ‘garment ease’ of each design will be different, depending on the style.

It's good idea to measure a similar garment that you enjoy wearing, by laying it flat and measuring the width and length. Compare these measurements to the measurements of the knitting pattern. If for example you find that a particular size has the correct width measurement but is too long or short or long, you can follow the instructions for a different size when it comes to the number of rows. To keep things simple, it's a good idea to highlight the correct size instructions to follow for both the width and the length throughout the pattern before you begin. If you're changing the pattern, don't forget that you'll also need to recalculate the amount of yarn you will need.

Understanding sizing on a pattern

All patterns provide a chest measurement or a small, medium or large sizing. However the most important measurement to study is the actual finished size. This is what your garment will measure when finished if you have achieved the correct gauge. The pattern will give these finished measurements in the form of a diagram or schematic which will also show the overall shape of the garment.

How to measure yourself

To ensure the finished garment fits follow these guidelines when measuring yourself:

Measure yourself over your underwear not pulling the tape measure too tight around your body.

  • Bust/chest should be measured around the fullest part of the bust or chest.
  • Waist should be measured around your natural waistline, just above the hip bone./li>
  • Hips should be measured around the fullest part of the bottom.

Reading a pattern

When you first read a knitting pattern it may seem difficult to understand, but with a little bit of time and patience, it will quickly become familiar. Layout of patterns may differ from company to company but generally they all use the same terms and abbreviations.

There are basically two styles of knitting pattern: the type that relies on the written word, and writes out all the instructions line by line; and the type that uses the written word in conjunction with a chart or graph. A knitting pattern with a chart or graph has an advantage over one with just written instructions, as it allows you to see exactly what type of cable, stitch pattern, fairisle design or shape of garment you are going to work just by looking at the diagram.

LoveKnitting also has a handy app that allows you to zoom and mark up your patterns on your iPad.

Reading a chart

Each square represents a stitch and a row. Row 1 and all odd-numbered rows should be read from right to left and are normally right-side rows unless indicated otherwise. Row 2 and all even-numbered rows should be read from left to right and are normally wrong-side rows. Always start reading a chart at the bottom right-hand corner.

The charts patterns are clear and easy to follow with different symbols showing different stitches and colors. To help make it even clearer enlarge the chart on a photocopy then outline with a colored pen your chosen size.

LoveKnitting app

Example charts for swatching basic knitting stitches.

Understanding gauge

Gauge refers to the number of stitches and rows per inch, and patterns are written with a specific gauge in mind. Personal gauge varies greatly from knitter to knitter, so it is very important to knit a test swatch, soak and block it before beginning a garment to identify how tightly or loosely you knit and to get a good picture of what your finished project will look like. If you’re a tight knitter, you may need to go up a needle size to equal the recommended gauge for a pattern; if you knit loosely, you may need to go down a size to match.

The gauge stated on the pattern may vary from the gauge stated on the ball band. This is because the designer may want a more open fabric or a tighter fabric than the standard. Always follow the gauge on the pattern to achieve the desired look.

If you do end up knitting tighter, remember that you'll use extra yarn.

Swatches of different weight yarns. From left to right: super chunky, aran (worsted), and lace.
Your swatches don't need to be this intricate. A 10 stitch x 10 row square will do the job!