Choosing a knitting pattern


Firstly thank you everyone who provided me with excellent advice in response to my million beginner questions last weekend. I am ready to plan my second knitting project and it has been hard to know where to start. But thanks to you, my dear readers and friends, (and not thanks to the professional yarn sellers in John Lewis), I have really become much clearer about where to go next.

The world is full of knitting patterns, some dating back decades. There are millions of free ones. Even the ones you buy are not too expensive. I am sure that lots of patterns are downloaded or bought and never made up. I always find tons of them in charity shops with their really funny models – the camp-looking blokes, the women – stiff in blue acrylic, and the frilly babies. It is so hard to know what to alight on – the choices we face are almost overwhelming. Which is why many people just make a scarf – it’s probably the best and easiest way to showcase a nice yarn you come across.

I suppose the best thing is to start with an idea of the kind of garment you might like to wear, or the materials you have, or might like to buy. So for me that would be a jumper or tank top, in a nice colour, in a soft, comfortable yarn. And a style that works with my wardrobe – and probably I should be thinking more about my casual wardrobe than my workwear. This year I am hoping to include a jumper in my Casual Sewing with a Plan outfits.

To get started I rebought a book I used to own about 25 years ago, when I was doing a little bit of knitting for the children. It is Christina Proberts Knitting in Vogue, which has patterns from the 1930s to the 1980s for men, women and children, published in 1985. I found lots of oldish knitting books second hand on Amazon, and most were on sale for around £2. Two or three were only 1p, so apart from the £2.80 postage almost free. I assume, maybe wrongly, that these are likely to be tested and accurate. When I Instagrammed my Purl Alpaca Lorelle sleeve the designer got in touch to say there was a mistake in the instructions – gosh – that was lucky. I can’t afford to make an error.

Knitting in Vogue book
Knitting in Vogue – £2.80

It is a fine book and has marvellous photographs by Mario Testino, as well as the original photographs of the garments in their first incarnation. I really love this book. It has about 55 patterns – and most of them are the sort of thing I would like to own. Really nice classic knits. I was into vintage in the 1980s and I really wanted to knit old patterns, or modern ones inspired by the past and this book rang my bell. I trust Vogue – the editor has selected attractive vintage knitted garments – carefully chosen to capture the essence of the era, but also to produce wearable, modern classics. Here is the pattern I knitted in the 1980s for Esme, in similarly bright cotton yarn. I made it as a tank top as I didn’t want buttons and buttonholes. Sadly I have lost the tank top but it was made in cotton and it was lovely. Although it didn’t stretch much, so this is why I doubted the advice given to me by the Rowan saleswoman and reinforced by others

1982 Fairisle Waistcoat Vogue knitting
1982 Fairisle Waistcoat Vogue knitting

Here are three that really appealed to me then. And they still do now. The first, grey T shirt, is for a girl but I would love a jumper like this. I wondered if I could make it just a little bigger – it goes up to 32″ chest – would that work with a 32″ bust? It is great in a solid colour, but could it take a bit of patterning across the chest say?  And on the topic of square necks I love the cashmere twin set, although I think I would struggle to make something like that. It needs such neat knitting and with an expensive luxury yarn it needs an experienced hand. The other fun item is the glorious ski jumper. I love the charcoal and bright pink colour scheme which is only two colours, but maybe I could add more? The T shirt and ski sweater are badged as being doable by “adventurous beginners”. Yay! That’s me.

Don’t you love those Testino photographs – he has all his models give a side face, hands forward pose. I love the little girl with her bobbed hair and pearls and wonder what she looks like today.

As ever I am not sure what yarn one would use for these projects. Specific brands are suggested rather than a type of yarn. I am guessing that the needle size (and photograph) give a clue to what weight to use. The little girl is in 4ply. Should I assume the same is true for the Cashmere twin set with its 3 1/4mm needles, or is that DK? And the ski sweater uses 5 1/2mm needles – so is that DK or a chunkier yarn?

19 Responses

  1. Those are really lovely photographs, K. I have never heard of this book but it sounds like a gem. To answer your questions, although different needles can be used with different yarn weights to create a fabric that is looser or more dense according to preference, 3.25 mm needles would generally be used with something closer to a 4 ply or fingering weight, DK is usually knit on something in the range of 4 mm needles and a 5.5 mm needle would probably be used with something heavier than a DK, e.g. an aran weight. Googling the recommended yarns would likely yield helpful information. As always, the gauge is most important and will yield the critical information that you will need to produce a similar fabric.

    As for the girl’s top, it should be adaptable. First look at the finished measurements (there should be a chart or table of measurements) and work from there. It is easy to add a bit of extra ease or shaping but I am guessing that there is already some ease built into that top for a 32″ chest. You might have to build some extra fabric into the shoulders but I am just guessing. If there is not a full schematic you can look at the pattern and the number of stitches that are still on the needles in the upper chest, waist, etc., and use the recommended gauge to calculate the expected measurements of the garment. It looks like it is probably square and so you could also add in some waist shaping. You can add patterning to any garment but you do want to be careful as to where the patterning sits relative to the bust of course!

    • Oh and you’d definitely also want to measure length on the t-shirt. Frankly, I think you could attempt the twin set, although do note that knitting on small needles, i.e. 2.75-2.35 mm takes more time than knitting on 5 mm needles as you will have a lot more stitches than for your first garment. It’s my favourite type of knitting though as I like lightweight, fine knits and there’s real satisfaction in completing a neat garment like that.

  2. The main thing to look at it the gauge of the pattern, i.e. The number of stitches per 4 inches / 10 cm. Then you can use a yarn that knits up to a similar gauge (this information will be on the ball of yarn). You’ll need to knit and wash a swatch to check that the way you knit comes out at the right gauge (and try bigger or smaller needles if it comes out too small or too big). A small difference in gauge can translate to a big difference in the finished size. It is, of course, possible to do some maths to knit the pattern at a different gauge. DK is normally 22 sts on 4mm needles, worsted is 20 on 4.5mm, Aran is 18 on 5mm, but check what the pattern says. Not sure about 4ply – probably 24 on 3.5mm. This sort of stuff doesn’t matter so much if you’re knitting a scarf as it doesn’t matter if your gauge is a bit out.

  3. Hi Kate, found this and thought you might enjoy it https://www.myfabrics.co.uk/arne-carlos-diy.html

    No jumpers, but a fabulous mix of colours and designs.

  4. Maria Josephine

    I have that book (first published in 1985) plus two others also edited by Christina Probert and in a similar format published earlier originally by David & Charles. The first is also called ‘Knitting in Vogue’ subtitled ‘Patterns from the ’30s to the 80s to knit NOW’, photos by Anthony Crickmay. Mine is a Book Club Associates edition published in 1982 without an ISBN as far as I can see. The patterns are all for women, with an interesting range including a few beautiful early 1930s jumpers, though also some more dubious designs – for example the ‘Knee-length Bobble Pattern Dress’ from 1967 shown in pillar box red DK wool. The other book is ‘Knitting in Vogue, number 2’ subtitled ‘Patterns from the ’20s to the ’80s for men and women’, photos by Perry Ogden, first published 1983 (ISBN 0-7153-8208-X). Most of the designs are very wearable, including a few modeled by Andy MacDowell (or her double). However I did once discover a serious error in one of these patterns. It was more than 20 years ago and I can’t remember which pattern in which of the books. I seem to recall that the instructions for several rows of a fairly complex pattern were missing. Everything else that I’ve ever attempted has worked out fine.

    When you’re trying to adapt an old pattern to modern yarns, it’s useful to remember that for many years it has been pretty standard in British patterns to give a tension/gauge for stocking stitch of 28 stitches to 4 inches on 3.25mm needles (or size 10 in pre-mid ’70s patterns) for 4 ply and 22 stitches to 4 inches on 4mm/size 8 needles for DK. Knowing this can be a good starting point for deciding on a substitute yarn. But as Stephanie says your individual gauge is what matters. You’ll get to know how loosely/finely you knit as you practise.

    I’ve just taken a look at the patterns for the cashmere twinset and the girl’s square neck jumper. They are made to to the same tension (4 ply) and are a similar shape, except the girl’s jumper has all-in-one sleeves. The largest girl’s size is 32″ as is the smallest women’s size. It shouldn’t be too difficult to size up the girl’s jumper and you could use the cashmere jumper as a rough guide.

  5. Back on one of my favourite subjects – and I happen to have those books to hand (alongside some of the originals – which, thanks to all this knitting conversation, I am now itching to get back to!).

    On yarns and how to translate – I normally head first to a yarn site where tensions are given – Rowan is a good one to give you a starting point (I don’t always end up picking a Rowan yarn, but it will give an idea of ply etc). So, for example, for the cashmere twin set, the tension is 28sts and 36 rows = 10cm (4″) on 3.25mm needles; a quick trip to the Rowan website and the yarn tab (http://www.knitrowan.com/yarns) means you can browse yarns by tension (via a scale) – pick the one that looks closest (in this case 27-32 sts) and see what yarns that leads you to, and then see if you can find an exact match (or at least a close one). Their super fine merino 4ply seems to knit exactly at that tension on those pins (http://www.knitrowan.com/yarns/super-fine-merino-4ply) – so now you know you are looking for a 4ply and you can extend your search through other 4 ply yarns – all of which will give a tension gauge (sts, rows, needles). The rest is a question of trial and error – knitting up tension squares and checking that your tension matches the one for the pattern (and individual tensions for knitters can vary) – adjusting needle sizes is always an option, personally, I might just try another yarn.

    You don’t have to knit it in cashmere necessarily just because they did, but if you wanted to search for a cashmere yarn at least you know you are looking in the region of 4ply (or those that will knit at equivalent tensions – which may also include knitting finer yarns doubled, for example).

    You mention that it is a lot of fine knitting – it certainly is a lot of plain stocking stitch (and that can get tedious!), and it is on relatively fine needles, but not as fine as for many vintage patterns (my mother regularly knitted using (old) size 12 and 14 needles), and, in my experience, finer needles and more work often lead to a finer looking garment. If you are not likely to get bored and give up on the project, that doesn’t need to be a problem (also, you can knit plain st st while you do other things – like watching the telly!).

    That particular pattern also has a distinct advantage for the beginner of having a cardigan without buttonholes to worry at. It is an ’80’s “vintage”, re-created in an ’80’s book, so I would bear that in mind (as they can tend to be longer and sometimes boxier than one might want today); you might want to alter it and make it shorter (easy enough to do to adjust length normally – just adjust length to armholes). There is also some detail at the bottom of the sleeves that looks a little bulky – the jumper cuffs are rib, the cardigan has a reversed piece – do you like that detail? – would you rather it was simpler? (it is not terribly clear from how it has been styled – and they have cut off the original half way down the forearm, so you can’t tell anything from where they started).

    It is a bit like a recipe – you need to do the due diligence – read all through the pattern before you start to see if you understand it, decide what you do and don’t like about it, make some decisions about any adjustments that you would like – then write them in. I usually copy the pattern so that I can carry it round with me – knitting is a fabulous way to spend time “waiting” – it occupies me in ways that reading cannot when I am out and about – it also often has people wanting to talk to you about it.

    One other thing – many home knitted garments look unattractively home knitted not necessarily because people don’t knit evenly, but because people don’t spend time with the finishing. Making up takes longer than you think, pressing is important (it evens out the stitches too). The twin set is not likely to be a quick project, but it might be a satisfying one. Not that I prefer it to your other choices, necessarily – which are all lovely – although the height of the neck on the ski sweater might drive me demented in the wearing (too hot? and potentially quite itchy in a natural wool?).

    Last thing! What I said before about yardage – they don’t give you any ideas of yardage for the “Yarn Store Cashmere” – and a quick Google doesn’t give you any information on the original either (sometimes the original yarn appears on an ebay sale, and you can get a look at the ball band!); so check how any modern day yarn yardage looks against other equivalent plyed yarns – if it is unusually short it may be that you want to lay in extra supplies. For vintage patterns, I always overbuy on quantity to make sure that I will have enough to finish in the same colour and, VITALLY, the same dye lot! (check those as you buy, even if the shade number is the same, the dye lot will cause variation in actual colour – so they must all match!). Normally you can tell by about the time you get to the armholes roughly how much you are going to need for the whole project – you will use about as much for the sleeves as you do for the front and back as a very rough rule of thumb for an average sweater (and don’t forget any extras like edgings, collars etc); if you buy from a shop that will take back excess (or hold aside some additional in the same dye lot for you) it is always worth considering using them.

    Hope some of this helps – apologies for getting a bit carried away. Off now to look at the rest of the lovely pictures – had never before noticed who had photographed.

  6. Those patterns are great. We love the 1980’s around these parts! I love the twinset especially, but knitting fine gauge is time consuming and all over stocking stitch can be very boring. The child’s sweater would be a challenge to fit, potentially, so might be a good project for you to practise on. Not sure of the knitting itself. Yarn wise I really feel for you. Yarn is often expensive and bargains are few and far between. Especially knitting sweaters.

  7. There are some lovely classic looks there, I always check ravelry to see some variations or to see if another person had a problem with the yarn etc, I did do a quick search on ravelry for your book…. and found another 1982 book knitting in vogue and then when you go into each individual project you can see what substitute yarn they used etc. if you type in the name of the pattern of one from your book, you will probably find that someone has made something from it and posted it…the link to the 80s vogue book I checked is on is http://www.ravelry.com/patterns/sources/knitting-in-vogue/patterns – there are quite a few projects posted so you will see the yarn substitutions there

  8. I can get lost in Ravelry, and it can be incredibly useful for all the reasons given (and some more) – the main problem I find is that when you look at other people’s projects, not only does it suck up your time (it is a busy space!), but it can sometimes take away a part of the dream that you keep in mind while planning your own very personal one – adjustments made to suit other people’s personal preferences, bad light or unflattering posing in photos, inappropriate yarn and challenging colour choices, all can chip away at my delight in the anticipation of what I wanted to create. I nearly always find that I am put off my latest project because someone else chose to make it in clashing stripes, or inadvertently spoiled proportions with their adjustments to the original pattern, and I can’t “unsee” the end results – there are a few truly inspirational knitters on there, but it can be a place with mixed blessings.

    • Wow! I find Ravelry a bit too much for me at the moment, but you are also right that some of the things on there are rather unpleasant. This weekend I saw brand new, hand knitted baby clothes knitted in cheap and nasty pink acrylic being sold for £1.50 in a charity shop. It just made me feel incredibly sad.

  9. Knitting has come a long way since the 40s. Fit nowadays can be exactly how the knitter wants it to be, knitting from an older patterns may turn out less refined.

    You’re contemplating a basic style knit flat, take a look at this site and see what you think, there is a lot of info that you’re looking for but also you can create your own design, how good would that be? http://customfit.makewearlove.com/about/

    • I had a good look through the site Annie – thanks so much for the reference. I can see how great it would be to get something that fits a curved figure.

  10. Joyce Latham

    Congratulations for completing your grey sweater!
    I personally think the ski sweater would be excellent for your casual collection!
    I will let others help you out as I’m a beginner too.
    Good luck with all the choices ahead of you, it’s gonna be fun fun fun.
    Joyce

    • Joyce I haven’t finished it yet. I hit trouble on the yoke and am in correspondence with the designer. I also had to order more yarn (despite buying a kit in the first place). I will persevere. But I am planning the next two or three sweaters.

  11. I was about to recommend yarndex to find substitutions for the yarns listed, but apparently they’ve been gone for 2 years and I didn’t know! http://yarnsub.com/ looks to be an alternative, but I’ve never tried them so I don’t know how large their database is. Just like in sewing, there’s a lot of prep work involved in making a hit knitting project. I’ve been at it a while so I now pick the yarn I like, make one long swatch with a few different needles, wash and block it and then pick which combination has the best feel for what I want the end product to be. Then I check the gauge carefully and adjust the pattern as needed to match (often that’s a matter of doing the measured lengths as written but picking a different “size” for the stitch counts to get the widths correct). But the inspiration patterns you are looking at have a fair amount of ease, so you don’t need to go through all that song and dance – get reasonably close and knit away!

    The child’s pattern finished chest 32″ likely has about 4″ of ease added. If you want it to drape like the picture you will have to grade up. It looks like a fairly simple pattern, you can probably sketch the pieces, find the dimensions with a little bit of math (stitch count x gauge to get finished measurements) and compare it to a sewing drop shouldered Tshirt or see how they graded up between sizes and keep going! Check the length for sure.

    Most of all have fun! Knitting takes a while so you might as well enjoy the process.

    • Fantastic and generous advice dear Tumblina. Thank you so much for providing this advice and resources. I am going to try to make the T shirt. As you say it is fairly simple, and I should be able to add length easily. I especially appreciate the advice about enjoying it. So far, so good.

  12. It’s been a pleasure to drop by and meet all of the knowledgeable folk here; all these ideas and conversation have also inspired me to dust off my old Vogue books (as opposed to the original magazines, which if you ever get the chance to browse – ’50’s, ’60’s ones are those that I am most familiar with – are a special joy), and to start a new project found in my only Vogue Designer book from the US – a “Perry Ellis” cropped sweater, sitting among the DKNY, Calvin Klein, Missoni and other names – my daughter now coveting an early Marc Jacobs “bubble”!). Reading through the intro I found the following and thought it might be appreciated by the crowd here:

    “Searching through our archives for the photographs was certainly an enjoyable process …

    Unearthing comparable substitute yarns was an exciting challenge. Sometimes we were lucky – a yarn, or its twin under a different name – was still available. Other times we were less fortunate, but persevered until we could find the perfect substitute in the latest yarns available today. We can assure you deep in the closets of Vogue Knitting there is a box containing enough test swatches for the sweaters in this book to make a very cozy afghan!

    Both the original and substitute yarns are listed where appropriate – even though a yarn may no longer be available, we’re sure some still exists in the collection of a knitter somewhere…” ~Trisha Malcolm.

    • Erica – thank you so much for your amazingly interesting and insightful commentary. I am so thrilled with all your help and advice and can’t believe how very generous you have been.

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