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Resizing Vintage Knitting Patterns

Unfortunately, most vintage patterns are made for a set size, unless they detail other sizes. I suppose at the time, resizing patterns was a skill that came as second nature for most knitters, but I find it as rare as hen’s teeth to find detailed instructions helping people to do this nowadays.

For small increases, say going from a 34 to 36, you can look at increasing the size of your needle to create a bigger garment, but it has limitations before your garment begins to look too lacy.

This can sometimes be a good trick to bear in mind for ladies with big bosoms but small frames, as the size of the needle can be increased in the bust area alone to give a little extra room for the girls, then the rest of the garment can be knitted in accordance to the pattern.

A more mathematical approach is to look at the number of stitches around the bust in the pattern, and work out a new tension gauge. To do this, you would divide the number of stitches around the bust by the number of inches your desired bust measurement has. The resultant number is the desired number of stitches per inch, your new tension. You can then find a yarn weight and needle size combination which matches this.

Let's look at the stunning Patons 602 as a test subject!

This is a 34" bust pattern knitted on size 10, 11 and 12 needles in a vintage fingering weight, so a little finer than a modern fingering weight. That's a very fine knit!

The tension calls for 8 stitches per inch (spi) on number 10 needles.

Now, what happens if we want to knit this to fit a 42" bust?

By examining the pattern, we can see that there are 73 stitches at the widest part in each of the front panels, and 136 stitches in the back.

If we divide this total of 282 stitches by the desired bust size, in this example 42, we get 6.7 spi.

Measuring fractions of a stitch is an exercise that I most certainly don't have the patience to do, so my suggestion would be to round this up to the nearest whole number, giving 7spi in our new tension gauge.

If the result of the calculation had been say 6.3, then I'd round down to 6spi.

It may not seem like a drastic change, but it all adds up to create that extra 8" in the pattern.

Not all patterns like to play ball for this technique though. For example, I recently looked at Golden Eagle 549 Seawaves for a potential customer.

This is an interesting pattern that is partially knit sideways.

The patterns suggests knitting the ribbed welt first, then the Seawaves element is knitted sideways.

My approach would be to postpone the welt, and to start knitting as per the pattern. Then, once the first repeat section is completed, measure that. If we were aiming for the 42" as above, I would then add in extra repeats to make up the 3” on the front, and on the back, splitting these extra repeats between the underarms and centre front. Of course, also take note of the number of extra stitches put in, so you can work out how many extra stitches need to be cast on for the welt.

So each pattern can present its own challenges, but with a moment of reflection, what may initially appear to be a world designed for ladies with a 34" bust, can be opened up to be far more inclusive and available to a wide range of beautiful body shapes and sizes.

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