There are many reasons you might want to adjust a published knitting pattern to better suit your needs. Maybe your gauge is a little off, or you're using a different kind of yarn, so you'll need to cast on more or fewer stitches.
Maybe you want to change the size a little bit, use a different border or do some of the finishing in a different way than what's suggested.
It's great to use a published pattern as a jumping off point for a project if you're not comfortable designing your own or you just need to make a couple of basic alterations.
Particularly if you're looking at an easy pattern, it isn't too difficult to change things to meet your needs better. Here are some steps to get you from the pattern you have to the knit garment you want.
You may be one of those knitters who never knits gauge swatches or "always knits to gauge," but if you're going to be altering a pattern, you have to know your specific gauge for the yarn, needles and pattern stitch you're going to be using. Otherwise, you'll have no basis for making your alterations.
It may only be by making a gauge swatch that you realize you need to make alterations to the pattern, as it was with me and the project that inspired this article. The project, pictured here, is a bulky hooded baby sweater -- the Peek-a-Boo Hoodie from the winter 2011 Cozy Winter Knits publication of Knitting Today Magazine.
It's virtually all Stockinette stitch knit flat. The only problem was I didn't have enough bulky yarn to make it, so I decided to hold two strands of one yarn (Caron Simply Soft Eco) together.
I didn't get the same gauge as the pattern, which I realized quickly enough from knitting a gauge swatch.
In the case of a simple Stockinette project, all you have to do to determine how many stitches you need to cast on instead of the number recommended is to determine the measurement of the piece you need (in my case, half of a sweater with a chest measurement of 28 inches, or 14 inches per pieces) and the gauge you're getting (I got 11 stitches per 4 inches instead of the pattern's suggested 8 stitches).
First, divide your 4-inch gauge by 4 so you know how many stitches per inch you're getting (2.75, in my case), then multiply by your finished piece measurement (I get 38.5) to determine how many stitches to cast on. (Obviously, the same thing works in metric, using a 10 cm swatch.)
Of course, you can't cast on 38.5 stitches; I went with 38 because the edgings were all Seed Stitch, which is most commonly worked on an even number of stitches. If you're working a pattern that involves a stitch pattern with a multiple, make sure your adjusted numbers will work with the pattern.
Remember that the cast on isn't the only number you'll have to adjust when altering a knitting pattern. Anywhere there's a decrease, bind off or any other instruction that involves a number of stitches, you'll have to rethink the pattern to make sure you're doing it right for your number of stitches.
The pattern I picked was two squares, so that made it easy, but it does have a V-neck, so I had to do a little math to make sure the V was centered on the front of the sweater.
Consider how many stitches are bound off for armholes and if that's too many or too few for your gauge, as well.
Go Your Own Way
While you're altering the pattern, remember that you don't have to stick to doing things exactly the way the pattern suggests.
My pattern only called for decreasing; it didn't say which kind of decrease to use. I could have consistently worked knit 2 together for all of the decreases, but I decided to work k2togs on one side of the V neck and ssks on the other for some nice symmetry.
The pattern also called for binding off the hood then sewing it together. Instead, I did an improvised 3-needle bind off to save myself a step and a little bulk. Knitting is all about doing what makes sense to you; you should never feel like you have to do something a certain way just because that's what the pattern says!
Track Your Results
Whenever you alter a pattern, you should take notes on exactly what you did and how it turned out. That way if you make a mistake you can go back to your notes and figure out what went wrong. You'll also have the right numbers if you want to knit the same project again, and you'll know what went right if you want to alter a similar pattern in the future.