Modifying a Knitting Pattern: Five Ideas as Demonstrated by my Baby’s Baptism Gown


I made our baby’s baptism gown a few months ago now, before we went overseas for two months. I also made a bonnet in the event that the baby is a girl (we don’t know yet). My baby’s due date is in two and a half weeks, but now that I’ve washed all the sheets and cloth nappies, he or she is allowed to be born any time. Whether baby is early or not, the baptism date is already booked for just before Christmas. The gown is based on someone else’s pattern, for a cardigan in fact. I modify patterns all the time. It’s not hard and in fact the second ever thing I made which wasn’t rectangular was a teddy bear, which used a pattern modified from one designed by the legendary Jean Greenhowe. I’d like to share five pattern-modifying ideas with you, as demonstrated by my baby’s baptism gown. My “how-to” descriptions are relevant to top-down or bottom-up patterns, but just replace “row” with “stitch” or vice versa for a sideways pattern and you’re pretty much set. But first, some background.

Some Background

The pattern I based the gown on was this one, a baby cardigan by Patons Australia. It calls for 4ply yarn. The yarn I used was the leftovers from my wedding dress, which was a 2ply mercerised cotton, so I did a tension swatch and selected the right needles to get the correct tension (see my post about tension here). It’s a good idea to keep your tension swatch when you’re planning on modifying a pattern, especially if you’re planning to add length or width. After that, I was ready to rock and roll. Here are five ideas I used to modify the cardigan pattern to make the baptism gown.

1: Add Length

I added a lot of length to this cardigan pattern to make the gown, as I wanted one that went beyond baby’s feet. This is one of the simplest modifications you can make, particularly if a pattern involves sections of a plain stitch like garter or stocking stitch. You might like to try it to lengthen a short-looking jumper, to turn anklet socks into full-length ones, or to add length to the sleeves of a garment.

How to do it:

Remember that tension swatch you saved? Good. You now know how many rows it takes you to knit a centimetre, or an inch, or whatever unit of measurement you want to use. So, let’s say the original pattern is 20cm long, but you want something which is 40cm long. Therefore, you need to add 20cm of length to it. By looking at your tension swatch, you know it takes 15 rows to make 10cm, and therefore 30 rows to make 20cm. So, you just knit 30 more rows. Ideally, add these rows in an area without shaping and where there is a simple stitch pattern being used, like stocking or garter. If that’s not an option, like if the pattern is made up of a repeating lace pattern, then make sure you are finishing the pattern on the same row as given in the pattern, or else when you get to another section like a decrease for the yoke of a jumper, you may find that you have thrown out the lace pattern. For example, if you are adding length in an area with a lace pattern which is 6 rows long, and the original pattern wants you to end on a row 5 of the lace pattern before decreases start, make sure you end on a row 5.

2: Add Width

I added width to my baby’s gown because the pattern was originally for a cardigan, I.e. only the top half of a person, which does not include kicky baby legs. And if I know anything about this baby before s/he is born, this baby is pretty kicky.

How to do it:

Basically the same as adding width, but think stitches rather than rows. For example, say you want to add 5cm of width, and your 10X10cm tension swatch is 22 stitches across. 10cm divided by 2 is 5cm (what you’re after), and 22 stitches divided by 2 is 11 stitches, so you’d add 11 stitches. Add these evenly around a garment, unless for some reason you specifically want the front half to be wider than the back or vice versa. As with the baptism gown, if your piece has a repeating pattern (in the gown’s case, a lace feature near the bottom), it is easiest to make sure the number of stitches you increase by is a multiple of the number of stitches used in the repeating pattern. So, taking our 5cm increase example, if there’s a lace border that is 6 stitches wide for each repeat, it is easiest to add 12 stitches. That way you avoid the confusion of having an incomplete pattern repeat.
With the baptism gown, I made it wider for the bottom part of the gown, but back to the original pattern’s specifications for the underarms upwards (it was a bottom-up pattern). When I got to where I wanted to go back to the original pattern’s numbers, I simply decreased by the appropriate number of stitches. This is best done on a row with a plain stitch which doesn’t have any other required shaping.

3: Add More Buttons


Or add any buttons. I of course needed to do this as I was turning this cardigan into a long gown. You might want to do it if a pattern has no buttons where you want some, when a pattern doesn’t have enough buttons for your preference, or as in my case if you are significantly lengthening your garment so need to add more buttons.

How to do it:

If your pattern already has buttons, work your added buttonholes in the same way the buttonholes are worked for the original pattern, and space them the same distance apart as the buttons in the original pattern. If the original pattern only has one button, choose an appropriate distance between buttonholes. You can use your tension swatch to help you figure out how many rows are needed between each buttonhole given how far apart you want them to be.
If you are adding buttons where the pattern originally had none, you have several choices for how to add them in. This article shows several methods of working a buttonhole.
Once you have finished your piece with your added buttonholes, simply sew buttons to the corresponding spot on the opposite side to the garment.

4: Add a Feature


You can make a piece your own by adding a design feature. I added an eyelet row on the baptism gown just under the underarms, through which I threaded a white satin ribbon. This feature is not just decorative in this case. Since the baby hasn’t been born yet, I don’t know how big s/he will be, let alone how big s/he’ll be at a month old when the baby is baptised, so if it’s a small baby I can draw the ribbon tighter. I also wanted to make a gown that could potentially be worn by the baby’s future siblings, who, I’m assuming, will vary in size.
As a side note, my not knowing the size of the baby is one reason why I decided to make a gown with a completely open front. If we end up with a whopper who can’t fit in the gown done up, it can be like a baptism coat. Also, while I’m hoping for a smallish baby, both my husband and I were large (my baby record book says I had “macrosomia” = big body), and we both come from families with a pattern of legendarily big babies, so a whopper is a real possibility.

How to do it:

This really depends on what you want to add. Some ideas for things to add, aside from an eyelet round for a ribbon, could be:
  • A lace/cable/fancy pattern motif, maybe a panel down the front of a pullover.
  • An intarsia design, like a star or a love heart on a child’s top.
  • Some beading. See here and here for two ways to add beads to your knitting.
My advice for adding a feature would be to aim to add it in an area where there is minimal and ideally no shaping, just to make things simpler for you.

5: Expand on an Existing Feature


This can be a really easy way to add some apparent intricacy to a knitted piece. The cardigan pattern I based the baptism gown on had a simple repeating lace diamond design running along the bottom edge, on either side of the middle next to the buttons/buttonholes, and running down each sleeve. Instead of having one set of lace diamonds running along the bottom edge of the piece, I simply added another set of diamonds. This added a little more interest to the gown.

How to do it:

This depends on what feature you want to expand on. In most cases, it will simply be a case of working more rows of the feature you’re expanding on. If you want the overall length of the garment to be the same as the pattern, you will need to take into account that by adding rows to a feature, you will need to subtract that number of rows somewhere else to compensate.
There you have it; five ideas to modify a knitting pattern. Let me know if you have any other ideas. I’d love to hear about them!
The Knitted Kitten

How I do a Tenion (Gauge) Swatch

I started a new project recently. It’s a pair of socks for my best friend from primary school. The first Christmas after I learned to knit, I made her a red lace scarf, the next year a red lace beanie, the next year red lace gloves, so this year for Christmas I’m making her red lace socks. Because I wanted to get the sizing right, I did a proper tension/gauge swatch, and I thought I’d share how I test my tension, and discuss a couple of other methods I’ve tried. To aid your understanding, please enjoy my very high quality MS Paint diagrams.

What is Tension/Gauge?
Tension (called “gauge” in the USA, and maybe Canada) refers to the amount of stitches and rows you can knit in a given area, on a given weight of yarn with a given needle size and stitch. For example, consider and 8 ply acrylic yarn, knit in stocking (stockinette) stitch on 4mm needles. Your average knitter will knit about 22 stitches and 28 rows in a 10cm X 10cm (4in X 4in) square. Of course, averages are statistical calculations, so don’t necessarily represent any real person’s tension. And as hand-knitters, our tension may well change day to day, row to row, or even stitch to stitch (hopefully it’s not too uneven though). This is why it’s important to check your tension.

I don’t always check my tension before starting a project, but I do believe that they’re important if you’re going to do something where accurate sizing is important.

Tension for Knitting Patterns
At the start of knitting patterns, the designer will almost always include a section for tension or gauge. These things usually look something like this:

Tension: 34 sts/48 rows = 10cm X 10cm in stocking stitch

Tension guides on knitting patterns usually quote expected numbers for a 10cm square, but sometimes will quote for a 1 inch (2.5cm) square. Similarly, tension guides usually give you expected tension for stocking stitch. However, some patterns, especially those with featured stitch patterns, like lace, will give you tension for that stitch pattern.

So, What is a Tension Swatch, then?
A tension swatch is a square that you knit in the recommended needle size and the yarn you are planning to use, to see if your knitting produces the same tension as those recommended. If you find that your swatch has more stitches and rows per 10cm square, your finished object will turn out too small. You’ll need to go up a needle size and knit another swatch to see if those needles are better. Conversely, if your swatch has fewer stitches and rows per square, your finished object will turn out too big, and you’ll need to go for a smaller needle size.

Great. So how do you do a tension swatch?

The Method I use: 15cm X 15cm (6in X 6in) Square

When I first learned to knit, I borrowed this book from my local library. It contained information for how to do a tension swatch. I’ve tried other methods, but I still turn to the method described in this book for my “Gold standard” of tension. So this is how I do it.

  1. Plan a 15cm X 15cm swatch (not 10cm). Why? You’re not bound to get an accurate count of your stitches and rows since edge stitches often curl round the edges, and I don’t know if it’s just me, but my selvedge stitch are looser than the others. Also, if your tension turns out to be tighter than that given by the pattern, your square will be smaller than 10cm squared and you won’t know how far off you are.

    To calculate what is a 15cm square, multiply the stitches and rows from the pattern’s tension guide by 1.5. So, if your pattern says that 20sts X 30 rows makes 10cm squared, you would cast on 30sts and work in stocking stitch for 45 rows. If your tension is dead on the guide, your square will be a 15cm square.

  2. Once you have done this swatch, it will be curly, as stocking stitch is. Since you’re bothering to do a tension swatch, you’re probably planning on bothering to block or steam your finished project. Therefore, you need to block or steam your swatch. You might also want to beat up the swatch a little too, to imitate everyday wear and tear, since knitted objects may stretch over time. I will usually block swatches properly, washing briefly in warm water and laundry liquid, then rinsing in warm water. However for this pattern, I couldn’t be bothered going to those lengths, so instead I thoroughly washed the swatch in warm water and squeezed it out. See my diagram for how I did it: 
 After you’ve wet your swatch, you need to pin it out to dry. Pin it out square, but don’t stretch or compress it so that it fits into a 15cm square. That defeats the purpose of the swatch. I would normally use sewing pins, the ones with the colourful heads, but I don’t have any in Tasmania, sew (pun intended) I used sewing needles. I could never have done this in Adelaide. My female dog Bubbles loves metal things. Once, my mum noticed that Bubbles would yelp every time she got into her bed. Turns out she had been collecting the sewing needles I would inadvertently drop when I wove in ends etc. (I had a tin full of sewing and darning needles) Thank God she never ate any of them (she has eaten other sharp metal things before). I now keep much better track of my notions. Anyway, I digress. Here is what it looked like when I pinned out my swatch:
Once it is dry, grab your ruler or tape measure and count the number of stitches (including half stitches) and rows in a 10cm square. As I said before, if you have a greater number of stitches/rows than the tension guide, your finished object will be smaller than the design. Fewer stitches/rows than the guide, it will be larger than the design. If you’re one or two stitches off, you might not want to bother adjusting the needles size and re-swatching. If you want, you can calculate, based on your own tension, how big your finished object will be, and then decide if the finished size will do the job.

Other Ways to Swatch
  • The garter stitch border method: I read once that because stocking stitch curls, it’s a good idea to knit a border of garter stitch around the stocking stitch bit that you will count your tension from. I’ve tried this. I don’t recommend it. I did a garter stitch bordered swatch, blocked it and counted, and was really surprised that my tension was much looser than the guide, when it is usually pretty much spot on, if not a little bit tight. So, I did another swatch with no stocking stitch and my tension was back to normal. Conclusion: By starting off with a few garter stitch rows, garter stitch being a looser stitch than stocking stitch, you’ve established a looser tension. If you want to try it, here is a picture:
  • The half-arsed method: I do this pretty often. You start knitting a swatch then can’t be bothered finishing, or you don’t want to break the yarn. So, you cast off, not pulling the yarn the whole way through the last cast off stitch (so you can unravel it later) and count your stitches and rows from the portion of swatch you’ve done (you can figure out the per-inch tension if you don’t have a 10cm portion). Not as accurate as doing a proper and blocked/steamed swatch, but it does give you an idea.

I save my tension swatches and am planning to turn them into a  blanket when I have enough. I have some half-arsed ones that I might also put in the blanket, I haven’t decided yet.


  • My stitch tension is ok but my row tension is wrong! Help!
    • Yeah, this happens to me. Here’s a little trick: If your pattern is something which is knit sideways, then you should pay more attention to your row count over your stitch count. For other patterns, those knit top down or bottom up, stitch count is important. This is especially true for garments. If your row count is ridiculously different from the tension guide, you might want to consider adapting the pattern itself.

That’s all. Here’s a picture of a beetle:

Learn How to Make a 45 Degree Angle Lazy Kate

Pinterest image of How to Make 45 degree angle Lazy KateAnother spinning-related post here: it’s a DIY on how to make a 45 degree angle Lazy Kate! For quite a while now, since I learned of their existence in The Intentional Spinner, I have wanted a Lazy Kate on which bobbins of yarn slant at a 45 degree angle. This makes the yarn come off smoothly and prevents the bobbins over-spinning. For non-initiated readers, here are some definitions so you can follow what I’m talking about.

Lazy Kate: A Lazy Kate (love the name) is a wooden stand that you put bobbins of yarn on so that they will unwind as you ply the yarns together.

Bobbin: A bobbin is the thing that newly-spun yarn is wound around on a spinning wheel. It is essentially a large wooden spool, and you can think of the yarn is the thread.

I went crazy with online buying recently and on the same day that I bought my Craftsy course from the last post, I bought three bobbins online. I previously only owned three bobbins, so the most plys I could spin were 2-ply, or 3-ply if I use Navajo plying. My wheel is an Ashford Traditional single-drive wheel, so I bought the Ashford standard bobbins, from the eBay seller ropes546, who is excellent and even sent with my bobbins a copy of a spinning magazine called The Wheel. I bought unstained ones as they’d be about $5 more expensive each if I were going to buy them lacquered. So, I thought, I’m going to have to buy stain and/or varnish for these bobbins anyway, so I may as well make my own 45 degree angle Lazy Kate and use up the whole pot (actually, I used barely any of the pot).

As I am so nice, I’ve decided to give you a little step-by-step tutorial on how to make a 45 Degree angle Lazy Kate like mine.

How to Make Your Lazy Kate

You will Need

Materials (and approximate cost):

  • Wooden door plaque about 30cm long, 8-10cm high and at least 1cm thick….$3
  • 90cm length of dowel, 0.6cm in diameter…$2
  • Wood stain. I used Intergrain NaturalStain in Merbau and I bought a sample pot…$10
  • Two wooden craft letter “V”s about 5cm high (I searched high and low for suitable 45 degree angled triangles of wood. I wasn’t going to faff around with a saw trying to cut a piece of wood at an angle. I ended up finding these “V”s at Cheap as Chips and when I held two together I found that they made a 90 degree angle and therefore individually were 45 degrees. Bingo. They are made of kind of pulped up wood, like super-duper-thick-and-dense cardboard, making them easy to sand down. The plaque is made of similar material)…$2
 Estimated cost of materials: $17

Images of materials used in construction of Lazy Kate
A picture of some of the supplies you will need. Dog is optional.


  • Saw
  • Sandpaper (I like a sheet rather than a block so you can tear it up to do the fiddly bits.)
  • Power drill
  • 0.6cm/quarter-inch-ish drill bit (I’ll tell you a secret: I knew my dowel was 0.6cm across so I was looking for a drill bit (that I already owned) that was equal to or slightly larger than this size. The best I could find was 7/32 of an inch. “That’s nearly 0.6cm,” I said to myself, little realising that 7/32 of an inch is slightly less than, not slightly more than, 0.6cm. Doiiiii. I ended up finding a screwdriver that was exactly 0.6cm across and expanding my already-drilled holes by forcing the screwdriver through them. It worked well, as the dowels fitted in very snugly and didn’t need to be glued in. Not gluing them in will make them easier to replace).
  • Strong adhesive. I used Parfix Fast Grip (in a much smaller tube than the pot shown). I used the wet adhesive instructions rather than the contact adhesive instructions. Liquid Nails would also work.
  • Paint brush to apply the wood stain
  • Newspaper for the messy work
  • Small flat piece of rigid plastic to stir wood stain.
  • Pencil
  • Ruler
  • Eraser

What to Do

  1.   Mark off three 20cm lengths on your dowel. Save the rest in case you need to replace a dowel later on.
  2. Cut these three lengths from the dowel. Sand down the ends. I sanded one end round and one end flat. See Fig 1.
    Image of sanded dowels
    Fig 1. How I sanded my dowels (two rounded and one flat end)
  3.  Take the wooden plaque. Sand off any rough bits. Measure and mark a line running along the middle of the plaque along its length. See Fig 2.
  4.  Mark three points evenly spaced along this line. These will be where you will drill holes for the dowels. My plaque was about 30cm long. I put the two end holes about 4cm from the edges and the middle one equally distanced between these two. See Fig 3.
    Pencil markings on Lazy Kate plaque
    Fig 2. Centre line running the length of the plaque  
  5. Taking your power drill (with correctly-sized drill bit), drill holes in each of these three marks. Sand off any rough bits. Erase pencil marks.
  6. Insert dowels into holes. Have the flat end of each dowel flush with the back of the plaque, with the rounded end sticking out. Because my holes were the exact same size as the dowels, I did not need to glue them in. This will also make it easier to replace them if need be. If your holes are slightly larger than your dowels, you may need to use your strong adhesive to secure the dowels in place. Sand off the back of the plaque where the dowels poke out to make it smooth.
    Close-up of markings on Lazy Kate
    Fig 3. Close-up of mark for drill holes
  7.  Saw outer serifs off letter “V”s. Sand them down so that the serif stubs are flush with the rest of the outside of the “V”.
  8. Turn plaque over so you are looking at the back of it. Mark two lines on either side of the plaque. This is where the “V”s will be placed. It doesn’t matter too much how far apart they are, just as long as they are parallel and when attached make the Lazy Kate stand sturdily and at a 45-degree angle. You figure it out. See Fig 4.
    Image of placement of "V" wooden pieces on unfinished 45 degree angle Lazy Kate
    Fig 4. Placement of letter “V”s
  9. Glue letter “V”s to Lazy Kate along these points with heavy-duty adhesive. As well as putting glue on the surfaces touching each other, I ran a line of glue down the sides of each “V” once it was stuck on, to reinforce them. Erase pencil marks. Allow to dry.
  10. Stain Lazy Kate according to instructions. Allow to dry. Enjoy. See Figs 5. and 6.

So there it is, my tutorial for a 45 degree angle Lazy Kate. I hope you enjoy making yours as much as I did mine.




Image of finished 45 degree angle Lazy Kate with bobbins
Fig 6. Lazy Kate with two of my new bobbins on it
Image of finished 45 degree angle Lazy Kate
Fig 5. Completed Lazy Kate