Category Archives: Knitting Tutorial

Polonaise Sweater: customizing sizing

Although Polonaise might seem to involve too many complexities for any size adjustments, there is actually a lot of opportunity for customizing sizing. One of the reasons I like to work sweaters flat in pieces and seam them later is the flexibility that this construction provides. So let’s take a look at how and where modifications can be made.

To adjust the body width, simply cast on the desired number of stitches and work fractional repeats of the pattern at the hem, using the guidelines from the previous post. Alternatively, add or subtract stitches after working the lace pattern at the hem, once you start the stockinette stitch section. While the pattern as written is designed to have a convenient number of lace repeats at the top of the shoulder, with all the armhole and neck shaping going on in that region, you’ll be a pro at working fractional repeats of the pattern, and any changes introduced in the stitch count will be easily incorporated. Just make sure there’s an odd number of stitches before starting the neck shaping! The region of stockinette in the middle portion of the body also allows for waist shaping, without disrupting the stitch pattern repeat. I made my sweater straight this time for a comfier fit, but it would look fantastic with a bit of an hourglass shape as well. Fig1

To change the length of the body, work additional or fewer rows in the stockinette portion, or once the upper lace portion commences. The former option will ensure that the lace point of the V will remain in the same place, while the latter will result in the lace point moving up or down.


Adjusting the V-neck depth is a bit more tricky, but not impossible! Once you’ve decided where you want the point of the V to land (relative to the shoulder), calculate the number of rows between the bottom and top of the V neck. You will want to have the same final number of shoulder stitches (unless, of course, you don’t), which means that you will want to work the same number of decreases over the newly-calculated number of rows.


If the number of decreases doesn’t evenly distribute across the number of rows, then work decreases more frequently at first, and less frequently towards the top of the V. A neck that looks like this:


is much better than one that looks like this:


Now that you’ve customized your body length, width, and neck depth, you’ll be ready to tackle the sleeves. The sleeve shape is fairly straightforward, and all the shaping effects are achieved by differences in gauge. To adjust the width of the forearm, simply change the stitch count in multiples of 4. You can restore the stitch count in the first row prior to the start of the lace pattern.


To adjust width in the upper arm, increase or decrease to the desired number of stitches in the first row before the lace pattern begins, and work partial pattern repeats over the extra stitches. Restore the stitch count in the final rows of the cap; the puff sleeves are quite forgiving of variations in stitch count.


Finally, the sleeve length can be adjusted by lengthening or shortening either the ribbed forearm, or the lace sections. To preserve the Gigot-sleeved look of the sweater, ensure that the transition from the ribbing to the lace occurs at or just below the elbow.


Your customized Polonaise will quickly become a wardrobe favorite!





Polonaise Sweater: maintaining stitch patterns while changing stitch counts

My Polonaise sweater features a relatively simple lace pattern, configured in a somewhat more complex arrangement across the sweater front and back. The pattern asks you to both incorporate additional stitches in the lace pattern as you work, and later to decrease them while maintaining the pattern. Here are some tips that will help maintain the lace pattern, without resorting to swaths of interrupting stockinette stitch.

The pattern initially begins with working one lace repeat in the center of the body. The lace pattern is a multiple of 6 +1 sts, which means that a single repeat is 7 sts. It may be helpful to mark the center 7 sts when working the row prior to the first lace row.


This is how it looks after the first repeat has been worked over the center 7 sts.


Now you will want to add one additional pattern repeat before and after the established one. Each additional pattern repeat will be 6 sts (not 7!). On the last WS row before working the additional pattern repeats, place markers 6 sts before and 6 sts after the established 7 pattern stitches, and remove the original markers.


(Those of you with keen eyes might notice that I’ve added an extra stitch at each end. This is only to keep my markers from falling off. In reality, you will have many stockinette stitches on each side of the central pattern repeat). On the next row, work the pattern as described between markers. A central stitch that’s maintained as a knit stitch throughout will be come evident (marked with a safety pin, below). This will become important when you start decreasing.


When it comes time for the armholes, you will have to decrease in pattern. One method is to work the stitches of the pattern repeat in which the decrease occurs as stockinette. But maybe you don’t want a chunk of 5 stockinette stitches at each end of the piece. With this pattern, it is relatively straightforward to work partial pattern repeats, as follows:

Find (and mark) the central knit stitch of the first pattern repeat, indicated here by the safety pin.


(Again, those of you with keen eyes might notice that I’ve decreased away the extra edge stitches I added previously—I no longer need them to hold markers in place! This is for instructional purposes only). The stitches after the marked one can be worked in pattern without any adjustments. In this pattern, all the RS rows have a “yo” within the first 3 stitches of the row beginning and end. To decrease one stitch at each end, simply omit the yo but work the decrease that’s closest to it as usual. One stitch decreased!


In this case I’ve worked the first decrease on Row 2 of the pattern. If you want to decrease again on Row 4, the situation is more straightforward. The omission of a yo on the previous RS row generated 2 stockinette stitches before the central marked knit stitch. These two stitches can be worked together on Row 4 to decrease another stitch. If you prefer to work decreases 1 stitch from the edge, the central knit stitch of the pattern can be worked together with the preceding stitch (at the beginning of the row), or the following knit stitch (at the end of the row).


In this image, the first two stitches at the beginning of the row have been worked together (ssk), leaving the central knit stitch of the first repeat untouched. At the end of the row, the central knit stitch of the final pattern repeat has been knit together with the next one, leaving the edge stitch untouched. Note that this still preserves the knit stitch “spine” in the pattern. Once the central knit stitch has been decreased away, the remaining half of the pattern repeat can be worked in stockinette stitch to accommodate additional decreases.

In this way, it’s possible to decrease in pattern without generating more than 2 stockinette stitches at each edge at any given time, allowing the pattern to flow gracefully along all the shaping lines.




It has come to my attention that seaming can be quite a cause for anxiety. Having grown up with vintage patterns (which would lead one to think that knitting in the round had not yet been invented), seaming has become an essential part of my knitting repertoire. I took some pictures today to show how I seam. My basic technique is the mattress stitch. Unfortunately, unlike the diagrams in most mattress stitch tutorials, I typically don’t have a straight, tidy row of edge sts. Not even if I slip an edge stitch for seaming, though that does help somewhat. Nevertheless, sometimes there are circumstances (e.g. lack of forethought) when you don’t have a tidy edge.

I’m starting with this swatch, which I’ll fold in half and seam as if it were a sleeve:

I fold it in half and pin it together, as if it were a piece of fabric. I then place the pins a couple of stitches in from the edge, making sure to pin at the top and bottom edges, and at the transitions between stitch patterns that need to align. If the piece has a clear center, I align the centers and pin there. It doesn’t matter that the pin heads are small enough to slip through the knitted fabric. There won’t be much tension applied to them in the process, their main purpose is to keep things from shifiting around.

I remove the first pin and insert the threaded needle through the base of the first stitch on one side of the seam, leaving a tail to weave in later. I’m using one stitch for selvedge on each side:

Then I go into the equivalent spot on the opposite side of the seam, pick up a strand of thread from the swatch, and pull through:

I repeat on the opposite side of the seam:

Note that I am not pulling as tight as I should, in order for the stitches to be clear for photos. Normally you’ll want to pull enough for the sewing yarn to disappear into the fabric.

When pulling through, I make sure the seam is flat, as shown above. The swatch in this case is in the shape of a tube as I pull through. Don’t hold the swatch like a folded rectangle, like this:

Now that the very ends of the swatch are secure, I’m a little more careful about stitch placement. I run the sewing yarn perpendicularly across the seam line, and insert my needle one stitch from the edge, along the line that the thread marks:

Now that things are going smoothly, I might run the needle under two strands of knitting to make the stitch (especially if it’s a long seam and I want it to go faster):

Sometimes, despite my best efforts, a bubble forms:

I could be tidy and undo the seam until the bubble disappears, and then redo it. But I’m too lazy for that. As soon as I notice the bubble, with the yarn opposite to the side that’s bubbling (has excess fabric), I determine the position of the next stitch by pulling the sewing yarn diagonally across the seam line (instead of perpendicularly as above), and insert the needle at that point:

If I were to pull the yarn perpendicularly, it would look like this. I DON’T want to insert the needle at this point:

I insert the needle and take a large-ish stitch:

On the opposite side, I lay the yarn diagonally backwards to mark the next needle insertion site:

And then I take a small-ish stitch:

The bubble is significantly reduced:

One more stitch like this (with maybe less of a difference in stitch size on the two sides of the seams) resolves the bubble:

Continue as before all the way up the seam, and you’ll have a perfectly seamed garment!

A math-free method for picking up stitches evenly

Last time, I showed a rigorous, mathematical method for evenly spacing out increases, beads, pattern motifs etc. in your knitting. But when it comes to picking up stitches for a neckline or button-band, I throw all caution to the wind and take a decidedly unmathematical approach. With a little bit of vigilance, however, I find that I can avoid rippling button bands and necklines too small to slip over my head.

My typical approach to picking up stitches involves inserting a crochet hook into the fabric, drawing up a loop, and knitting it off the crochet hook onto a knitting needle. Instead of knitting, it is also possible to draw up a second loop from the fabric and crochet the two loops together (e.g. by single crochet). While I’m using the crochet-loop-and-knit method in the following examples, the principles will work equally well for other methods of picking up and knitting or crocheting.


Here I’ve shown stitches in blue picked up and knit along a cast-off edge. The blue yarn I’m using is much lighter than the yellow yarn used for the body of the knitting, and so a ratio of 1 picked up stitch per bound-off stitch works well. Typically if I’m picking up stitches with the same yarn as the bind-off, I end up picking up 3 stitches per 4 bound-off stitches, or 5 per 6. Regardless of your yarn combos, if the stitches are evenly picked up, you will notice one important feature, which is that the “stitch axis” and the “loop axis” lie in pretty much a straight line for every stitch, and are parallel for adjacent stitches, as seen here:


In the next example, I have picked up 1 stitch per 2 bound-off stitches. A huge ripple in the fabric immediately becomes obvious, indicating that there is too much space between the picked-up stitches, necessitating that the yellow fabric buckle to allow the stitches to slide close together. The stitch axes tend to angle towards each other rather than lying parallel.


In the next example, I have picked up 2 sts per bound-off stitch, which I might reasonably have attempted given the discrepancy in yarn weights. If you begin to pick up too many stitches, you will soon notice that the stitch and loop axes don’t line up well, and are not parallel for adjacent stitches. This effect occurs because the stitches made into the fabric are smushed close together, while the loops on the needle, which are more free to move than the stitches made in the fabric, tend to splay apart. Consequently, a line connecting the ten loops on the needle is wider than a line connecting the corresponding stitches in the fabric.


My solution to this problem is to watch diligently for splaying loops on the needle and/ or unaligned or non-parallel stitch and loop axes. At the first sign of any of these occurrences, I create one stitch less than I normally would. I then continue at my usual rate until the problem occurs again. I watch to see how many stitches I can create at my usual rate until the loops start to splay. In this case, it’s clear that even two stitches at this rate is too many, as they begin to splay instantly. I would figure out pretty quickly that a ratio of 3:2 or 1:1 (rather than 2:1) might be good to try.


And now that I’ve shown all my examples, I’m going to admit to being a little less than forthcoming at the start. While it’s true that a 1:1 ratio looks the best (with all the stitch and loop axes aligned and parallel), if I were proceeding with this project, I might actually opt for a 3:2 ratio. The reason is that the loops generated by a 1:1 ratio are a little further apart than I would normally knit for this yarn weight. At the 3:2 ratio, the loops are packed at the density I would expect for this yarn, and it is clear that a line connecting 10 loops at this ratio would be the same length as a line connecting the corresponding stitches in the fabric. Whether I’d select a 1:1 ratio or 3:2 would be largely dependent on the stitch pattern I planned to work with the picked up stitches. For garter stitch, which tends to be wider than stockinette for a given yarn and needle size, I might stick with the 1:1 ratio. For ribbing, which pulls in, I’d select the 3:2 ratio.

Although I picked up stitches without any pre-calculations , it is important to keep track of how many stitches were picked up, and the ratio of fabric stitches to picked-up stitches. If picking up along a neckline or other symmetric piece, the same number of stitches (plus/ minus a couple) should be picked up from each shoulder seam to center front, and again from each shoulder seam to center back (the front and back stitch counts don’t have to be identical to each other, of course). If the pattern requires a given number of stitches (e.g. an even number for ribbing), it is important to keep this value in mind from the start so you can squeeze in or omit the necessary number of stitches. Otherwise you will get to the end of the pick-ups and realize you have entirely the wrong number of stitches!

By paying careful attention to the stitches and loops as I’m picking up, I’ve managed to avoid rippling fabrics or stretched-out bands, and have not had to spend a lot of time ripping out stitches. I recently took this approach when working a row of single crochet stitches around the neckline of my A Little Lace V-Neck sweater, and I’m very pleased with the results.

Do you have other tips and tricks for picking up stitches evenly? I’d love to hear them!

Demystifying distributing stitches evenly

I learned to knit when I was 4 years old, and grew up working from vintage/ retro patterns, mostly from the 1970’s. One of my favorite pattern magazines to this day is Women’s Day’s “101 Sweaters you can Knit and Crochet,” published in 1976 (and sold for 95 cents). The patterns are terse, and directions for an entire sweater often fit in 2 columns of a 3-column formatted page. Implicit in these patterns is the assumption that readers will be able to increase/ decrease a given number of times evenly over the total number of stitches, an assumption that I think is no longer valid. In order to assuage the impending sense of doom that comes with directions to “increase evenly…,” I’m going to work through distributing 6 Events (which can be increases/ decreases/ special stitches/ beads/ whatever) evenly over 87 stitches. I recently followed this procedure when distributing button-holes in my “Moorish Lattice Cardigan”, although the details of the numerical values were a bit different.

The most important aspect of this task is to consider not the number of Events (which I’ll call “E”), but the number of spaces between Events, which I’ll call intervals (or “I”). There are a few different ways in which the Events can be distributed:


A) The Events are distributed such that there is one at each end of the knitting and 4 more in the middle. This distribution is useful for, say, placing beads along the short edge of a scarf. In this case, there are 5 intervals, or one less than the number of Events. I= E-1.

This set-up is closest to the one I followed for my Moorish Lattice Cardigan. To avoid placing button-holes in the first and last rows of the button band, I allowed 2 rows on either side of the first and last button-hole, and distributed the holes over the remaining number of rows.

B) The Events are distributed in the middle of the work, such that there is a plain interval at each end. This distribution is useful when the edge might be a transition to a separate section (rather than an endpoint), as in a shawl. Here there are 7 intervals, or one more than the number of Events. I= E+1.

C) This set-up is similar to B, but instead of a full interval at each end, there is half an interval. This set-up is useful if the two edges of the work will later be seamed together, as in a sleeve. The total number of intervals is equal to the number of Events. I=E.

D) Here the row starts with an Event, and ends with a plain interval. This distribution is often used for pieces that will be seamed to look as if they were worked in the round, e.g. for a sweater back and front. There are 6 intervals, which is the same as the number of Events. I=E.

E) This set-up is similar to D, except worked in the round. The number of intervals equals the number of events. I=E.

To start, figure out how many stitches will fit in each interval. For each situation:

A) I= E-1= 6-1= 5. The length of each interval is 87/5= 17 Remainder 2.

B) I= E+1= 6+1= 7. The length of each interval is 87/7= 12 Remainder 3.

C-E) I= E= 6. The length of each interval is 87/6= 14 Remainder 3.

The quotients 17, 12, 14, respectively, tell us how many stitches will be in each interval. If you worked exactly that many stitches in between Events, there would be 2, 3, 3 stitches, respectively, left over at the end of your row/ round in each case.

What to do with those extra stitches? The easiest solution is to put an extra stitch into some of your intervals. The value of the remainder tells us how many intervals will get one extra stitch. In case (A), there will be two 18-stitch intervals amongst a total of five intervals (the remaining three intervals will have 17 stitches each, as initially calculated); you can incorporate the extra stitch into the 2nd and 4th intervals. In case (B), three of the intervals will contain an extra stitch (13 stitches), while the remaining four intervals will contain the calculated 12 stitches. Here we have to distribute 3 larger (13-stitch) intervals in a total of 7 intervals. Intuitively, the larger intervals can be alternated with the normal-sized ones (i.e. intervals #2, 4, 6 can contain 13 stitches each).

What if intuition fails you in distributing the larger intervals? Say you had 7 large intervals to distribute amongst a total of 20…. Then simply repeat the process again! Now the number of Events is the number of large intervals (7), and the value over which to distribute these is the total number of intervals (20).

20/7= 2 Remainder 6.

This means that you could work every 2nd interval as a large one (i.e. in pairs of normal and large-sized intervals), in which case you’d have 6 normal ones left at the end of the row/ round. Instead of stacking them all together, you could distribute them such that 6 pairs of (normal, large) intervals have an extra normal-sized interval immediately following, while the 7th does not.

Finally, how do you go from the quotients and remainders to the final pattern? The key here is deciding whether your Event consumes a stitch. If your Event is an M1 increase, no stitches are consumed. In that case, the patterns in each scenario would be as follows:

A) M1, (work 17 sts, M1, work 18 sts, M1) 2 times across, work 17 sts., M1.

B) (Work 12 sts, M1, work 13 sts, M1) 3 times across, work 12 sts.

C-E) I’ll leave you this one to work out!

In case (A), doing an M1 at the beginning or end of a row is tricky (if not impossible), so if you’re planning on using an M1, it might be easier to use one of the other distribution schemes (B-E), a different type of increase, or move the M1 one stitch in from each end.

If your increase consumes a stitch (e.g. kfb), then your pattern will be as follows:

A) (Kfb, work 16 sts, kfb, work 17 sts) 2 times across, kfb, work 15 sts, kfb.

B) (Work 11 sts, kfb, work 12 sts, kfb) 3 times across, work 12 sts.

C-E) I’ll leave this one to you!

This workflow is universally applicable to distributing any number or types of events over any number of stitches. The devil lies in the details of choosing a distribution scheme, and deciding how many stitches will be consumed by your Event.

Or… you could take my mother’s approach and just eyeball the interval size!