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Charts are our friends Don't give it away Renovation, transformation Knit by numbers

-- a simple way to make your own patterns

Anyone who read the title and thought "Oh, I can't do that," go slap yourself.

Now, then.

In the dark and mysterious past, knitters didn't have Debbie Bliss or Elsebeth Lavold telling them "cast on fifty stitches, work in pattern..." For most of knitting's history, the idea of a written pattern would have been strange and foreign. What our ancestors did was use a system of proportions and percentages to help them create a knitted garment. Cast on enough stitches to go around the chest, knit until it was long enough, bind off one-third the width on each side for shoulders, and leave the middle third for a neck. Knit some sleeves, slash the arm holes, sew them in. There's your traditional knitted gansey. Nothing to it.

NOTHING TO IT? Yes. If they did it, we can do it.

To make matters even simpler, several master knitters over the years have taken pity on the rest of us and codified the proportions even more exactly. Elizabeth Zimmermann was the first to take the mystery out of the old traditional knitting methods and explain about seamless sweaters, percentage systems, and figuring things out for yourself.

As you can see, 100% is the chest measurement, and then everything else is a portion of that. You can knit yourself a well-fitted sweater following these guidelines on your first time out. A couple sweaters for practice, and you'll be throwing in cables and fancy colors in no time.

Just to convince you it's easy, I'll walk you through your first one.

This is your prototype. It's knit with the percentage system and hardly planned at all as I went. I used Brown Sheep's Lamb's Pride Worsted and turned the thing out in about two weeks, doing most of my knitting while watching television or studying geography (I aced the test on China, too.) The color is M-59, Periwinkle, if you find it pretty. I'm not too wild about it, myself; I think I'm unloading the sweater on a friend. Holidays coming up, after all.

I used a US size 10 needle, even though the yarn label said to use a US size 8. I like the way the fabric drapes better on a US 10. Since this is MY SWEATER with MY GAUGE, it doesn't matter. I can do whatever I want. Ahahahaha.

Step one is a swatch. No, you don't have to do a swatch; only if you want the sweater to fit. No, you don't have to wash the swatch before you measure it, assuming you're never going to wash the sweater, either. For the rest of you, cast on 30 stitches on a circular or double-point needle.

DO NOT KNIT BACK AND FORTH. You aren't knitting the sweater back and forth -- why would you knit the swatch back and forth? Push the stitches over to the right side of the needle, loop the yarn across the back, and knit back across the swatch. Smoosh the stitches back over to the right again, loop the yarn, and knit across. Do this for about 20 rows, then bind off loosely. This will look like a giant I-cord with really messy yarn strands across the back. Cut the yarn strands in the middle, neaten up the edges (you can tie pairs of the yarn ends together, but you really don't have to), and wash the swatch.

Oh, quit whining. You can do this in a couple hours while watching a movie.

Once it's dry, pin the thing out on a foam-backed board (like my photo ^ up there) or a couch cushion (like I usually do), and get a ruler. Lay the ruler across the swatch and shove some pins in, four inches apart. I've got two tips for you here: put one of the pins between two stitches, neatly, so you have somewhere to start counting, and MAKE SURE THE PINS ARE BOTH IN THE SAME ROW. I once measured a swatch diagonally across a couple rows and spent the next month knitting a sweater that didn't fit.

Count up your stitches, including half stitches (you can count quarters, too, but that's a bit extreme unless the final result is supposed to be close fitting), divide this number by 4, and you've got your gauge. This is how many stitches per inch this yarn knits at, for you, on those needles. (If you actually label this and keep it, the next time you knit a sweater with this yarn and needles, you can skip the swatch process.) In my case, I got 3.5 stitches per inch.

Time for the math. A calculator (hint) makes it almost brainless.

What you need is your chest measurement. The easiest way to get this is to get your favorite-fitting sweatshirt and measure how wide it is through the chest. When I did that, I got 46 inches. 46 inches x 3.5 stitches per inch = 161 stitches. I bumped it up to 162 because I like working with even numbers.

Using 162 as the magic number, it's simple to figure backward for all the other percentages in your sweater. Get your calculator.

162 x 90% = 145.8
Bump it over to 146 and you've got the number of stitches to cast on.

162 x 20% = 32.4
Round it down to 32 and you've got your start for the sleeve.

Working through the chart gives you all your relevant numbers:

So here we go. You either need a couple circular needles, or some yarn, or some stitch holders, because we're going to have a bunch of active stitches on hold from time to time. Cast on 146 stitches and knit a couple inches of ribbing. Increase to 162 stitches evenly across the row, (that's knit 9, make 1) and knit the body up to the underarms. Length is a matter of personal taste, but i like it around 16 inches. Put the body aside, just leave it for now with all the stitches raw, on a needle, and knit two sleeves: Cast on 32 stitches, knit in ribbing for a couple inches, then at the underarm, increase 2 stitches every 3 or 4 rows until you have 64 stitches (that's 40%), and knit until you like the length. Knit a duplicate sleeve for the other side. To avoid the embarrassing cliché of a sweater with sleeves two different lengths, make sure you've got the exact number of rows in each sleeve (hint: row counter).

At this point, we have three separate pieces of knitting. One body and two sleeves.

Put 8% -- 13 stitches in this case -- on stitch holders at the underarms, both on the body and the sleeves. On the body, that would mean you'd have 68 stitches for the front of the body, 13 stitches at the armpit on a holder, 68 stitches for the back of the body, and 13 stitches at the other armpit on a holder. (68+13+68+13=162 Subtract the armpit stitches -- 26 total -- then divide what is left by 2, to get front and back.) MAKE SURE THE ARMPITS ARE OPPOSITE EACH OTHER. That's the only thing you can potentially screw up on this stage. Put 13 armpit stitches at the underarm of each sleeve on holders, leaving you 51 active stitches per sleeve.

Put the sleeves and body on one circular needle, with everything aligned as it would be on the body: sleeve, body front or back, sleeve, other half of body, other sleeve. (I do this by just knitting it all onto the needle -- I knit my way across the back, knit on the stitches of the sleeve, knit across the front, and knit on the stitches for the other sleeve.) You should now have 238 stitches on your needle: 68 back stitches, 51 sleeve stitches, 68 front stitches, 51 sleeve stitches = 238 stitches total. Make sure there are stitch markers at the four places where sleeve and body meet. (Those are known as armpit corners at my house.)

The hard part is done. In fact, making sure your sleeves are on opposite sides of your body is about the only hard part to this method of knitting.

Knit an inch or two plain. The more you knit plain, the deeper the arm holes will be. Up to you.

Once you've got your arm holes deep enough, begin the raglan decreasing. Decrease TWO STITCHES at EACH MARKER, EVERY OTHER ROW. The decrease used on my sweater was slip-slip knit, move marker, knit 2 together. You could alternately use slip 1, knit 2 together, pass the slipped stitch over, or, heck, any double decrease or pair of decreases, so long as you get the numbers right. That means you do a row where you decrease 8 stitches (2 at each of 4 markers), then a row plain. Then another decrease row, then another plain row...that's it.

Decrease until you get to about 72 stitches (162 x 45% = 72.9 stitches), knit an inch or so of ribbing, and bind off. If you want, you can put in a short row or two across the back of the neck to make it fit better, but it's not vital. All you've got left to do is graft together your armpits. That's all the finishing there is; no real seams.

Congratulations. You've just made up your very own pattern. Now go do another one, but put in colors, or a cable, or something.

Anyone who said "I can't do that" is grounded!



Julie is in the process of moving back to the mainland and her property is spread out across seven thousand miles of island, ocean, and continent. Without her yarn stash, she's pretty bereft. She's not sure she wants to move back to North America, even if they do have good donuts and yarn stores.

Knitting hasn't kept her sane, but it has kept her out of the loony bin. So far.