To Knit As Written…or not?

Last time, I showed a photo of the beginnings of my Tattoo Tank from Knitscene Winter/Spring 2010. I also gave instructions for how to choose the right size for this little summer top
, only to find out that I myself had gone and cast on for a little summer top big enough to fit Godzilla.

Hmm. You know, I don't think Godzilla is really into little knit tops this season.

Once I finished that particular slice of humble pie (oooo, tasty!), I cranked up the Carrie Underwood and started pulling out all five inches of the Godzilla top. ("I dug my key into the side of his pretty little souped-up 4 wheel drive..") Whoo-HOO!

After a day or two of letting the yarn sit in the corner and think about its bad self, I cast on the proper number of stitches for my size (and re-counted twice, just to be sure).

As I worked the first round, I considered The Big Question: Would I follow the pattern as written this time, or would I go ahead and add a wee lace border to the hem, as I had done previously?

I meekly did an entire two rounds–560 entire stitches!–strictly according to the pattern. While knitting, however, I noticed that one part of my brain was off somewhere else, gleefully dividing the stitch count into manageable chunks and inventing a pretty lace pattern that would compliment the lace heart "tattoo" on the back.

Apparently, my fingers and needles have minds of their own. Before I knew it, I was several repeats in to my pretty little lace pattern, and that, as they say, was that.

I have been asked this question many times: Sandi, why on earth do you always have to change the pattern?

Let's look at some reasons I might modify a perfectly lovely pattern…

1. I can't help it.
You know how there are some folks who can never follow a recipe exactly as written? I'm one of those folks. Even if it's a simple chocolate chip cookie recipe, I'm in there adding cinnamon one time, ginger the next, substituting this for that… Even the very first time I make a recipe, I make changes. Can't be helped. Nature of the beast.

2. Normal alterations (a.k.a.: Tailoring-to-fit).
Let's face it: Most sweaters are not designed for women of my shape and size. I have to alter them just to get the finished project to fit and look great on me. Thus, the changes I am making are necessary changes sometimes, rather than whimsical.

3. Curiosity
Deep down, I'm wonderer. I am constantly wondering what would happen if I knit it this way, or that way. Sometimes I use a basic sweater pattern as a laboratory to find out What Happens When I Do This. I knit, I learn.

4. Patterns as guides
There are times I love everything about a sweater…except for this or that or this. I love it except for the collar. Or the sleeves. Or the stitch pattern. So I use the published pattern as a template, as a starting place, and go from there, knitting the sweater I see in my mind instead of just the one I see in the photo.

5. Teaching tool
You may have noticed that I love to teach knitting. (Yes, I do.) And you may have noticed that I love to write about knitting techniques. The best way to teach and write about knitting is to use real-life examples, actual sweaters-in-progress. So, if I'm planning what to write about for the next few weeks, and I see that I haven't yet written about how to do a steek, for example, I might just take the very sweater I am knitting and create a steek where there wasn't one before, so I can show you folks how to do a steek in a real sweater.

Have I ever knit a sweater exactly as written? Yes, of course. I'm just like anyone else: Sometimes I want EXACTLY the sweater in the photo, that precise style and yarn. Barring a few teensy modifications for fit, I zoom away into the instructions, and end up with That Very Sweater.

How about you? Do you knit as writ, or do you fiddle with the pattern? Chime in, leave a comment; because I'd sure like to see if I'm the only crazy person here or not.

Now that the lacy hem is done, I promise I am knitting the rest of this top exactly as written. (Except: I am adding sleevettes. Sorrryyyy.)

I hope you can knit in the sunshine a bit this weekend…

– Sandi

Sandi Wiseheart
is the founding editor of Knitting Daily. You can find her blogging here on Knitting Daily every Thursday. Want more? Visit Sandi's personal blog, wiseheart knits. Or, if you're on Twitter, you can follow her: sandiwiseheart.


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17 thoughts on “To Knit As Written…or not?

  1. You are definitely not the only crazy person – and for me, it’s not just knitting instructions I fiddle with: my son once asked me if it was possible for me to bake a “plain” cookie. ; )

    Sometimes ‘instructions’ are more like ‘suggestions’

  2. Patterns are definitely jumping-off points! I change things a lot, length, construction, stitch pattern. I used to do this with sewing when I was a teen, too. My favorite dress was the top of one pattern and the skirt of another pattern. It’s fun! Occasionally I do knit as written. Occasionally.

  3. I do knit as per pattern but as I get more confident i find I’m doing the same as you, knitting along thinking this would look even better if this part went here…. and if that part had these things….

    I find you learn so much from doing that and it’s very liberating! Amazingly enough, with all the patterns out there and that I own when I’m looking for something I can rarely find something that’s just *exactly* what I want.

    Also, I think it’s interesting and inspiring for everyone, including the original designer, to see how people make things their own.

    I don’t think you’d be being true to yourself, Sandi, if you made yourself just “stick to the pattern” all the time!

  4. I also don’t keep to patterns as written and often make up my own. Curiousity about how a garment will look – when I’m not sure how it will look – keeps me moving forward more quickly and makes the entire journey more exciting. As with any creative activity, a lot of the thrill isn’t the finished product but getting there. Which means that experimenting is worth the risk that the project won’t be wearable. There are always people who are happy to receive a hand knitted garment I really enjoyed making but won’t use myself.

  5. Like most of the other commenters, I rarely follow directions (of any kind) exactly, In knitting, iot has to do with curiosity (what if I just ….), and also my strong dislike of sewing pieces together. So my most common change to patterns is seeing how close I can get to all-one-piece. Since I’m a handspinner, the yarn and gauge are bound to be different, requiring math and sometimes a need for a cavalier attitude toward ripping out. I like the view of pattern as template.

  6. I definitely fit into your #4 category – I always want to “change this or that” ALWAYS. It usually leads to serious issues which I find myself asking “why do I do this?” But then I realize that down deep inside I would never be satisfied if I didn’t try so I tell myself it is an “education” and I march on.
    ps: I think sleeves are a great idea.
    I LOVE your blog and look forward to it each week.

  7. I need you to come live with me while I try to get up the nerve to reknit a sweater that turned out large enough–well if not to fit Godzilla then certainly to fit his sister.

  8. Even with the expanded sizes in a lot of new patterns I still often have to create a size (or in sad cases, several sizes) larger than written to have a sweater that fits. So any of those patterns just can’t be knit as written. And if I’m already doing that much work anything that I didn’t love but could have lived with if I was knitting an existing size will get changed. Do I ever knit a pattern as written? Well I’m sure I must have at some point. But even this shawl that I am working on is going to have an entire different edging simply because I don’t like the way the one in the pattern looks and fits into the previous lace motifs. 😀

  9. Wish I was savvy enough to make changes in knitting … I can do that with counted cross stitch and those types of needlearts.

    I love your ‘heart’!!! Would do that in a blink if an eye, if I had a pattern!!!

    I just finished a Moebius scarf … but obviously all my checking for directions didn’t quite work — but I’m not going to frog the DOUBLE Moebius. LOL

  10. I’m not as advanced a knitter as you, but I almost always fiddle something too. As you’ve noted before, knitting is about making it fit you right? And not all of us have the same body shape as the model the designer worked to!

  11. I’m glad I’m not the only one who knits this way! I can’t help fiddling with a pattern to make the finished item the way I want it.

    I’ve tried to knit a pattern exactly as written… but it’s hard.

    Like you, I fiddle with collars, hem and cuffs, stitch patterns (as in, “hey, let’s add a couple of cables!”), sizing, yarn used, in the round vs in pieces…

    Patterns are more like guidelines, really.

  12. That makes T W O. I’m known in my knitting guild to change most everything I knit. Inquiring minds just can’t do otherwise. I have to anyways, because I always tend to run out of yarn too soon. Besides, it makes it way more interesting for people that get easily bored.