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 round 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:
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