Resizing a vintage pattern – Part 1

Vintage style is unavoidable. The 70s are all à la mode, the 40s/50s swing/rockbilly subculture is growing by the day, Mad Men singlehandedly raised demand for shift dresses and whisky and just about everything old is new again.  Fashion eats itself every two generations like clockwork. Why? I suspect it has to do with the “Everything was better when I was 12” fallacy. Selectively picking the best of your youth? Even designers are prone to it! That’s why when the 80s were briefly back in everyone conveniently forgot about velvet bodices.

I don’t mind this at all though. That whole 40s/50s thing? Suits me down to the ground. Long live the visible waist! So now that I’ve done one 40s jumper I’ve still got enough wool (and patience) for another. Enter this piece of pure granny chic:

La Laine Bairnswear 2214

Also called the ‘Jocosa’ jumper, it’s kinda similar to the last one: Fair isle yoke, lightweight, supertight crewneck. However I have no swishy reproduced pattern to help me this time and this pattern is written for a 34/35″ bust. That’s nowhere near the heft of my bosom. It’s a resizing challenge! Here is how I personally like to set about such a challenge. Hopefully it will be illuminating:

Step 1: Schematics, shmatics

Let’s start by getting to grips with the pattern and figure out how this pattern is meant to fit the lady of yesteryear.

The original schematic is, um, a little sparse.

Vintage schematic

Oh and to make things even more fun, there’s no row gauge. That seems to be a thing with the vintage patterns I’ve looked at. They all tend to be written as “repeat X  three times, then do Y for 3 inches” which I guess gets you out of having to work out a row gauge at all. Every freakin section of this jumper pulls this trick. So unfortunately there is no option but to pore over the pattern with only those three measurements and a stitch gauge as clues. Who doesn’t love basic arithmetic though? After a good session of mashing row counts and stitch gauges into a calculator with my forehead, I came up with a new improved schematic…

Vintage jumper schematic


And a row gauge of 9rws/inch! Honestly, that was half maths and half guessing based on other vintage patterns. The main thing is that the sleeve head matches up with the armscye at that row gauge.

Note how this thing has zero ease all over. Any changes should still result in something pin-up tight. Aw dang, now I’ll need to buy a girdle or something.

Step 2: New yarn for old.

Times and yarns change and so we must do some substitution.  Let’s check the materials requirements. Hey, remember that Everything-was-better-when-I-was-12 fallacy?


 The 21st century has it’s problems, but at least we no longer use degrading racial epithets to specify a shade of wool.

Anyway, those knitting needles sizes are old UK sizes. Luckily there are plenty of good conversion charts about. I actually have some needles in these old school sizes laying about. When my grandma heard I’d taken up knitting she promptly offered me a whole case of old needles and crochet hooks, each one tinier than the last. The case even had an odd needle in UK size seventeen. That’s 1.4mm! I didn’t even know that was a thing that was made.

Yarn substitution is a snap for me, because I have a jumper I made earlier to hand. It’s a close enough gauge, and I certainly have enough yardage. Gauge doesn’t need to be exact because a) it’s hard to match older yarns and b) there’s already a schematic to fit the gauge to. Try to match at least one of the original gauges though, stitch count or row count, whatever. It means less recalculating later.

New yarn: Jamieson’s 2-ply jumper yarn, at 6 sts/9 rws per inch, on 3.75mm needles.

If you have no convenient pre-made jumper, start swatching! A handy rule of thumb is that vintage 3-ply is roughly equivalent to 4-ply. You certainly wouldn’t want anything thicker than 4-ply to do fair isle patterns like the one on this jumper.

Swatching is particularly important for rationing-era patterns. During those times, many patterns were republished with thinner yarns hastily subbed in. The idea was to save wool for the soldiers and you may find that the resulting fabric is too scanty for your liking.

That’s enough for one post!

Next up: Resizing and modifying

1 Comment

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One response to “Resizing a vintage pattern – Part 1

  1. Pingback: Resources for Beginner Knitters/Crocheters – Flashback Summer

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