Modifying a woman's pattern for a manly sweater

I'm knitting Chris a beautiful new sweater. The pattern I'm using is Cordova by Michele Wang for Brooklyn Tweed. The pattern caught my eye the first time I saw it. Chris has been dreaming of a heavily cabled pullover for some time. When he would talk about it he would always reference fisherman. Something manly, textured and cabled that would be right at home in the great outdoors. I considered knitting the Cordova pattern for myself, but then remembered Chris' affinity for cabled sweaters (and his lack of any in his current sweater wardrobe) and decided that it would be a fun challenge to knit a sweater for him instead. Naturally, Chris was immediately on board. Cordova is the pattern that got the wheels turning, but initially we looked at a ton of other cabled pullover options. We checked out BT's men's collection, but none of the patterns hit the right balance for us. What we really love about Cordova is A) that beautiful saddle shoulder and B) the modern chevron look that the staghorn cables give. It's a beautiful mix of traditional meets modern. So, Cordova was the one, I'd modify it to fit Chris. 

Next up came yarn selection. We obviously considered knitting it in TFA Green Label. Here's why we decided not to: the weight and drape. There is a magically weightless quality to Brooklyn Tweed's woollen spun Shelter yarn. You can hold a 50g skein in your hand, you know it weighs 50g, that's what the scale says, but in your hands it feels like air. For a Chris-sized sweater, featuring lots of yarn eating cables and texture I wanted to make sure that the finished piece would keep it's shape and be light yet warm. This is not to knock TFA Green Label, heaven knows I love it (and so does Chris) but it's really important to keep the feel, not only the look, of the finished garment in mind when making your yarn selection. The woollen spun texture of Shelter takes a bit of getting used to. It's not soft, sleek and shiny like merino. It's mat, tweedy and though not rough, there's nothing silky or smooth about it. On my scale it falls somewhere in the middle of smooth and rustic. I likely wouldn't want a hat knit out of Shelter as I think I would constantly be scratching my forehead, but I wear my Shelter Reverb over an under-layer all the time and have no problem with it at all. Anyways, you can decide for yourself what level of softness you need in your knits, but for this project, texture and lightness won over softness and crispness. 

We poured over my BT shade card and finally landed on the Faded Quilt colourway. Chris wanted something neutral and classic, but for some reason wasn't especially drawn to the straight-up greys and naturals in the BT roster for this project. I was thrilled when he chose Faded Quilt. It changes it's mind about wether it wants to be grey or blue, which I can really appreciate since I love both. 

With yarn and colourway selections made, it came time to figure out how to take a pattern that was designed to fit a woman's body, and make it work for a man. I'm not going to detail exact stitch counts and specifics about the mods I made for Chris' fit, because unless you're knitting for someone with Chris' exact body measurements, they won't help, I'll just point out all the spots that needed to be modified and how I approached them. 


• Swatch :: I think it's fair to say that swatching is the biggest part of any modification project. In the swatching process I determined that I really hated working the trinity stitch that the pattern called for (the textured detail that makes up the background of the sweater) which in my book is reason enough to switch it out for something more enjoyable to me. Unless you are totally in love with the look of a certain stitch, there is no point in knitting an entire garment in a stitch pattern that you hate working. Life is too short. I re-swatched, this time substituting a simple double moss stitch for the texture and I love it. I had to go down a needle size to get gauge for the cables and my moss stitch gauge was very different from the specified gauge for trinity stitch (I was getting 16 stitches in 4" and the pattern called for 21 stitches in 4") so lots of calculations had to be made. But thankfully with my swatch in hand they were easy enough to make. 

• Row Gauge :: In this case, I think that row gauge was almost more important than stitch gauge. Or at least that's where I found I had to do the most re-calculating. I'll get to why in a moment, but never overlook your row gauge!

• Proportions :: At first I thought that since the pattern was sized up to over a 50" bust circumference (which is bigger than Chris' chest) I'd be able to just pick the closest size, add a bit of length everywhere, and it would be a piece of cake! Not so much. After lots of careful measuring we determined that Chris needed about 43" around his chest, however Chris, at 6'3" with broad shoulders, is not built to the same proportions as a woman with a 43" bust. To give you a visual, my mom is 5'3" and would probably knit a 43" bust. Clearly she and Chris, though both gorgeous humans forms, would not wear the same sweater. The biggest challenge would be the shoulders. Men tend to have much larger shoulders and backs than woman, and this is especially true for Chris. So simply knitting a larger size was not going to work.

* Arm length :: I knit a sleeve first. I thought that it would be a great way to get a feel for the pattern and figure out how I was going to tackle that shoulder. The biggest challenge with this sweater is that it is knit bottom up, with lots of detail in the yoke shaping, so if I had to adjust numbers for the yoke I'd have to do it right from the cast on edge or risk having to rip the whole thing back. The first sleeve I knit without taking into account the fact that Chris has a 7 foot wingspan. I neglected to factor in my row gauge (!) and calculate the rate of increases needed to fit Chris' long arms. I finished all my increases long before I had enough length, meaning that the shape of the sleeve was really strange, a sharp angle of increases from wrist to elbow and then billowy and voluminous from the elbow to the armpit. I had to rip and reknit the sleeve, spreading out the increases more evenly along the long length. 

• Yoke :: Thankfully BT patterns have thorough schematics, making measuring and comparing pretty easy. After my experience with the increase rate on the sleeve I learnt to very carefully figure out exactly how much extra length Chris would need in the yoke and then calculated the rate of decreasing for the sleeve cap based on those numbers. When it came time to knit the front and back, I took note of how many rows I had worked for the sleeve and made sure to calculate the rate of decrease for the yoke to match that row count. The sleeve and the body decrease at different rates, but with the row count being the same this  meant that sewing the sleeve to the body would be easy, simply match row to row with mattress stitch and it would all fit in perfectly.  

• Calculating decreases :: I'm talking a lot about calculating decreases, so here's a note about how I did it. For the sleeve, the pattern features a saddle shoulder, I knew that I had to get to 26 stitches for the top of the shoulder. I considered making the saddle wider, which would make the top of the shoulder wider and maybe help to accommodate his frame, but in the end I decided that I liked the proportions of the narrow saddle. So, I needed to decrease to 26 stitches. I measured Chris, I measured several of his sweaters, and came up with a target length. Here's an example of what the calculation might look like (these numbers are all made up):

Number of sleeve stitches: 86 minus Number of saddle stitches: 26 = 60 decreases needed, worked in pairs means 30 sets of decrease rows.

Depth of yoke: 10" at a row gauge of 6 stitches per inch = 60 rows in which to work 30 sets of decreases, so decrease every 2nd row.

That example is very obvious since the math all works out so cleanly. For Chris' sweater I ended up working a decrease row every 3rd row, which is still quite neat and tidy in terms of math. The same math is worked for the front and back. I had fewer stitches to work with for my front and back since my moss stitch panels contained less stitches than the patterns trinity stitch panels would have, so I decreased at a much slower rate for the front and back, which worked out to my advantage since the spaced out decreases made the front and back yoke overall wider and helped to fit Chris' wide shoulders! Ysolda did a very thorough tutorial on how to calculate decreases here. It's a little bit daunting, but it works!

I think that those are the main things that had to happen in order to make this pattern work for Chris. The biggest takeaway here is to swatch, measure and calculate! Also, be open to ripping and re-knitting. As painful as it can be, I'm a visual person and sometimes I just need to knit a sleeve, drape it over Chris and make decisions and changes that way. If you go into it with an open mind and a willingness to take your time to get it right, you will eventually get it right! These notes are not just for turning a woman's sweater into a man's sweater, the very same considerations can and should be made every time you knit yourself a garment if you're aiming for a perfect fit.  

I hope to have this sweater blocking by tonight! And then when it's dry tomorrow and Chris tries it on I'll be able to confidently say that all these calculations and mods were worth it! There were times in the process (like when I was ripping and re-knitting the sleeve, I also had to rip and re-knit a couple inches of the back and then again ran into trouble with the front yoke...) when I thought that the next time I wanted to knit a sweater for Chris I would choose a pattern that was designed for a man, or maybe just design one from scratch myself. Trying to maintain the framework and the things that I loved about the original sweater whilst making all the necessarily changes to make it work for Chris was challenging, but a fun challenge. I think it made me a better designer actually. Approaching things from a different angle and forced problem solving are great learning tools. FO shots coming soon...