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Changing the Needle Size to Make Pattern Smaller or Larger
It isn't a matter of gauge only.
by Jackie E-S
I need to adjust the finished size planned for a pattern. Is it ok to just change the needle size to make the pattern smaller or larger?
Within a small tolerance in gauge, changing needle sizes is usually ok for small refinements in sizing.
However, getting outside this "tolerance", one can get a too loose or too firm gauge that doesn't produce good results in the end.
If too loose, the resulting fabric will be saggy/baggy and not wear or drape well. For a sweater, this probably means the garment will distort in use because the fabric is not firm enough to counter the forces of gravity or your flexing of joints around the shoulders and elbows.
If too firm, the resulting fabric might become too "boardy" and therefore uncomfortable to wear.
Another problem with overcompensating with a smaller needle size to achieve a smaller garment size is that the row gauge alters more dramatically than the stitch gauge does as you try to squish more fiber into the same space. This means that although you might achieve the correct stitch gauge, the row gauge would be thrown off considerably. This might not be a problem for some "measure to length" garments, but could be for others (e.g. raglan sleeve styles).
In summary, the best advice is to sample with your new needle size to confirm that the resulting fabric will perform as planned.
p.s. And before making a final decision, remember to wash and dry that swatch as you will for the intended garment.
Do you have a Question about knitting technique or skill? Please email me and I will consider it for an upcoming Q&A.
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