How to Grade Knitting Patterns Using a Spreadsheet

Learning how to grade knitting patterns is one of the biggest challenges that new knitwear designers face.

Many of you have designed garments or accessories in single sizes, but the prospect of grading it into several sizes is intimidating. Where do you even start?

As a brand new designer, this baffled me too. After spending hours and hours trying to do the mathematics on paper, I gave up and spent over £100 on a piece of software that I thought would solve all of my grading problems.

It turns out that the software was a huge waste of money (It wasn't very user-friendly and I was unhappy with the results...) and that the simplest way to grade knitting patterns was completely free and accessible to everyone: the humble spreadsheet.

Grading Knitting Patterns into Different Sizes Using a Spreadsheet

Coming from a creative background, I haven't had much opportunity to play around with spreadsheets, so I'm not very experienced. Despite that, I've managed to figure out a system that makes grading knitting patterns so much simpler.

To avoid making this tutorial excessively large, I have split it into two parts: grading the garments sizes and calculating the stitch/row numbers for each size's pattern instructions.

In this blog post, I'm going to walk you through how I set up my knitting pattern spreadsheets to grade my patterns in several sizes.

FREE RESOURCE

WOMEN’S SIZE CHART

To get a PDF of the standardised Women’s size chart used in the handknitting industry, simply sign up to my newsletter, The Sisterhood, and I shall send it straight into your inbox.
As part of The Sisterhood, you will also receive new blog posts and exciting updates. Enjoy!

You will need:

  • A swatch in your design's yarn and stitch
  • Sketch of your design
  • Google Sheets - it's free and brilliant!
  • A size chart

In the following knitting pattern grading tutorial, I will include a lot of screenshots. To get a closer look at the screenshot, please click on the image to enlarge them.

Setting Up Your Grading Spreadsheet

Before you start on grading, first focus on getting the spreadsheet set up as clearly as possible.

Consider every single bit of information you might need and put it down in the spreadsheet right away. Of course, this will likely evolve as you start adding to the spreadsheet, but it's an easy way to get started.

Once you've graded a few knitting patterns, you can duplicate those spreadsheets and use them as templates for new patterns, speeding up the process considerably.

Free Grading Spreadsheet Example

If you would like to see an example of how I set up the start of my spreadsheets, I have made it available as a free download when you subscribe to my newsletter. In this spreadsheet, you will see how I lay out the rough template of sizing, body measurements, ease, garment measurements, gauge and pattern instructions.

FREE RESOURCE

GRADING SPREADSHEET EXAMPLE

To see an example of how I lay out my knitting pattern grading spreadsheets, sign up to my newsletter, The Sisterhood, and I shall send it straight to your inbox.
As part of The Sisterhood, you will also receive new blog posts and exciting updates. Enjoy!

In this example, I have decided to work with sizes from XS - 5XL. More sizes means that more knitters can use your pattern!

Sizes

The first thing you should do when starting on your knitting pattern grading spreadsheet is decide what sizes you want to make your pattern for.

At first, I thought that grading a pattern to more sizes meant more work. That is not necessarily true. Sure - working on several sizes can get complicated, but most of the time, it doesn't really add much extra time to work with more sizes. It also means that your pattern is accessible to more knitters! I've recently been extending my sizing and it feels really great to be inclusive of more body sizes.

Once you've decided on your sizing, put them right at the top of your spreadsheet. Sometimes, I just use the bust measurement to identify the size and other times, I label them with XS - 5XL as well as the bust measurement.

Each size has two columns for the bust measurement; one for cm and one for inches. It's important to add both to our spreadsheet because, whilst the US still works with inches, most of the world now use centimetres.

Notice how I used a range of bust measurements for each size, e.g. 36 - 38"? That's because I want to cover a wide range of sizes without having to grade 18 different versions. You don't have to do this though - you could just select a singular bust measurement for each size, such as 38", and work with that.

I always fill out the cm column first and then convert the centimetres to inches afterwards.

Body Measurements

A quick note on measurements: you will find as you progress through your spreadsheet that it's going to give you numbers with lots of decimal places. In order to keep things concise, I suggest that you round every centimetre to the nearest .5 and every inch to the nearest .25. It will still be super accurate.

First, list all of the possible measurements you might need to create your knitting pattern. Then using your sizing chart, fill out the measurements for each size in centimetres only.

Once you have filled out all the measurements in cm, you will then need to convert those into inches. Rather than doing it manually, you can ask the spreadsheet to do it for you. I do this by using the following formula:

=MROUND(CONVERT(*cell reference*,"cm","in"),0.25)

Here is what each part of the formula means (click on the links for further information on how to use these formulas in Google Sheets):

  • MROUND rounds one number to the nearest multiple of another number, e.g. 0.25.
  • CONVERT changes a numeric value to a different unit of measurement, e.g. cm to in.
  • Replace *cell reference* with the cell you want to convert from cm to in, e.g. B6.

To give you an example of how this works, if I wanted to convert the number of cm in cell B6 into inches, I would write in cell C6 "=MROUND(CONVERT(B6,"cm","in"),0.25)". Now, in cell C6, I will see the number of cms converted into inches to the nearest .25.

Once you've converted one cell to inches, there is no need to repeat it in the remaining cells. Just click on the cell which you've already converted to inches to see a blue square in the bottom right hand corner. Hover over that square and you will see that your cursor turns into a cross. Click and drag that square down to convert all of the cm in the column next to it into inches. You can then highlight that column and copy and paste it into the inch columns for the remaining sizes.

Highlight the column that you've just converted into inches, then copy and paste it into the inch columns for the remaining sizes.

This will fill out each inch column with the correct inch measurements quickly and accurately.

EASE

This is optional, but I like to note down how much ease, positive or negative, I want to have in my pattern.

A garment that is neither fitted nor loose tends to have about two inches of positive ease. Something that has a bit more room will usually have 4 inches or more. In fact, my sweet spot is 6-8 inches of positive ease for a relaxed, slightly over-sized garment.

If you want to design something more form fitting, only 1 inch of positive ease or even 1-2 inches of negative ease can work. Be mindful of the yarn you're working with though - some yarn, such as cotton or linen, will not look nice when worn with negative ease. Also, if your garment has sleeves, you might want to add a little positive ease to make the arms easier to move.

I fill this out, much like the body measurements, by noting it down in cm first. I then use the same formula to convert the cm into inches.

=MROUND(CONVERT(*cell reference*,"cm","in"),0.25)

Once I've filled it out for the first size, I copy and paste the cm and inch cells for the first size into the remaining sizes. I tend to use the same amount of ease for each size.

I copy the cm and inch cells from the first size...

...and paste them into each size.

Garment Measurements

This is where you decide on the actual measurements of the garment itself - not the body it's intended to fit.

Take a look at the sketch of your design and consider all of the measurements you would need in order to build that garment, e.g. bust circumference, shoulder width, armhole depth, length of sweater and so on.

For each garment measurement, fill out the cm column for the first size, referencing the body measurements and taking into account any ease that you might want to incorporate.

Bust Circumference

So, for example, if you're knitting a sweater in the round, you will need to decide upon the sweaters finished bust circumference. In my example, the body's bust measurement for the first size is written in cell B6. I then want to add my positive ease, referenced in cell B14, to this measurement and round it to the nearest whole number to get my finished sweater's bust circumference.

This is how I would ask the spreadsheet to calculate this:

=MROUND(B6+B14,1)

This formula is telling the spreadsheet to add up the numbers in cells B6 (body bust measurement) and B14 (positive ease) and then round it to the nearest whole number. The reason why I want it rounded to the nearest whole number is so that when you half it to get the bust width, it is rounded to the nearest .5 of a cm.

Once you have your cm measurement, convert it into inches using the formula I shared earlier.

To grade across the other sizes, highlight both the cm and in for that size and using the blue square at the bottom right hand corner, click and drag it across the remaining sizes. The formula will stay the same, but because it is referencing the different body measurements for each size, it will grade it across the sizes. It's as easy as that!

Highlight the cm and in measurements for the first size, then click on the blue square in the bottom right corner to drag it across the remaining sizes.

The spreadsheet will reference each size's body measurements to grade it.

Bust Width

In a classic sweater, the back and the front are the same width. So to get the bust width, I simply took the finished bust circumference and divided it by 2 for the first size: "=B17/2". Then, I dragged that formula across the rest of the sizes to apply the same formula to those cells.

By typing =B7 into the Shoulder to Shoulder cell in the garment measurements, it will display the number in cell B7, which is the Shoulder to Shoulder measurement in the body measurements.

Shoulder to Shoulder Width

Sometimes, you can directly reference a cell without doing anything to that number, such as when you are using a Shoulder to Shoulder width on a set-in sleeve sweater.

I directly referenced the Shoulder to Shoulder cell in the body measurements by typing "=B7" into the Garment Measurements cell. I could then drag that formula across the remaining sizes and the spreadsheet will do the work for me.

Of course, if you are designing a drop-shoulder garment, referencing the body's shoulder to shoulder width is unnecessary. Instead, you can use the garment's Bust Width as a Shoulder to Shoulder Width.

Neck Width

Your Neck Width must be big enough for the head to go through whilst small enough that it doesn't fall off your shoulders. I'm sure we've all had cardigans that do that, right? It's super irritating.

Deeper necklines such as a scoop neck or a v-neck require a narrower neck width, whilst shallower necklines such as a high crew neck require a wider neckline.

Generally, I find that making the neck between 40-50% the width of the body's Shoulder to Shoulder measurement works well. To put this in the spreadsheet, I would use this formula:

=MROUND(B7*0.5,0.5)

This formula is telling the spreadsheet to multiply the body's Shoulder to Shoulder measurement (B7) and multiply is by 0.5 (50%), and then round it to the nearest 0.5 of a centimetre. I can then convert this into inches using the formula I shared earlier.

I use this formula for the first size, then I highlight the cm/in cells for that size and drag it across the sizes. This will give each size the appropriate neck width according to their unique Shoulder to Shoulder measurement.

Figuring out Other Garment Measurements

You can continue to fill out other garment measurements by filling in the formula in the cm column for the first size and translating it into inches using the formula I gave you. Highlight the two cells and drag them across the rest of the sizes.

You might need to use a bit of basic mathematics to figure out some of the garment measurements, as well as some basic formulas, such as MROUND and CONVERT, which we covered earlier. Here are some tips on using the spreadsheet like a calculator:

  • Always start every formula with =
  • + is add
  • - is subtract
  • * is multiply
  • / is divide
  • Use brackets as you would on a calculator

You may also have to make decisions, without the sizing chart, on things such as garment and sleeve length because these are guided by personal preference. The cm measurements can just be typed into the cells directly then converted into inches.

Gauge

Because I'm calculating my pattern based on the cm measurements rather than inches, I always calculate my gauge in cm. For that reason, I merge the two cells that would usually be cm or in into one single cell.

I do this by highlighting the two cells and click the button to merge the cells. I then highlight that cell and click on the blue square to drag it across all sizes. This will merge the cm and in cells across all sizes in that row.

Based on your swatch, fill in the number of stitches/rows per cm for the first size, then highlight the two cells to copy and paste them across the row. Having the gauge repeated across all of the sizes makes it easier when making quick calculations for your stitch/row numbers in your knitting pattern later.

Next up: Using a Grading Spreadsheet to Calculate a Knitting Pattern

Now that you have the fully graded garment measurements and gauge inside the spreadsheet, you are ready to start using that information to calculate stitch/row numbers for your pattern instructions.

This is a really exciting part of the pattern grading/writing process! I really look forward to taking this topic further in my next blog post in this series.

I hope you found the first part of this tutorial helpful. If you have any more questions on knitting pattern design, please feel free to ask them in the comments section. It helps me to know what to cover on the blog in the future!