Gauge, Fit and Nerves

My stockinette gauge is is on target, my swatches tell me this will all come out in the wash and block phase, but for now, looking at the lower half of the back of my sweater is giving me palpitations over fit. It doesn’t look anywhere near wide enough, and especially with saddle shoulder construction, I won’t know for sure how it will fit until it’s too late to do anything but start over.

I know some knitters block pieces before seaming, but the argument that this risks stretching edge areas (like armholes) out of alignment, and setting them that way, has always made more sense to me.

It’s cables, cables bunch, and my swatches relaxed and spread out after washing with no effort pin or block them, but still, I worry. Since the hem is vented, I think I’ll dip the portion below the seam in water tonight and make sure the fabric relaxes as expected.

Second Meeting

Today I had my swatch review with Kirsten, and we talked through the last few design detail quandaries that needed to be resolved before I cast on and start knitting my sweater back. The takeaways:

  • My tubular cast-on has the right number of preliminary rows, and the slight ridge at the base of my ribbing is normal.
  • The i-cord bind off on my button bands is a better solution than the sewn tubular bind off I had originally planned, given the continuous length of yarn I would need up the whole front and through the collar.
  • I need to Standardize my technique on the right-slanting side of the zig-zag cables — it looks consistent on my back swatch, but the quicker method I tried on my front swatch looks loose and a bit messy compared to the leftward slants.
  • As much as I love the look if that braided twist cable from my first back swatch, I shouldn’t try to add it to the tail edge or sleeve just to include it somewhere — I left it out for a reason. Repeating the three-stitch cable on the tails and sleeves will give the overall design a more cohesive look.
  • We talked saddle width for the shoulders — narrow works here likely two inches.
  • I’m ready to cast on an start knitting my sweater!

Swatching: Front

Front left swatch, center button band at left. Working from the center left, the front features a reversible broken garter rib pattern framed by a 12 stitch by 24 row twist-stitch double zig-zag cable, then a slip stitch cable, and knit purl flag pattern. This pattern will fit between the sleeve cap seams, contrasting with the rest of the body and most of the sleeves in plain stockinette. The broken garter rib pattern will be carried through the whole collar.

Button band at left is a double-needle pickup in 1×1 rib, picked up at a rate of 3 stitches per four rows. Three-stitch buttonholes will be centered at the midpoint of the zig-zag as shown here. The button band is bound off with a three-stitch i-cord. I’m thinking of using very simple one inch diameter two-hole buttons in natural shell.

Equipment note: Ribbing and i-cord on size 6 needles, the main body on size 7. I’ll be using wood laminate needles for their sharp points and good blend of glide vs. stickiness for the cable and slip stitches — my usual metal tips were too slippery, and bamboo were not sharp enough and a bit too sticky.

Swatching: Back

Final swatch, center back at left. Each zig-zag repeat is 12 stitches wide by 24 rows.  The cable and V patterns repeat every four rows and the flag pattern every six, so they are easy to keep in sync. Zig-zags will be mirrored to form a column of  diamonds down the back, filled with a broken garter rib pattern at eight by eight – this will be repeated for the sweater collar and center front to lapels. I started the knit/purl V pattern with one purl row to two knit rows, but it didn’t read well enough, so I switched to two purl rows and two knit after the first few rows, and the Vs are much more coherent.

The swatch above improves on my original back swatch (below) — the original 12-row zig-zag was too small to stand out, and the broken rib fill didn’t read at that size. The eight-stitch band of broken rib din’t work either, the pattern just gets lost.  and as much as I love the braid cable, it’s too heavy to balance the zig-zag, the whole doesn’t quite hold together.

Tubular cast-on started on size 8 needles, switching to 6 for the tubular rows and 1×1 ribbing. patterned sections will have tubular cast-on without the ribbing.

Swatching: Reversible Patterns

Long story short: a lot of patterns I loved in my knitting stitch books just didn’t “read” in this yarn at this gauge. This includes the fishtrap cable from Elizabeth Zimmerman’s January Sweater that I was sure was going to be just perfect, but in practice was hardly distinguishable from stockinette, and some of Gladys Thompson’s simple but very effective knit/purl Gansey patterns that wound up looking like garter stitch fails.

What worked best: the broken garter rib pattern (bottom, second from left), and the simple Scottish Fleet XIII flag pattern (top edge of this swatch).

Twist Stitch Patterns

Inspiration: one of my samples from the Stitches Textures class – square 31 from Barbara Walker’s Learn to Knit. These twist stitch pseudo cables are the kind of low-bulk patterns I want to use. Sample knit at worsted weight.

Thoughts on Reversiblity

Inspiration: knit purl patterns used in Midway

Getting the sweater lapels reversible with a cable motif as I had planned is beginning to seem daunting, but on reflection not all of the front panel will be turned back, just the portion across the neckline opening minus the overlapped button bands.

Per Shirley Paden, the neckline opening should be 40-50% of the back shoulder width, so, assuming a 2″ overlap for button bands, the maximum width of the front panel that needs to be reversible is:

separate button bands: ((16″ shoulder width x 0.5) / 2 fronts) – 1″ of button band = 3″ x 4.5 st = ~ 14 stitches

integrated button bands: ((16″ shoulder width x 0.5)  / 2 fronts) + 1″ overlap = 5″ x 4.5 st = ~23 stitches

Fourteen to twenty-three stitches in reversible patterning is entirely manageable.

First Meeting

Inspiration: the twist stitch zig-zag cables knit at worsted weight in Reverb

Saturday afternoon I met my terrific WEKP mentor for the first time — Webs in-house knitwear designer Kirsten Hipsky. It was great having a seasoned sweater designer to hash out ideas and challenges with — I am one lucky knitter. Important takeaways from this discussion with Kristin:

  • Rough estimate of how much extra yarn needed for a cabled garment: add 25% (Thanks for this Kirsten, estimating has been keeping me up nights).
  • Kirsten validated my concern about trying to sew a tubular cast-off for the full length of the sweater front plus collar – alternatives to mull over include an integrated button band, reinforced with a crochet chain stitch, or an I-cord edging.
  • Zig-zag travelling stitch is reversible, and a good alternative to a potentially messy reversible ribbed cable as there are fewer stitches to cross in any given row.
  • Saddle-shoulders work well with a center-cabled sleeve.
  • Sewn flannel pockets will not fly

Back to the sketch book for a first round of design revisions – the patterned panels are coming into focus.