How to knit and measure a cable swatch

After a lot of lead-up and planning, it’s finally time to get this #fringeandfriendsknitalong going! And Kate is here today to do just that, with her thoughts on how to properly knit and measure a cable swatch. If you’re new here, we’re knitting the Amanda cardigan from the book Essentially Feminine Knits. More details here.
—kt

How to knit and measure a cable swatch

BY KATE GAGNON OSBORN

I’m going to assume that, as Fringe Association readers and knitalong participants, you’re all smart cookies and on board with the value of swatching. If you’re not convinced, let me know, and I’ll give you my spiel. (Watch out: It’s long. And determined.)

How to knit and measure a cable swatch

PART ONE: YARN CHOICE

When choosing a yarn for this sweater, there are a few things to keep in mind, most importantly recommended gauge, fiber content, and ply.

The gauge listed in the Amanda sweater pattern is 27.5 sts and 28 rows to 4″ in the honeycomb stitch pattern with Grignasco Loden yarn. Cable patterns “pull in” the stitches — the cable crosses create a scenario where more stitches fit into a smaller space — so the gauge given for a cable pattern may be deceptively smaller than the stockinette-stitch gauge for the same yarn. You can see in the photo above how much narrower the cable swatch is than the stockinette swatch with the same number of stitches. As a result, it is imperative that you A) look at the stitch pattern of the given gauge and B) swatch in order to determine whether your yarn and needle choice is correct. (Your new life mantra: needle size isn’t important; gauge is!) When substituting yarns, the first step is to check the stockinette gauge listed for the recommended yarn, as this will guide you in determining a good substitute. Recommended gauge can be found on the ballband, but if you don’t have a skein available (or, as in the case with Loden, the yarn is discontinued) Ravelry is a wonderful resource, as is the manufacturer’s website. The stockinette gauge for Loden is 18–22 sts over 4″. Start by looking for yarns that have the same recommended gauge when knitted in stockinette.

Then there’s the fiber. Loden is a 2-ply blend of 50% wool, 25% rayon, and 25% alpaca. The wool provides loft, the alpaca warmth and drape, and the rayon drape and strength. You could look for a blend as a substitute, keeping wool as the primary fiber, or go with a 100% wool yarn. Just keep the weight of the fibers in mind — an all-alpaca yarn may have too much weight and drape; mohair and yak in a blend will provide loft; silk adds weight, etc. I also recommend sticking with a plied yarn, as the plies will really make the cables stand out.

I’m knitting my Amanda cardigan with the Fibre Company Savannah. I know it to be a great sweater yarn, and it fulfills all of the properties of Loden, as it is a 2-ply yarn with multiple fibers, is at least 50% wool content, and a DK/light-worsted weight gauge.

How to knit and measure a cable swatch

PART TWO: SWATCHING

If you’ve never knitted with the yarn you’ve chosen, begin swatching with the recommended US8 needles. If you are familiar with your yarn and have a decent idea of how it behaves, feel free to adjust your needle size accordingly from the get-go. (Now is a good time to repeat that mantra: needle size isn’t important, gauge is!) For my swatch, I began on 7s because I’m pretty familiar with Savannah and knew the 8s would be too large. It is also important here to note the needle type you are using – bamboo, metal, etc. — because different needles may give you different gauge. Bamboo can be stickier and may create tighter stitches; metal is slicker and may create larger stitches. So always swatch with the same needle that you will be knitting your garment with.

The Amanda pattern does us a few huge favors when it comes to gauge: 1) there are two different stitch patterns/gauges given, and 2) one of the gauges is over a set number of stitches, not inches, as is typically the case:

• Gauge #1: 27.5 sts + 28 rows = 4″ (10 cm) in honeycomb pattern on larger needles
• Gauge #2: 13 sts of diamond cable = 2.5″ (6.5 cm) wide

There are two different options to the swatching process, described below. Either will work as long as you’re getting enough data to determine whether or not you have the correct gauge. With the first option, you’re getting it all done at once. If you need to change needle size, though, it is much more knitting. For the second option, you are left with more swatches to keep track of, but if you need to re-swatch, you haven’t wasted too much time or yarn knitting.

Option A: Knit both patterns – the honeycomb and the diamond cable – in one swatch
To do so, make sure you’ve cast on enough stitches for at least 28 honeycomb stitches (remember the pattern tells us 27.5 is 4 inches) and a full diamond cable. The honeycomb pattern is a multiple of 8, so you need at least 32 stitches. The full diamond cable panel is 23 sts. I always include 2 garter stitches on each edge to prevent any rolling. So were I knitting it all in one swatch, I would cast on 2 (edge sts) + 32 (honeycomb) + 23 (diamond cable) + 2 (edge sts) = 59 sts.

Option B: Knit the stitch patterns in two separate swatches
1) For the diamond cable swatch, you will need to work the 13-stitch cable panel, the 2 purl stitches and 1 slipped stitch on either side of the panel, and add the 2 garter edge stitches to each side: 2 + 1 + 2 + 13 + 2 + 1 + 2 = 23. (It is fine to omit the 2 extra purl stitches that flank the slipped stitch, as they aren’t wholly necessary for this swatch.)
2) For the honeycomb swatch, again, you will need to cast on at least 27.5 stitches in a multiple of 8. I chose to cast on 32, but 40 is also an option. As always, I also included my 2 garter edge stitches: 2 (garter edge) + 32 (honeycomb) + 2 (garter edge) = 36 sts.

I chose to swatch separately, and although it is listed second in the pattern, I began swatching with the diamond cable.

How to knit and measure a gauge swatch

Swatch 1: Diamond cable

After casting on 23 sts, work a few rows in garter to establish a nice edge. I also recommend adding a “needle size” marker to all swatches via a line of purl bumps (one bump = US1, 2 bumps = US 2, etc) on a stockinette stitch ground. You can work your diamond cable pattern from the sleeve or body chart.

How to knit and measure a cable swatch

Work your swatch for at least 4″. For my swatch, I chose to work 2 vertical repeats of the diamond. About halfway in, it is a good idea to check your unblocked gauge to make sure you’re on track. Since the given gauge is for the 13-stitch diamond pattern, you’ll want to measure just these stitches. Measure the gauge at least 2″ up from the start of your cable, as you will get the most accurate gauge there. (As mentioned previously, the cable stitches will “pull in” your knitting, so both the garter edge and stockinette will flare slightly. Your gauge may also change slightly as you settle into the cables.) As long as you’re close — 2.25-2.5″ — you’re good. If you’re way off, now is a good time to change needles and start again. Say your cable measures 3.5″ across, your stitches are too large and you need to go down in needle size to make them smaller. If your cable measures 1.75″ across, your stitches are too small and you need to go up in needle size.

Once complete, block your swatch! Since I plan on wet blocking the pieces of the sweater before seaming them, I also wet blocked all my swatches. You want to treat your swatch the way you’ll treat your knitting, so if you only plan on steaming your sweater, only steam your swatch as well. Don’t pull, twist or squish the swatch too much in the blocking process. When blocking swatches for a garment, I let the swatch lie flat, dry out a little bit, then pin it to make it square.

One little trick to checking row gauge in a cable pattern with a reverse-stockinette stitch (or purl) background is to flip the swatch over and count the rows on the wrong side of the work. The purl stitches appear as knit stitches on the wrong side, and it is much easier to count the “Vs” of the knits than the intertwining loops of the purls.

After blocking, the gauge of my 13-stitch cable is 2.5″ and my row gauge is 28 sts per 4″, which is exactly on gauge as well! If, for whatever reason, I was on track pre-blocking, but the swatch changed dramatically after blocking, I’d follow the same principle from above and adjust my needle size and try again.

How to knit and measure a cable swatch

Swatch 2: Honeycomb pattern

Once the correct gauge for the diamond cable has been established, work a gauge swatch in the honeycomb pattern on the same needles. Since I know I’m getting row gauge on the 7s, I only worked this swatch for about 3.5″.

Measuring this pattern is a little different than the diamond cable. Instead of providing the width of an easily-identifiable repeat, the honeycomb cable is simply provided over 4″. And, what’s more, we’re given 1/2 a stitch as part of the gauge! Instead of trying to count out 27.5 stitches, after blocking your swatch in the same manner as the first, measure the full width of the honeycomb pattern (not including the garter edges). Then, divide the number of honeycomb stitches you cast on by your finished width to get the number of stitches in 1″. Multiply that by 4, and you will know how many stitches are in 4″. For example:

The 32 stitches of my honeycomb measure 4.625″
32 / 4.625 = 6.91 sts per inch
6.91 x 4 = 27.7 sts per 4″

This is very very close, and since I’m on gauge with my diamond cable on US 7 needles, I’m confident I’m on track. Once correct gauge has been established, you’re ready to get knitting! Regardless of what the pattern says, I always begin knitting sweaters with the sleeve. I usually will wet-block the sleeve once complete to give my gauge an extra check and make sure my measurements and calculations are correct. It is just one of the (many) reasons I love knitting sweaters in pieces. But more on that later!

Good? Good! Happy Knitting!
—KGO

. . . . .

Thanks, Kate!

Kate is a huge advocate of getting gauge so you can work according to the pattern, trusting that the designer has worked out every detail relating to stitch and row gauge, which is the surest path to a successful sweater. And I totally respect that position. But what if you can’t get gauge — or don’t want to? As discussed in the Meet the Panel post, Jaime Jennings is deliberately knitting this one to a different gauge, and I may be as well. (Still working on my downsized swatch.)

If you are getting a fabric you like at a different gauge than pattern gauge, that might be OK, depending on your appetite for risk. And math. You basically have two choices:

1) Your sweater can be a different size. There are only four sizes given in this pattern, and there are several inches difference between them. Say you’d like a sweater that’s slightly bigger than the medium but smaller than the large. If your gauge is slightly bigger (bigger stitches = fewer stitches per inch) and you cast on using the medium-size numbers, your sweater will be bigger than the medium. And vice versa if your gauge is smaller/tighter. Just be sure to multiply the total stitch count at the bust times your gauge to find out how big it will be, so there are no surprises. And beware of row gauge issues and total length, which we’ll get into in a future post. (Also, see my notes on the subject in How to start knitting a sweater.)

2) If you do want your sweater to match one of the pattern sizes, you’ll need to do some math to adjust the stitch counts and other assorted numbers to fit your gauge into that size. And again, there will be row gauge issues to deal with. We’ll explore that with Jaime in an upcoming post, since that’s exactly what she’s doing.

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Hopefully you now have all the info you need to start your swatch! We’d love to hear about yours in the comments below — please be sure to link out to anywhere you may have posted (and hashtagged!) a photo, be that your blog, a Rav page, Instagram or whatever. And we will do our best to answer questions you might have about the swatching process below as well. We’ll give you a week to try yarns, block those swatches and work out any gauge issues. And then we’ll be back to cast on!

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PREVIOUSLY in the #fringeandfriendsknitalong: Meet the Panel!

31 thoughts on “How to knit and measure a cable swatch

  1. This series is excellent so far, and I know it will only get better! While I’m not participating in the KAL, I so appreciate you doing all the work to make this happen- it’s fascinating reading and I know these posts will be ones I’ll come back to again for reference.

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  2. I’ve swatched, just need to block my swatch. I’m using Cascade 220, a very familiar yarn for me. I knew what needle size to use immediately, and will likely go forward with just a honeycomb swatch. I’ve posted about it (briefly, with photo) on my blog.

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  3. Is anyone else out there using the Camellia Fiber Merino Aran? I’m a loose knitter and I probably need to knit the smallest size, so even though I’m completely entranced by Rebekka’s swatch I’m hesitant to knit with an Aran yarn. I was also considering the Cestari Fine Merino (available locally) but then I saw on Ravelry that it’s also an Aran weight. Eek! I may swatch with Cascade 220 tonight just to see if I shouldn’t risk a new yarn. Moral support appreciated! :-)

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  4. This post was so helpful! I’ve avoided swatching in the past since I usually make the smallest size, but this post actually makes me want to swatch! I am knitting the Aidez cardigan for this KAL. I cast on Saturday night – didn’t swatch since it’s an oversized open-front cardigan. I know, excuses, excuses. Can’t wait to see everyone’s progress!

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  5. My swatching is going well. I might be getting ahead of myself, but as I read a bit further in the pattern, it says “using the smaller needle.” Will I indeed be going down a size from my “got gauge” needle size?

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  8. This is fantastic. I’ve already learned so much and haven’t even casted on yet. Just received the book today, then have to get the yarn. Thank you so much for putting this KAL together. I’ve never done one and now I’m starting with the best.

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  9. Late to the game here, but – what do I do if my gauge is on-point for the diamond but off (too small) on the honey comb section? Will that make my sweater wonky?

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    • Depending on what size you’re knitting, there’s potentially more square footage of honeycomb than diamond on the sweater. So my inclination would be try going up one needle size and see if you can get honeycomb gauge and if the diamond still looks good to you on that needle.

      Or you could stick with the needle you’re on and just try to consciously relax a little while working those honeycomb cables. Or just go with what you’ve got and pick a sweater size that if it comes out a bit smaller than pattern dimensions, the fit will still be ok.

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      • I’m really liking the fabric density on the smaller needles so I may try to relax on the honeycomb and see where that gets me. Thanks for the advice! Feeling very inspired by this project and this knitalong :)

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