It’s day 2 of our 30 Day Sweater Knitting Challenge, and today we’ll be talking about gauge AND yarn choice.
These are probably two of the biggest factors for sweater knitting success and not enough time is spent on them.
That’s why we’re taking a whole day to focus on getting it right.
Choosing Your Sweater Yarn
Yesterday I mentioned that there are a lot of factors to consider before starting your sweater.
One of the most important, in fact may THE MOST important is choosing the right yarn for your project.
Now if you’re using someone else’s pattern, you’re either going to have to use the yarn they suggest, or be good at substituting other yarns for the one suggested.
Since I’m using the 30 Day Sweater Course, I can choose the yarn I want and then build my sweater design around that.
Things to consider when choosing a sweater yarn
The right yarn will affect your sweater in a few different ways:
How thick the yarn is will contribute to how the fabric drapes, how warm the sweater is, and how quickly it knits up.
There are whole books on this topic, but fiber content will also affect the warmth of the finished sweater, as well as the drape. For example, Alpaca is a very long fiber, so it will have wonderful drape. But it’s extremely warm so it’s not ideal for hot climates. It will also grow and lose it’s shape over time.
I’ll just say this up front…
Hand painted and variegated yarns that have drastic color changes don’t look that good in garments. There’s just too much going on in the yarn that it ends up making you look more like a Van Gough painting instead of someone wearing a nice sweater.
Color is all about personal preference, but there are certain colors that look better on you than others. Again, there are whole books on this topic, so I won’t get into right now, but there’s a great series on 30 Day Sweater about it.
What yarn I’m using
I’ll be using Pacifica Yarn Company’s Zephyr DK from Argyle Sheep.
It’s a product we designed specifically for temperate climates like Los Angeles, where I live.
It uses a combination of wool and cotton (all US Sourced), so it retains the cooling properties of cotton, without the fear of losing it’s shape.
Also, 100% cotton yarns have tendency to stick on the needles and have more of a ropey feeling. Since this yarn uses 55% wool, it has a nicer hand and is really comfortable to work with for long periods.
I really enjoy the rustic look, which comes from the cotton taking the dye differently than the wool. It looks like a much more warm yarn than it actually is.
I am a winter, so I look pretty good in black which is why I’m using the Ink colorway. It’s a charcoal grey color that will go with much of my wardrobe.
Here’s the thing about gauge…
It’s too important to skip for anything you want to actually fit.
Yes, if you’re excited about starting your next project, it’s easy to forgo, but it’s worth taking the 30 minutes you’d need to make the swatch and measure so you can match gauge.
In the case of the 30 Day Sweater Course, our sweater pattern is based of your gauge.
This allows me to work with any yarn I want, so I can choose one that’s perfect for the project.
I can also control the stitch density to create a finished fabric that meets my needs.
Since Zephyr is woolen spun, it’s very forgiving with gauge, due to the extra air that is spun into the yarn. That means I can knit with a US 5 needle to get a more dense fabric, or a US 9 needle for something more loose and drapey.
For this sweater I want a little bit tighter fabric, so I’m making my gauge swatch in a size US 7.
Above you’ll see my unblocked gauge swatch.
I casted on 29 stitches using an Italian Cast On. I did an odd number so that I could begin and end with a purl stitch. The Italian Cast On also gives me a nicer rib, and since I plan on using it in my actual sweater I figure it’s best to start with that.
I did about an inch of ribbing before switching to stockinette. I wanted to see how blocking my fabric would affect the cast on and ribbing edge. I also wanted to see how much the ribbing would pull in on the fabric.
My goal with the Italian Cast On is to have a more stretchy edge to the rib, which will allow it to block wider and give it a more professional, finished look.
Tips for measuring gauge
There’s a few things I did with my swatch that you should consider.
- I used a selvedge edge on both sides to help with curling and to give it a nice edge. Selvedge edges also help A LOT when seaming, and since this is a set in sleeve sweater, we’ll be doing A LOT of seaming.
- I did not knit the usual 5 inch height. That’s because the 30 Day Sweater Course gives instructions based on length, not rows, so my row gauge is not necessary. I knit enough so I could have a few inches of stockinette in the center.
- I blocked my fabric before I measured. Yarn is going to change a bit once it’s been blocked. Since you should be blocking your fabric before you finish your sweater, we want to measure based of how the finished fabric will behave after blocking.
As you can see, my swatch grew quite a bit horizontally after I wet blocked it.
In fact I went from 19 stitches per 4 inches unblocked, to 17 stitches per 4 inches blocked.
That gives me a finished gauge of 4.25 stitches per inch.
Had I used the 4.75 stitches per inch of the unblocked swatch I would have some MAJOR issues with fit after blocking my fabric.
Ok so we’ve got our gauge number so tomorrow we’ll be casting on.
Yay! Let the sweater knitting begin!