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The importance of gauge when knitting a sweater

by Cindy O'Malley

I’m knitting with Universal Yarn Wool Pop, which is a blend of bamboo, superwash wool, and polymide that exudes a heathery sheen and subtle halo. I went over my swatches yesterday, knit up in stockinette stitch and double knitting.

Today I’m knitting a sweater that is worked flat and seamed using Silken colorway, a lovely soft grey that has a beautiful sheen to it. The pattern I selected is a free pattern Jora, which is a free downloadable pattern. I selected this pattern because I loved the detail on the sleeves and it was originally designed for Adore, which is a light-weight yarn from Universal Yarn. My plan was to focus on the seaming of the sweater and I thought that Wool Pop would be an easy substitution, but I neglected to read the pattern details. A classic mistake on my part, so the focus of today’s post is what I need to do to make this particular yarn work for this pattern.

 Jora is a free pattern originally designed for Adore. I love the sleeve detail and think it will look great knit with Wool Pop in Silken.

Jora is a free pattern originally designed for Adore. I love the sleeve detail and think it will look great knit with Wool Pop in Silken.

Often times, you may have done or heard that you can just make a bigger (or smaller) size when the gauge is different. However, this is not always the case, as it’s pattern design dependent. For example, earlier this year, I made a sweater with Merino Mist. In that circumstance, the gauge I achieved with the yarn was larger than what the pattern called for. It was a top-down, yoked sweater and the row gauge did not come into play. All instructions were to work until x” before the next step. I was only concerned with the stitch count. In that instance, I followed the instructions and stitch count for the small size, worked the length according to the medium size instructions, and ended up with a sweater that fits perfectly.

This pattern is a raglan sleeve design, meaning all the instructions for the raglan decreases are based on a row count. That means that I have to adjust for not only the stitch count but need to factor in row gauge to make sure I end up with the correct armhole opening and shoulder size.

This pattern is written for a gauge of 18 sts x 26 rows = 4” in St st using US 7 [4.5mm] and US 6 [4.0mm] for the ribbing. As a result of swatching yesterday, I’ll be using US 6 [4.0mm] and US 4 [3.5mm] needles, which yielded a gauge of 22 sts x 30 rows. That’s a difference of 1 stitch per inch (4.5 vs. 5.5) and 1 row per inch (6.5 vs. 7.5) between the pattern gauge and my gauge. Fortunately, this pattern includes a schematic of all the pieces, which I will often reference throughout the project. Had I opted to use the US 7 [4.5mm] needle, I may have been able to make a bigger size since the gauge was closer at 20sts x 26 rows. But as I said previously, this gauge was somewhat transparent and I’m not settling for anything less than lovely.

Since this project is knit flat and seamed, straight needles can be used, however, I always use circulars. It calls for 5 skeins to make the medium size. For changes of this magnitude, you will also need a calculator close by to determine the number of stitches and rows needed, especially for the raglan sleeves and neckline. I also had another sweater on hand where I knew the fit and wanted the same length for the body and sleeves. It’s very difficult to measure yourself, but easy to measure another sweater.

The Sweater Back

How many stitches are needed for the cast on? This part is easy. The finished width = 40”, therefore I need (40 x 5.5 = 220 total) 110 sts for the back. Interestingly enough, this corresponds to the 1X size, but don’t be dismayed by this. If you check a pattern that’s written for a gauge of 22 sts/4”, you’ll find that it calls for the same or similar stitch count, dependent upon the amount of ease.

Once the ribbing was complete, I changed to larger needles and settled in for some great TV knitting — stocking stitch until it’s time for the raglan. I already decided that I wanted to make the body and sleeves shorter than depicted, but that’s an easy adjustment; or is it? You’ll have to wait for the sleeve section to find out.

I reached my desired body length so now it’s time to cast off stitches for the underarms. It’s also time to pull out the calculator.

The pattern for the medium size instructs, “bind off 8 sts at beg of next 2 rows.” The formula [8 / 4.5 x 5.5 = 10] rounded. This means I’ll bind off 10 sts at the beginning of the next 2 rows (that’s the stitch count for the Large, not the 1X). That leaves me with 90 stitches on the needle. Now I have to figure out how many stitches I need for the neckline to determine how many stitches will be decreased for the raglan shaping. According to the schematic, I need 5¾” for the neckline, or 26 stitches according to the medium pattern instructions. Let’s apply the formula: (26 / 4.5 x 5.5 = 32). I can also figure this out by using the measurement of the schematic: (5.75 x 5.5 = 32). See how it works out the same? If we only have the stitch count to work with, then the first formula can be used. If we know the measurement from the schematic, then the second formula can be used.

This means that I need to decrease (90 – 32 = 58) in total, or 29 stitches on each raglan side. The next calculation has to do with the row gauge. This is when I went to measure my other sweater. The distance between the shoulder and underarm was between 8 and 8½” (different sweaters had different measurements and I liked the fit of both). The pattern schematic calls for 8” for the medium size, so the formula is (8” x 7.5 = 60) rows. Therefore, Dec 1st row, work 3 rows even, dec every RS row 28 times = 29 decreases over 60 rows. – which didn’t match any of the sizes.

The Sweater Front

The back is done, so now I’ll work the front just the same until I get to the neck.

There are three things to consider for the neck: when to cast off the stitches, how many stitches to cast off, and the decreases needed. According to the schematic, the neck opening is 2½” from the top, however, we need to revert to the stitch count for the medium size to determine how many stitches are needed to cast off.

The opening starts at (2½” x 7.5 rows = 18 rows) rounded down. In other words, after 42 rows from the sleeve, bind off has been completed, I’ll cast off the front neckline stitches.

Cast off instructions for the medium 14 sts, therefore (14 / 4.5 x 5.5 = 16 sts) rounded down.

Decreases = 32 sts on the back neck minus 16 sts at the front neck, this means 16 sts in total or 8 sts on each side over 18 rows – meaning dec every RS row.

The Sweater Sleeves

I had already decided that I wanted shorter sleeves. I like the sleeves longer than most people, but not this long. I thought to myself, “I’ll just make them shorter, right?” Not quite. The model is petite and looks to be about a size 2, like my mannequin Scully, but I’m not. I went back to my template sweater to measure sleeve width and length to use as my guideline. I really deviated from the written pattern a lot and basically rewrote it to suit me. To summarize my changes:

Cast on 50 sts.

Inc rows: 1st inc after 4 rows, then every 6th row 17 times = 86 sts until desired length.

TIP Make the increases 2 sts in from each edge. You’ll see why when we get to seaming.

Armhole: Dec 10 sts (like front & back) beg next 2 rows, 66 sts rem.

Raglan: Dec 1st RS row, then every 4th row 6 times, then every RS row 17 times, 18 sts rem.

Cast off.

You’re probably thinking that this is way too complicated. It is indeed complicated, but I’m trying to illustrate that yarn substitution can be just that. It’s not always applicable to “just make a bigger size”.

The Sweater Finishing

Before we can do the neckband, we need to seam the raglan pieces together. When it comes to seaming sleeves to the body, raglan is probably one of the easiest. The row counts are the same between the body and sleeves, and all the stitches are going in the same direction. i.e., ^ ^ vs ^ <.

 Figures illustrates the 4 pieces joined together by the raglan seams.

Finishing begins by seaming the raglans.

Many years ago, I took a seaming class and the instructor said that since she had learned this technique, it had changed her life as far as seaming sweaters were concerned. Initially, I thought, “hmm, somehow I can’t see this being life-changing, but I’m open-minded.” By the time I finished the class I was singing high praises and couldn’t wait to seam my next sweater as opposed to dreading the task, like I previously was.

The technique is mattress stitch seaming, where you pick up the bar between the 1st & 2nd stitch on each piece. The result is an invisible seam that looks great. The instructor even had us using contrasting colored yarns to seam our swatches and the result was completely invisible.

Some people don’t mind seeing the seams on their hand-knit sweaters. I’m not one of those people. I want my finished product to appear seamless. If you’re not familiar with this technique, there’s a number of videos available for viewing on YouTube.

nvisible seaming of the sides and sleeves with Mattress Stitch.

Pick up the bar between the 1st and 2nd stitch on each piece to create an invisible seam with Mattress Stitch.

After you join the raglans, you have a straight run for seaming the sides and sleeves. Starting at the lower edge of the body, I work my way up to the arm hole and down the sleeve. One of the key things with mattress stitch is that you want to stay on the same line for your seam. This is why I made the tip about sleeve increases. If you do your M1 increases 2 stitches in, instead of 1, you will not impede this straight line. Otherwise, you can be easily taken off track because the bar between the stitches may not be as obvious. It’s much easier if you keep the seaming line clear. By the way, I use fresh yarn for the seaming and sew in the ends afterwards. It’s much easier and tidier.

The Sweater Neckband

How many stitches do I need to pick up for the neckband? Back to the stitch count formula — Medium calls for 84 sts; therefore (84 / 4.5 * 5.5 = 102). Neckband stitches are not an exact science. The main thing is that when you pick up the stitches around the neck, avoid the holes. What does that mean? Sometimes there’s a bigger gap on a stitch than the others. If you try and pick up and knit the gap, you end up with a bigger gap. Have you made a neckband before and had holes at the base? If so, you probably picked up the hole. Instead, pick up and knit the stitch on either side of the hole and it will magically disappear. Don’t worry about getting the exact stitch count when you pick up the stitches. For example, when I picked up mine, I ended up with 108 sts. On my next round, I k2tog 4 times evenly spread around the neck, which ended up in 104 stitches. 102 vs 104, tomato vs. tom-ah-to. It really doesn’t matter, as long as you end up with an even number for the 1×1 rib.

This was a lot more work than I’d originally planned, however, I’m pleased with the results.

The sleeve detail of Jora in Wool Pop is a reversible ribbed cable.

The finished Jora sweater made with Wool Pop in Silken. I love the sleeve detail.

I love the detail on the sleeves. It’s a ribbed cable pattern that’s completely reversible. I can definitely see myself using this motif on other projects in the future.

The stitch definition and drape of the Wool Pop is wonderful and best of all, it FITS!

So, all my hard work was not in vain. And now that I’ve worked out all the details, I may just make it again, but this time top down.

Tomorrow I start making accessories with two colors of Wool Pop, using the Double Knitting technique. I hope you’ll join me to discover that it’s easier than you think and creates some fabulous results.

This is part 3 of 5 in this series

Go back to part 2: Wool Pop: the fabric drape is determined by the swatch

Go to part 4: Double the pleasure with a reversible knitted scarf


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