b r o o k l y n t w e e d
  Sweater Planning
My sincerest apologies for my recent disappearance. The non-knitting commitments in my life have been conjuring against us. Despite the silence over the last week, I have been diligently working out some sweater-related challenges.

SSAC Swatch

Pictured above: a washed, blocked, heavy-duty cable swatch. I love taking the extra care in the planning stages of an aran sweater. Because there are so many details involved (centering the panels just so, getting things to line up right for saddle shouldering and yoke shaping, the correct amount of filler sts, proper cable plumpness after blocking, etc.) I think a good couple of days of swatching and calculating is truly necessary. It makes for a positive knitting overall experience - hell, it's just good sense. Not to mention by the time you actually start the sweater, you feel like you could knit it with your eyes closed: you've already tested the charts and you've added, subtracted and shifted every panel around enough so that you know exactly how the thing is structured.

SSAC Swatch

In a nutshell, here's my planning process, if you're interested (if not, just stare at the pictures and close this window - I totally understand. It's Monday morning after all).

If you have an idea of your desired gauge in stockinette (or happen to have a stockinette swatch already knit up somewhere, this is very good), note this number. Multiply this gauge by your target chest circumference to come up with the Key Number (as EZ would say), heretofore referred to as K.

Now, to more or less compensate for the change in gauge that cables will inevitably bring, multiply K by 1.1 (adding 10% of K to the total number of stitches. If you like plumper cables, add 15%) If your math renders a number with decimals, round up. You should now have a semi-accurate working number to start planning your sweater. For example, at this point in the equation, I projected 205 total body stitches.

Chart out your design. Using your total number and your chosen cable panels, plan your pattern, placing the motifs around the body as you prefer. Add up the total number of stitches that the main cables will consume and subtract from K - this will give you a 'remainder' number with which you can allocate to "fillers" (purl stitches between cables, or my preferred filler combo: p, ktbl, p, ktbl, p) A 3 st filler or a 5 st filler between your panels can cleanly and evenly use up your 'remainder' quite nicely.

Swatch. Cast on at least 30% of your total body stitches (I swatched on 70 stitches) and try to use one instance of each cable panel represented in the sweater. This will give you a pretty decent representation of the finished work (see above). I like to work each cable over at least 4-5 vertical repeats before binding off.

Wash and block your swatch
. Do it. You'll be so happy you did. I try to wash my swatches on even the most basic sweaters, but for cables this is imperative. When working with wool, the blocking can drastically change the appearance of your cables: if you like them fat and plump, you won't need to stretch the fabric very much when pinning. If you prefer them flatter and less bombastic, you can squeak another inch or two out of your swatch when blocking. I prefer my cables to figure somewhere in the middle.

When your swatch is dry, unpin it (it might shrink a quarter inch or so) and measure the entire length. Divide this by the number of stitches cast on for the swatch and get your actual gauge. Does this match the gauge you had predicted earlier? It should resemble it fairly closely. Mine was a couple of tenths of a stitch off, so I plugged that number into my original sweater plan and needed to do a few final (very minor) readjustments. I changed my total number (K) from 205 to 210 and made up for these extra stitches in the side panels (under the arms to be super sly).

If you're still alive (you deserve a badge for patience) - start knitting! At this point, I could barely control myself, but it was utterly satisfying to see the real thing working up after all this fluff. And the sweater is flying - I'll show you an update later this week.

A note for the worrisome: keep your swatch nearby. When you get a few inches into your sweater, your intuitive knitting alarm will start going crazy. The sweater will seem MUCH too small. Just clutch your swatch close to your heart and have faith - remember how much length was gained after washing. As long as you abide by all the numbers, blocking should be your sweet salvation in the end. (I admit to succumbing to these fears about every 6 rows. And yes I've stretched the actual sweater over my swatch multiple times to make sure I'm not going to be a very disappointed knitter in the end).

P.S. This swatch is for the Elizabeth Zimmermann/Meg Swansen Saddle Shoulder Aran Cardigan from Wool Gathering #63. I've had this one tempting me for way too long.

Thanks for the encouragement to be precise and going farther into the 'take time to save time' adage!

This is looking great!

That is one of the best things I've read in a long time. I have a bag of Cascade sitting around, waiting to become something fabulous. I can do it! Thank you!

If that is the wool you're using in the finished product, I say it'll be a stunner. Nice tobacco essence....and lovely vintage styling in the pattern. Will look forward to the finished work. Btw, have you ever heard of Cyril Cullen? He was a mover/shaker in designing aran knitwear in Ireland in the 60s/70s/80s (and a harp player I think, not that that's relevant....).

It brings to mind the old adage "You gets what you paid for." Certainly you've described the hard work that goes into all your beautiful results.

Thanks for laying out your planning steps. I've got an aran looming on the horizon and it's much less frightening if I know what to watch out for (like the whole "sweater seeming smaller" thing).

Another beauty! Your description of the process is such an important lesson. For far too many years, I did the smallest ss swatch I could get away with. So much for "instant" gratification--one sweater that I might have been able to wear when I was a teenager and a second that I hope to never fit into!

Thanks again for the reminder of the benefits of careful planning. BTW, will you reuse the yarn? (inquiring minds want to know...)

I love the combination of the pattern and the yarn. This is going to be a stunning cardigan.
And thank you for the gauge tutorial. I went through it quickly, but will return to it next time I plan a cable sweater.

that is going to be one stunner of a sweater - beautiful!

You're going to do that sweater proud, I know! I look forward to seeing it progress.

I've been using about the same process in planning out a gansey-inspired pullover. I knit my sleeve-looking swatch in three different gauges, and after blocking discovered that I really did need to use those 2.75mm (#2) needles! Those #4s were so tempting....

I'm eagerly awaiting a peek at your progress! It looks like delicious yarn.

so where does one get some of this patience you apparently have much of? ;>

stare at the photos, i did. beautiful ones for sure. the tips have been bookmarked for future reference. your right, it's monday...and day light savings:)

I too have a cabled sweater somewhere in my future -- thanks for all your detailed instructions. They will come in mighty handy, not to mention saving me a few gray hairs in the process.

I'm not really a cable knitter, but I like living vicariously through others. Thanks for all sharing all of the details of your swatching process; it's a really interesting read!

I'm very much alive, thank you for the journey! I think I just got the inspiration to give the "design-an-aran" project a try :-) I really, realy admire you!

I sooooooo appreciate the tutorial. It's very disheartening to spend time and $$$$$$, only to have a piece that you're not happy with in the end. When I start my next sweater, I'm coming back to look at this!

Your swatch is gorgeous jared. You always have nice surprise for us :)

Welcome back after your long-ish absence. This is great! I'll definitely bookmark it and return to it when I embark on another cable sweater journey. I have to admit, though, that I'm currently suffering from Monday (evening here in Finland) fatigue, and I couldn't really make my brain take it all in... But love the pictures! :)

I love that we get to see this "behind the scenes" action.

it looks very very lovely. i do love those manly aran sweaters. also very suitable for petite women. it is great to get inspired by your blog and the lovely pictures.

As usual, your knitting is beautiful and appealing. Thanks for all the helpful instruction too. I've come to expect the best from you!

Great post! I just printed this out for future reference...my brain hurts after substituting for a 6th grade class today, but I like the idea of a really good swatch before a complex aran sweater! Your yarn is gorg-y too.

I'm looking forward to seeing your progress on this!

Love the swatch! You are so diligent and precise. I usually swatch till I realize I have gauge. Never had the patience to wash and block. But I can see where it would pay off. :)

That's it! Next time I start a sweater I WILL follow your sage advice. How many times have I sent a project to the frog pond because of pitifully small & non-washed swatches? Too many to count. My new mantra is "the yarn deserves better".

You are a true craftsman. Thanks for the continual inspiration. EZ would be proud.

Your swatches are gorgeous and your process very informative. I have been in the mood for cables recently but abandoned my project about 5" in when I didn't like how the pattern looked. I should have swatched! (now, what do you do with your swatch? I have 5" of a sweater bottom that is begging for another use)

Thanks for sharing your process!

"bombastic cables" -- love it. Thanks for the inspirational sweater coaching.

I know, as always, this will be fantastic! Can't wait to see all your amazing planning take shape.

Never has a swatch looked so good I could eat it. Reminds me of a nice chunky chocolate bar. Can't wait to see this sweater.

Ach! That post was well worth the wait! I've been wanting to design an Aran...now I have a path to follow. Thanks!

Stunning pictures. Just the swatch is beautiful, now I can't wait to see the finished item! EZ would be proud.

You are VERY talented. Will you marry me?


(JK - I'm happily married and only wish my husband could knit like you.)

Those cables are beautiful, thanks for talking about the details.

Hello! I have to say, I love reading your blog. You are an inspiration. I am just about to start me first aran sweater thanks to you:) I am following the Rowan Demi pattern. I wasnt going to do such a detailed swatch, but now I am!

EZ would be proud of your clear and concise description of the design process. Your swatch looks fabulous and I look forward to watching your sweater grow.

I always love it when I start designing a project. The feeling when all working out as planned.
Thanks for the detail tutorial, that's why I love reading your blog.

That was very helpful! I'm going to bookmark this for future reference.

Thank you thank you! I am in the planning stages for an Aran for my son. I will include chevrons on the shoulder for his SGT status! He loves big cables, he says. I appreciate the step by step thinking process to help me plan.
Happy Knitter

I just had to order a few extra skeins of yarn from Schoolhouse Press for an upcoming project, and threw in that issue of Wool Gathering. Your swatches are gorgeous, and a great advertisement for the design.

I have a feeling that I'll want to knit a smaller size than is included in the pattern, so I'm sure I'll eventually be there with you in swatch and calculation land. You know, in several months, when I finally get around to the project.

thank you! i've been wanting to design an all over non-repeating cabled sweater for some time now (even have two possible tweedy yarns to choose from) but keep being thrown (read: daunted by the thinking after a long day of grad school) by the starting process... this is a great mini tutorial!

I am definitely bookmarking this post for future use!

Can't wait to see that sweater as it is born!

a knitter after my own heart! swatching sucks, but it is so worth it in the end.
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