This is a strange and difficult time. When the world seems crazy and out of control, I draw some comfort from the things I can control, like what I can do with sticks and string.
In this month’s grab bag we will address misbehaving yarns, yardage, and our old frenemy, gauge.
Wrestling With a Single Ply Yarn
I am swatching some lovely lace-weight, single ply Cotswold yarn on large needles for a loose-gauge sweater. My swatch has a definite diagonal bias.
Is it hopeless to knit an in-the-round, mostly stockinette sweater because of this bias?
Is it hopeless? In short, yes. I’m afraid you’ve hit on the 1, 2, 3 punch: single ply + loosely knit + stockinette = bias. And when you toss the final ingredient into this bias stew—working in the round—you eliminate your last best hope: seaming.
First (you knew this was coming), let’s look at the why.
The Nature of the Beast (Or Why You Gotta Be that Way?)
The amazing Jillian Moreno wrote a great article called The Why of Ply, showing how differently-constructed yarns work up in different stitches. In it she mentions, “In stockinette stitch, [single-ply yarn] shows every weirdness in your knitting . . . This is the stitch that will bias if there is any over-twist in the yarn. Sometimes you can block it out, sometimes you can’t.”
So, why? When yarn is spun, there is energy (twist) put into the fibers to turn them into yarn. Yarn is plied so that the twist that was put into each single will balance out.
A single ply yarn doesn’t have other strands to balance it out. Single ply yarn is not unlike what would happen if my sarcasm were let loose on the world by itself, without the balance of my husband’s good nature.
When a single ply is really twisty, you might hear it called an “energized single.” That’s knitter speak for “Watch out, she’s gonna blow!” If you ever want to test your yarn for this, pull out a length and fold it in half. Does it twist on itself like a two ply? If it does, that yarn needs some special treatment.
Loosely Knit (Or Nothing to Hold It Back)
When you take the wild, untamed beauty of a single ply yarn and give it room to roam by knitting it loosely, then nothing is going to hold it back. No columns of firm stitches, hanging onto each other, to give any hope of containing the madness.
Here’s a swatch I knit many years ago out of an energized silk single. A magazine assigned me the yarn for a garment that had short row intarsia. Unblocked, it biased like crazypants!
I gave it a hard block and then did what I never do with a stockinette swatch: I pinned it out to dry.
When it dried, I held my breath, unpinned it, and—boing!—it went right back to where it had been.
Stockinette: You’re Not Helping
Last year I wrote about what happens to a fabric when you put all the purl bumps (the heads of stitches) to the same side of a fabric. This effect doesn’t get better when the yarn biases.
Bonus: Knit in the Round
When you work in the round, you not only lose the stability of the seams but also your last hope of balancing the opposing tugs. The hope that you might be able to block a bit of the bias out of each piece and balance them by seaming them together is gone.
Does all this mean you can’t ever work with that yarn? No. You can try a variety of things. You can switch up your knitting style. Try continental, since throwing often adds twist to the yarn. You can also see what happens when the yarn is knit in a denser fabric, or in a textured stitch pattern with knits and purls on the same side, like seed stitch.
Or you can knit that single ply yarn loosely and in the round, and proudly brag about how tricky it was to make that stylish asymmetrical hem.
On Cables and Suckage
I found a great plain sweater pattern, but I want to add cables.
I was wondering if there is a set amount of extra stitches you would add to create a cable from a normal stockinette stitch sweater. I’m sure it depends on the cable size. I’m hoping there is some formula.
Ah yes, the age-old wish for a magic formula. As my mother used to say, “If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.” I have no idea what that means. But I do know this: as you suspected, there’s no simple formula that will always work.
The good news is, the math is not that hard.
Here’s are two different cables that I knit up out of a yarn whose stockinette gauge is 4.5 stitches per inch.
Here’s a 12-stitch cable that measures 1.75” (6.85 stitches per inch).
Here is an 8 st cable that measures 1.125” (7.1 stitches per inch).
As you can see, each cable has a different “suckage” value. (Yes, that’s a word.)
So let’s say you want to add three cables to a stockinette sweater that is 18 inches wide. Knit at a stockinette gauge of 4.5 stitches per inch, that’s 81 stitches.
Three Easy Steps
Step 1. Swatch the cable and measure the width. (Come on, you knew that was coming.) Make sure to add extra stitches on either side of it so you can isolate the cable and measure its width accurately.
Step 2. Say I’d like to add three cable panels. Each cable pattern is 12 stitches and each measures 1.75” wide.
3 x 1.75” = 5.25” used for the cables.
Step 3. Subtract these inches from overall width of garment. The remainder is the stockinette portion
E.g., Sweater Body is 18” in 4.5 gauge in stockinette = 81 stitches
18” – 5.25” = 12.75” of stockinette .
12.75” x 4.5 (gauge) = approximately 58 stitches of stockinette
If you have 3 cables, you have 4 sections of stockinette (2 sections between the 3 cables, and 2 sections on the sides). You want to keep the stitches symmetrical, so divide by 4. You can have 2 sections of 15 sts and 2 sections of 14 sts.
Add the number of stitches in the 3 cables (36).
58 +36 = 94.
Your cast on would have to be 94 stitches instead of 81.
If the cables continue to the top of the sweater, the “suckage rate” (it’s a thing!) remains the same for the whole sweater. This means you can follow the armhole shaping as written, but you’ll have a different number of stitches for your neck and shoulders, so those you’ll have to tweak.
So, there is a formula, just not one formula that would work for all cables.
In the MDK Shop
Free Swatch With Purchase?
I have come to acceptance (most of the time) on swatching.
When patterns state the yardage required for a project, do they include enough yardage so I can knit a swatch and still complete the project?
Also, if I change recommended needle size to get gauge by a substantial number of sizes, how does this affect the recommended yarn amount?
According to my family motto—hope for the best, expect the worst—it’s safest to assume you need to get extra yarn for swatching. However, pay attention to how many balls of yarn are used for each size. If you are knitting the second size and the third and fourth size both use the same number of balls, then odds are you’ll have enough yarn for swatching.
The needle size you use won’t affect yardage. The number of stitches or rows per inch is the measure. You might use a different needle than I did to get the same number of stitches and rows per 4 inches, but we’ll both be using the same amount of yarn.
Swatch on my friend!
Keep those questions coming! Since I can’t teach live for now, I love hearing from you even more. Email your questions to [email protected]
Wash your hands, don’t touch your face, and knit on.