Designing a sweater: yarn and gauge.

Previous posts in this series: introduction; sketching.

About the process . . .

Once you’ve made a sketch, it’s time to choose the yarn. Knitting is much different from sewing in that you actually create the fabric for your garment. You’ll want to consider the look of the finished garment when you’re choosing your yarn. Remember the properties of specific yarns; wool, cotton, silk, angora, alpaca – they all behave very differently! There is quite a bit of information about the qualities of various fibers in Stitch ‘n’ Bitch, Knitting in the Old Way and Sweater Design in Plain English, just to name a few. You can also get a few tips from the Knotions article “Ready, Set, Sub”. When choosing a yarn, you will also want to take into account things like color, cost, and how the item is laundered. (For example, I always choose a machine washable yarn for baby items.)

When you’ve purchased your yarn, the next thing you’ll need to do is a gauge swatch. The bigger the swatch, the easier it will be to determine if the yarn is the right fit for your garment. You may need to adjust needle sizes and even yarn. (In fact, it can be difficult to find the right yarn for your design on the first try.) There are three very important things to remember about your swatch.

* If your design incorporates lace, a cable, or color work make sure to swatch in pattern. Things like cables will affect the gauge; if you base your math on a stockinette swatch you’ll have a garment that’s too small. If your garment has fifteen different cables, you’ll want to swatch all of them. Beyond the gauge, certain stitch patterns won’t show up in certain yarns, and some stitch patterns look better knit more tightly or loosely.

* This is uber important: wash and dry your swatch as you plan to wash and block the garment. (Maggie Righetti refers to this as your “tortured swatch.”) Some yarns stretch, other yarns shrink. By finding out how your yarn reacts to being washed, you’ll avoid a sweater that doesn’t fit.

* Because a purl stitch takes up more yarn than a knit stitch, some people have different gauges when they knit flat vs. knitting in the round. If you plan to make the garment in the round, make sure to do your gauge swatch in the round.

Once you’ve gotten the right yarn and gauge, you can proceed to the math.

About my design . . .

Since olive green was a big design element for Craig, I went to the Knit Nook and searched for the right color. I also wanted to do the sweater at a relatively fine gauge, so I focused on DK weight yarns.


The RYC Cashsoft DK
was perfect. It’s the right color (lichen), looks nice knit on US 5 needles, and is machine washable. It was also very affordable. I was happy with the gauge on the first try: 6 stitches and 9 rows per inch on US 5 needles. I washed the swatch in the washing machine and let it dry flat. The gauge did not change. As an added bonus, this yarn is super soft and I love working with it!

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