Category Archives: sweaters

New Pattern: Jurisfiction Cardigan

So, for the past month or so I was knitting away on a cabled orange sweater for Rhinebeck. I’m happy to report that it got finished well in time for Rhinebeck, though in a fantastic piece of irony the Saturday of Rhinebeck ended up being far too warm to really get away with wearing sweaters, so finishing well ahead of time was all beside the point. No matter, though, because now we’re settling into the cool months and I fully intend to spend a lot of time wearing this cardigan this season.


I happily present the Jurisfiction cardigan, available online in my Ravelry pattern store and on Patternfish. Many thanks to Elspeth, who obliged me with some modelling last weekend. Fellow knitters always understand about these things. (As an aside: I do need some photos of myself in it, but since I also finished my Ravine pullover and it wants photos as well, I’m going to have to find some time for a two-for-one photo shoot some time – that is, if it ever ceases raining around here. Between hurricane season and fall weather shifts, I think we may just keep going from rain directly into snow and then eventually spring will show up.)


This is named for the ‘Jurisfiction’ crime solving agency of the literary world featured in the ‘Eyre Affair’ series of novels written by Jasper Fforde. There’s a fabulous line in the second book when the intrepid heroine Thursday Next visits Jurisfiction for the first time, and the Cheshire Cat greets her by saying, “Welcome to Jurisfiction…everyone here is quite mad.” And you know, that’s pretty much how I feel about knitting world a lot of the time, so I think it fits.

Also Thursday Next pretty much does everything you could possibly do as a literary lead character (solving crimes, finding her kidnapped husband, changing storylines from inside literature itself, counselling co-workers who track down vampires for a living, occasionally time-travelling, you know – the usual), so I figure if anybody needs a nice cabled cardigan it’s her.


This is a classic style cardigan worked from the bottom up, in pieces, then seamed before working the button-band and collar. It uses Cascade 220 Heathers (or your preferred worsted weight wool), and presumes a stockinette gauge of 18 sts/4 ins on 4.5mm needles. It’s meant to be a comfortable cardigan so positive ease is recommended, between 2-4 ins of positive ease depending on just how slouchy you’d like.


The ribbing and cables on the sleeves maintain some of the simpler motifs used at the sides of the body, making for a nice fit throughout. The standouts, though, are the paired twining cables featured on the back and fronts. I don’t always say this, but this cardigan was an easy design from start to finish. The cables were a pleasant combination and after having the concept in my head since last winter, it was extremely satisfying to just sit down and knit the darned thing. I’m sort of sad that I don’t get to knit it anymore, actually, which is also partly due to the colour – I could really get into reddish orange, now that I’ve started trying it out!


Jurisfiction is  available in my Ravelry pattern store and on Patternfish for $7.00, and takes between 6-10 skeins of Cascade 220 (or comparable yardage of your preferred worsted wool) depending on size; it is written for seven sizes, for a finished bust sizes 34(37, 41, 44, 48, 51, 55) ins around when worn closed.

Enjoy, enjoy! And I hope whereever you are this weekend (and coming week) is cozy, dry, and has some knitting in it.


Filed under cables, design, finished object: sweater, sweaters

Monday is for thinking about knitting

(Sub-heading: I am not entirely sure how this differentiates Monday from all the other days.)

Thank you all so much for your comments about cable knitting in my previous post – many of you commented about how beautiful cables make the knitting look and how smart they make knitters look, even though once you get the hang of them they are not so daunting at all. I’m pleased to announce the giveaway winners of the copy of Canadian Living November 2012 (on news-stands now across Canada) are Sarah K, JoAnne, and Carol, and I’ve emailed them to let them know. Once again thank you for your comments, and I’m sure another giveaway day will be just around the corner!

Screen shot 2012-10-15 at 4.51.54 PM

In the mean time, my Rhinebeck sweater knitting continues and I am aiming to get as much done as I can in the next few days. My originally planned Rhinebeck sweater, aka the orange cabled thing, is just about done – all it needs is for me to cast off the collar and sew on buttons (and first, buy said buttons), and then it will be doneski. The late-added second Rhinebeck sweater, Ravine, still needs a front, half of the back piece, and the finishing, so it’s going to be a snug finish if it happens before the fair on Saturday, but it is still within the realm of possibility. And I will be blessed with about 8 hours of passenger-riding-in-a-car-with-knitting time on Friday, which is pretty much money in the bank for someone with All The Knitting to get done.


Still, since I’d like to spend some of that time enjoying the scenery and relaxing, I’m not going to lie – I’m still holding out hope this will be done before driving off on Friday. We’ll see what happens, but the awesome thing is I will have the finished orange cabled thing done either way, and whenever the green cabled thing gets done, it’ll be a great fall cabled sweater.

And then I can start planning more cabled sweaters. More cables, more!

Happy Monday, folks! May you have knitting and a refreshing beverage waiting for you this evening.




Filed under cables, sweaters

Seasonally appropriate

There is something about fall knitting, you know, there really is. A certain je ne sais quoi that comes from the coziness of warm wool in your hands, and getting to wear knitted things…and that sudden realization that it’s actually cold outside and “wait, WAIT, maybe I need to knit twelve pairs of fingerless mitts right now.” Indeed, this week’s temps are sneaking into the coat-wearing, hat-seeking territory around here, I realized something else about fall knitting.

There is no way to do it wrong.


Anything goes, man, anything goes. You say you’re knitting two sweaters? Why not start another three? It’s getting cold out, after all, maybe your wardrobe’s looking a little thin. Don’t know where you packed up your mittens and hats last spring? Heck, why bother searching for them when you can just cast on a new set right now. And for that matter, maybe you need a pair of thick socks to wear around the house and another four pairs of wrist warmers to stick in all your jacket pockets, just in case. Anything goes.


Speaking of my current two sweaters (I make no promises about how many sweaters may join them by this time next week), things are going along well enough that I am almost too nervous about it to say it, but you know, things are going well. My Ravine pullover has gained 1.5 sleeves since Friday, and after some knitting time during class tonight that may well bump up to a full 2 sleeves. The cabled orange cardigan, happily, has just half a front piece and the finishing to go, and I am in good shape yarn-wise and shouldn’t run out at the last minute, so that is all good.

I am, however, running out of interesting ways to photograph a sweater in progress, so I shall leave you with a couple of fall shots from my latest round of photography practice. Also, if you’re so inclined, you can read the Ten Questions blog interview I did with Canadian Living yesterday. Stay tuned for a new giveaway post at the end of the week!



Happy fall knitting, everyone. Just remember, if you’re knitting, you’re doing it right.




Filed under sweaters

Sanely overboard

So, here’s the thing. As of today it’s exactly two weeks until Rhinebeck weekend, which is pretty freaking great. The last time I had an actual vacationy weekend trip, or a trip of any kind outside of my own country for that matter, was Rhinebeck last year, so it’s a nice thing to look forward to. It’s also going to be pretty neat to see so many of the knitting friends I normally only “see” via the internet (Twitter and blogs and email are super, but not as super as face to face chatter, sadly). And keen knitters love to knit sweaters to wear new for Rhinebeck, and boy howdy is my Rhinebeck sweater coming along. I am still loving the orange cables and Cascade 220 does zip along nicely as a worsted weight.


The sweater now has two sleeves, a back, and the start of one front piece, and after that it’s just one more front piece and the finishing. It’s not exactly a negligible amount of work (there will be button-bands to deal with), but it’s an extremely reasonable amount of work for 2 weeks of potential knitting time.

And well, here’s the other thing. This week I find myself, for the first time in about four or five months, without any deadline knitting. I’ve got upcoming projects to work on and no shortage of ideas and knitting plans swirling around, for sure, but this is an oddly refreshing feeling. And then last week my Ravine pullover was out in Skein Theory, and one of my internet knitting friends (hi, Blair! Say hi to London for me!) was saying how she wanted to knit it in some yarn she was just waiting for the right pattern for, and something in me snapped. I wanted one too. I like this sweater, dangit, and after a time there are only so many knits you can send off never to be reunited with ever again. So, in conclusion…


…I cast on a Ravine pullover for me. I’m not going to lie – in my head this is totally Rhinebeck sweater #2. I joked on Twitter that this really is going insanely overboard, but fellow knitter Megan chimed in that it is, in fact, quite sanely overboard, because even if I don’t make it in time for Rhinebeck, I’ll still make it for some time this season, and who doesn’t need another cabled sweater in their life? Not me, that’s for sure. More cabled sweaters. All of them!

Happy knitting this fine fall weekend! And Happy Thanksgiving to my fellow Canadians.




Filed under cables, sweaters

Skein Theory: New Designs and a Giveaway!

Now that fall is here, I am starting to be able to show off some of the things on my “what I did this summer” list! The inaugural issue of Skein Theory is out for fall, and I’m pleased to say that I have two sweater designs in the issue. Both are lovely worsted-weight cabled pieces that will be warm and classic items in your wardrobe.

The Ravine Pullover (also seen on the cover!) uses Galway Highland Heathers and shows off a combination of structural cable motifs down the front and back of the sweater. I actually really want to make another one of these for myself, because sometimes it’s just too much of a bummer to part with the sample!

Ravine Pullover

And secondly, the Dundurn Cardigan uses a slightly dressier, symmetrical combination of cables and ribbing and a slightly lower scoop neck. It uses Shelter by Brooklyn Tweed, which is very lovely to work with. Like Ravine, a number of worsted weight yarns would be suitable substitutes.

Dundurn Cardigan 2

These were both a real pleasure to knit and may actually be my two favourite things that I’ve knitted all year.

The whole issue contains a number of versatile fall patterns including shawls and accessories, and I’ve been granted the ability to host a giveaway for the full issue and all its patterns. Hurray!

To be entered to win, please leave a comment here on this post before noon EST on Monday, telling me your favourite thing about knitting in the fall. (So easy, I know! I’ll try to make the next giveaway question a bit more challenging. ;) )

Enjoy browsing the issue, and enjoy knitting this weekend! Happy Friday.




Filed under design, sweaters

On the Subject of Sweaters, Part 5: Modifying the Pattern

This post is Part 5 in a series of weekly posts I’ll be doing on the process of sweater knitting: not exactly the nitty gritty details and techniques, but the opportunities and decisions you may encounter on the way to getting a knitted sweater that works for you. Previously, the topic was reading and interpreting the pattern.

If you’re a knitter who has knitted a lot of patterns exactly as written in the printed instructions and had a lot of success with that approach, I congratulate you and wish you much continued success. It does happen often, and for many knitters it happens quite frequently. Just like some knitters always “get gauge,” other knitters manage to execute patterns as written and get results that look fabulous on them. It depends both on the individual knitter and the pattern’s style, size, and shape. Realistically, though, this is not something everyone manages to do all the time. And even if you don’t ever find The One perfect pattern for you, you DO always (well, maybe of the time) have a functional brain (or at least a caffeinated one) and you have a personalized all-access pass to the one thing you need to make a sweater fit you better: your own body.


I’m of the opinion that the happiest, most successful knitters are those who take control of their knitting as much as is comfortable and reasonable. This is a good default position to have anyway, but particularly when you’re working on a large garment that needs to look wearable on your body. It involves measuring yourself, deciding on preferred style, fit, and ease, but also modifying the sweater pattern as needed. A lot of knitters do this fairly intuitively, or as a result of accumulated experience. You’ve probably seen a fair number of blog posts or Ravelry project pages where a knitter posts photos of their finished garment and a few notes along the lines of: “This was a fabulous pattern and I loved making it! I did it just as written except I made it longer, changed the neckline, and combined the XL with the M size to get what I wanted.” Knitters who have done this sort of thing before will nod sagely. “Sure, like you do.” Knitters who haven’t done this sort of thing before might well stare wide-eyed at the photos and notes. “But, HOW did you do that? What do you mean you combined two sizes? How does that even HAPPEN?”

The fact is that it’s rare that you’ll come across a pattern that fits all of your desired specifications at the same time, and you’re well within your rights to change things as you need to. I feel good about this as a knitter, and as a designer I completely expect knitters to change things up if it will get them the result they want while knitting from my patterns. Any time you make a conscious adjustment to the pattern that diverges from the written instructions, you are engaging in pattern modification, and it can open up a world of wonderful results for you.


What kind of modifications are we talking about, exactly?
If you’re an experienced knitter, I will bet that you have a mental list of typical modifications you execute on a regular basis whenever you knit a sweater. I do too, and so I thought I’d broach this topic first by pulling out pieces from my own sweater wardrobe once again, and breaking down for you what modifications I did for them. (The pattern links below will be Ravelry links.) These are sweaters you’ve seen before on my blog and in this series. For reference: I am a 5’9″ woman with a 37″ bust, 42″ hip, 16″ cross-shoulder measurement, and prefer a length of 24 ins for most fitted sweaters, and a 19-20″ sleeve. These are the key pieces of information I go in with when it comes to pattern modification. Though I have a bust size that puts me well into the range of mainstream patterns, I have yet to find a commercial pattern that accounts for all of the above numbers/preferences in the same place. I am much like a lot of other knitters on the planet in this respect.

I do want to make one broad statement – all of the sweater patterns I mention here today are really fabulous patterns, and they are in good company with hundreds (thousands, really, possibly millions) of many others out there in knitting world. The fact that I modified them doesn’t make the patterns any less awesome – it just means I made sure they would be the final result that I wanted to get.

The turquoise cardigan above is my Gwendolyn cardi that I finished last winter (pattern by Fiona Ellis), in Cascade 220 Heathers (I am very sorry to report that I don’t remember the exact colour name, though I’ve received oodles of compliments on the selection. It’s a nice turquoise heather, is the best I can say.) This is a set-in sleeve seamed cardigan worked from the bottom up, with no waist shaping. It is finished with a hood and a button-band. There is no waist shaping involved in this sweater, which meant I didn’t need to pay attention to placement of the slim part of the waist in relation to my body. The cross-back measurement (across the shoulders) matched quite well with what I wanted, so my main concerns were: a) choosing a size, and b) modifying for length. Part a) is something I documented in an earlier blog post, and involves the fact that I ripped out and re-started with a different size when I was halfway through the back piece, because it was clear that it was turning out too small for what I needed. Part b) was fairly simple – I added 2-3 ins in length simply by knitting to a longer measurement between the hem and armhole separation, than indicated in the pattern.

A third modification came on the sleeves, when I decided to carry ribbing up from the cuff all the way through the inside of the sleeve, even though it wasn’t specified in the pattern. I decided I liked the idea of ribbing as an extra bit of snugness and comfort, and it worked. Otherwise, I knitted everything as written, and I am very happy with the result.


This pink number is my rendition of the Dusseldorf Aran, also by Fiona Ellis. It is a pullover with a high scoop neck, set-in sleeves and seamed, worked from the bottom up. The sleeves also feature pleated ruffles and i-cord bows, for extra prettiness, though they’re hard to see in this photo. The modifications I did on this are as follows: a) modified to add length, b) lowered the neckline, c) expanded the cross-back measurement to be slightly wider. Another common modification I have seen with this sweater is to make it as written, but eliminate the pleated ruffles at the cuffs for more practicality. This would involve casting on a smaller number of stitches that will comfortably fit the wearer’s wrist, and increasing evenly to achieve the same number of stitches as needed at the upper arm.

To a) modify for length, I used my preferred measurements for my back-waist (from collar/back of neck to waist, measurement 3 here) and my preferred length from waist to hem as references, and compared with the pattern schematic. In the end I added about an inch before the decreases at the hip, and another inch after the increases and before splitting for the armholes. This is a pretty typical step for me because I have a slightly longer torso than mainstream sizes tend to account for, and I’ve gotten used to doing it. To b) lower the neckline, I got out my measuring tape and figured out how deep I wanted the neckline to be, compared to the centre of my shoulder, then subtracted this number from the vertical depth of the armhole. The resulting number is the length between the armhole and the beginning of the neckline, and that told me when to start the neckline shaping – which I did as written, just slightly earlier.

To c) alter the cross-back measurement, what I did was simply decrease fewer stitches within the armhole shaping decreases. I then made sure to execute the same (altered) number of decreases on the front piece, to make sure they matched. Another way to have done this, however, would be to have kept the armhole decreases the same, but add vertical dart increases in the stockinette portions at the shoulders (as opposed to attempting that within the cabled panels, which, errr, let’s not.) Altering the cross-back measurement is also a fairly common step for me and for most people, because the relationship between our bust size and shoulder measurement is pretty arbitrary. It has to do much more with unique combinations of body shape, musculature, posture, and athleticism (I am actually sure that since taking up yoga the last several months, my shoulders have added some muscle back there, and I should probably take that cross-back measurement again), and really much less to do with predictable proportionality and overall body size. Two women with vastly different body sizes and shapes could well have the exact same cross-back measurement, but they sure as heck won’t be knitting the exact same pattern in the exact same way.


Thirdly, I present my Autumn Rose pullover (pattern by Eunny Jang). It is a stranded colour-work pullover knitted in the round from the bottom up, with raglan sleeve shaping and a steeked neckline. It is intended for negative ease, which means the garment itself is slightly smaller than the wearer. It is one of the most modified things I have ever done, even though it probably doesn’t look like it. The modifications I did were: a) increase the length, b) raise the scoop neck, c) elongate the raglan shaping decreases at the shoulder, and d) change the colour selection. Altering for length is something I did in the above two sweaters as well, and many others, but in this case it was more challenging because the pattern did not come with a schematic. All I had to go on were the length indications within the written pattern, and these were a bit more sparse than what one might hope for (for the record, Eunny Jang is a brilliant knitter and designer, and I am pretty sure any omissions like this are a result of sparse editing, not her own talents. It happens). So, I had to go from my own numbers and essentially design my own pattern schematic indications from scratch.

When it came to part c) changing the raglan shaping decreases at the shoulder, I knew what kind of length I wanted for myself based on my relatively broad shoulders (as compared to my bust size), and I knew what my row/round gauge was, and so I estimated from there how many rounds the raglan shaping needed to take up to get the total raglan height that I wanted. The result is that I did the same number of raglan decreases as indicated, but spaced out over more rounds. (You can do this in the other direction, too, if you need/want the raglan height to be shorter, by working the same number of decrease rounds over fewer total rounds.)

Altering the height of the scoop neck was a judgement call for my own preference – the original pattern is gorgeous and modern and includes a very deep scoop neck, but I wanted it to be just a touch more modest for myself. So I did the opposite of the Dusseldorf Aran step, and raised the neckline by beginning it a couple of inches later than originally indicated in the pattern, which in this case amounted to starting the neckline shaping and raglan shoulder shaping at about the same time. However, what took the longest time in this was d) changing up the colours. For a single-colour garment it is mostly a matter of picking the colour off the yarn store shelf that you really like, but in this case, substituting 11 different colours required some time and swatching and decision making. (I wrote a whole post about it, at the time.) I liked the pattern, but the colours used in the original sample (and many of the kits for same) had a much rustier colour scheme than I usually knit, so I wanted to customize this. I did 4-5 swatches before arriving at the colour combination that I liked. It was well worth the time I took to do that, because holy crap look at it, this is freaking gorgeous. (I still have all of the swatches, too, and if you take colour-work or steeking classes with me I often bring them out for show and tell ;) )

Sound good? Good.


What else?
These are some examples from my own closet. You can see that the kinds of modifications I made to the three pieces above aren’t entirely dissimilar, but they do vary depending on the style of the sweater and what I want to get out of it. For most knitters, probably the most typical set of modifications they do are to get the overall size they want. For example, if you want the sweater to be worn with 2-3 inches of positive ease, and you have a 40-inch bust circumference, this means you’ll want a garment that is either 42 or 43 inches around in the bust. If the pattern only offers you a 40-inch or 46-inch size as the closest options, though, you might be able to modify things to get you “between sizes,” either by adding stitches to the smaller size or subtracting stitches from the larger one. Knitters with bust sizes on the very small or very large end of the size spectrum are more likely to be familiar with this process, because they are also more likely to have to modify for size simply to create the pattern size they need. Still, pattern size ranges are more expansive than they used to be, and indie designers often want to try harder to include as many knitters as possible. One hopes this will keep improving, but nevertheless, bust size isn’t the only thing that determines a good fit, and many knitters with mainstream bust measurements are well used to modifying fit or length or other aspects of the garment, to suit their own body and preferences.

The best thing any knitter can do is approach the pattern notes as strong guidelines rather than a locked-in set of commands, and diverge from them where and when they need to – and relax with a sigh of relief if/when you don’t end up needing to change anything. The simpler the pattern is, chances are, the easier it will be to modify, so keep that in mind if you are new to the process.


Modification is not only acceptable, it is encouraged. Designers write patterns based on standardized guidelines as well as personal style choices that may or may not completely match your own preference. If you could achieve a better look or fit with a pattern by modifying it, for the love of wool, PLEASE DO IT. Off the top of my head, these are some pretty common modifications that you’ll see:

-Changing the length (longer or shorter) of the body or sleeves

-Changing the placement of the waist to best fit your own (adding or removing length between the waist and armholes, or between armholes and shoulder, to achieve a different length than the pattern indicates)

-Changing the width or circumference by adding or subtracting stitches from the body of the sweater, if possible.

-Changing the width or circumference by changing the gauge (this also depends on whether you’re working with a yarn that is happy at the altered gauge), but keeping the original stitch count the same. A looser gauge will result in a bigger sweater, a tighter gauge will result in a smaller sweater.

-Changing the amount of ease by knitting a larger or smaller size as compared to your bust size, than is originally intended by the pattern notes. (this is style-dependent and preference-dependent as well).

-Changing the height of a neckline (lower or higher)

-Changing the shape of a neckline, i.e. from a v-neck to a scoop neck or vice versa.

-Changing the stitch pattern, i.e. adding a texture or cabled stitch pattern to an otherwise plain stockinette item.

-Combining different pattern sizes within one garment, i.e. working with size 2XL for the hips, but size L for the rest of the torso and shoulders. This involves working more decrease rounds to achieve ideal waist shaping by combining the two (very different), or adding vertical darts to accomodate more decreases in multiple places.

-Changing a pullover into a cardigan, or vice versa.

It’s a wide, wide world of possibilities out there, folks! I recommend perusing Ravelry project pages of sweaters you like or friends’ projects that you like, and notice when they talk about what they did differently. I really, really enjoy that part of Ravelry, that lets people write about what they did to make the pattern fit them best, and it can help others to achieve good results by letting them in on a few ideas.

For a whole world of ideas on how knitters modify different garments of different kinds, check out Julie’s Modification Monday

To think more about modifications that are related to body size and shape, many of the references I listed in Part 2 of this series are relevant, since this is all about achieving the fit that you want.

This post series is almost at an end, dear knitter friends! I look forward to visiting you with one more post on this theme next week, and I hope that your sweater knitting season (as fall approaches) will be a successful one. Until next time!


Filed under sweaters

On the Subject of Sweaters, Part 3: Yarn Selection and Substitution

This post is Part 3 in a series of weekly posts I’ll be doing on the process of sweater knitting: not exactly the nitty gritty details and techniques, but the opportunities and decisions you may encounter on the way to getting a knitted sweater that works for you.

If you were to talk with a knitter who has been knitting for longer than the past decade (you may well be one of those knitters, in fact), one of the biggest differences they are likely to comment on about then and now is the kind of yarn selection available. The world of yarn retail has exploded in the last few years, and both local yarn shops and online retail venues are going strong. Yarn might come to us from larger, mainstream companies, as easily as smaller independent dyers. There are a lot of really, really fantastic yarns out there. I mean, there are A LOT of them, and if you were to take a comparison to the kind of yarn selection that was available 20, 30, and certainly 100 years ago, you would be playing a very different ball game. As contemporary knitters we are furnished with a large amount of possibility.

Most of the time this is a pretty good thing – more yarn means more choices, more colours, more fiber blends and different kinds of fibers, and more people selling yarn usually translates to more knitters being able to access yarn, so basically, hurray for more yarn! On the other hand, more choices mean it can also be harder to make sure you are matching up the right pattern with the right yarn. The knitter today has many options available, but is also in charge of many more decisions at the moment of choice.


The easiest approach – or perhaps, the likeliest path of least resistance – is to buy the same yarn that was used to make the sample of the pattern you purchased. If the sample was successfully knitted with that yarn and looks good, then chances are it was selected with some amount of care and purpose, so you can bet that your own finished product stands a good chance of success if you use the same stuff. Most commercial patterns indicate the specific brand, weight, and fiber content of the yarn used to knit the sample, and some will actually be distributed through the same channels as the yarn. (I.e. the yarn stores that carry the yarn will also carry patterns distributed by the same company). Magazines and books will generally list the yarns and their suppliers in their publication notes, and if you are savvy online or in your personal knitter network, you can find out fairly quickly if that yarn is supplied anywhere close to you.

On the other hand, there are a lot of reasons why you might not be able to use the same yarn: it might not be available in your local store; it might be sold out in the colour you wanted to use because everyone else is already making the same sweater in that colour; it might be available online but only if you pay exhorbitant customs fees to have it shipped from another country; it might be too expensive for you; you might prefer to knit with something that already exists in your stash. Whatever the reason, when you are working with a yarn that is not the same yarn indicated in the pattern, you are engaging in ‘yarn substitution’, and a lot of knitters do this very frequently. It’s absolutely do-able, and you can do it too, as long as you keep a few things in mind.

Yarn Substitution
If you’re substituting yarn for a pattern and are blessed with a friendly and helpful local yarn shop, chances are good that if you bring the pattern in they will be able to suggest the best and closest options for you to use. In general, though, the considerations they will make are probably at least some sub-set of the following, and I recommend using this as your mental list when you’re purchasing for a sweater of your own

1. Gauge and Weight.
Unsurprisingly, this is the first place most of us start when substituting yarns – we need to know if it will behave at a gauge that is the same or at least comparable to the gauge indicated in the pattern. Yarns are categorized according to a weight description – fingering weight, DK, worsted, bulky, and so on – as well as by the anticipated gauge measurement (number of stitches and rows per inch) that yarn will produce when in the form of knitted fabric. 22 sts over 4 inches would be assumed as a DK weight, for example. This system follows a set of industry standards, but at the same time there is variation within a single category. At that link, you’ll see that ‘worsted’ and ‘Aran’ are in the same category, which itself is listed with a gauge range of 16-20 sts over 4 inches. (If you want to have fun at your next knitting night, ask about whether people think worsted and Aran yarns are the same thing, I dare you).

Because a lot more publications and designers are aware that yarn substitution is very common, they will often specify this in the pattern notes: “Use Cascade 220 Heathers, or your preferred worsted wool yarn,” for example. If they’ve done you the helpful step of indicating the yarn weight, you’re good to go off in search of that. If not, have a quick check on the indicated gauge and yarn notes to try to deduce this.


In any case, most commercially available yarns will indicate on their ball band what gauge it is intended to be worked at, and this will usually include a small range of gauges and needle sizes (because this is often a little more art than science, and knitting to a specific gauge is a human activity that varies a great deal), to give you an idea of that yarn’s weight classification. (Incidentally, as a side notes if you’re curious about what all the laundry symbols on ballbands mean – and to be quite honest, sometimes one will appear that I have no idea about – here, let me help you with that.) If in doubt, read the ball band.

2. Fibre content
If you’ve honed in on a yarn (or a number of yarns) whose gauge is at or close to what you need, the next step is to ask yourself what fibre the yarn is made of: i.e. is it wool, alpaca, wool/alpaca blend, cotton, wool/cotton blend, wool/silk blend, etc. If you can help it, try to get a yarn that is the same fiber content as the one used in the pattern sample, or close to it. The reason we need to ask about this is because fiber content will tell us a great deal about how the yarn will behave. In the photograph below are three yarns plucked from my stash earlier this afternoon – the first two are earmarked for sweater projects for me this winter (you can feel free to hate me that I have enough stash that I can do that, I’ll understand. What can I say, yarn and books are the things I collect) which would all qualify as worsted weight yarns. From top to bottom, they are Cascade 220 Heather, Berocco Ultra Alpaca, and Tanis Fiber Arts green label aran. While they could all be classed as the same weight of yarn (worsted to Aran) they are not identical in fiber content, and thus will not behave or feel identically when in sweater form.


The Cascade 220 Heathers are 100% peruvian highland wool, which, while not as scratchy as sheepy wool that is practically straight off of the farm, does feel very much like wool and is slightly rough. That rough quality, on the other hand, means it will behave a bit more sturdily than very fine wools like merino, which are much softer but also less sturdy and more quickly to pill. It will also have all the practical qualities of wool – it will “breathe”, is very warm, and amenable to use in a wide variety of garments. It also carries the risk of being felted if not washed properly, so 100% wool means hand-wash, always. (If you need to have a moment of silence for That Sweater That Got Shrunk In the Washing Machine That One Time, I can wait).

The Berocco Ultra Alpaca is made from 50% peruvian highland wool/50% alpaca, which means it will have many of the practical qualities of 100% wool – versatility, some elasticity, while also taking on some of the qualities of alpaca. Alpaca is a warmer fiber than wool, but is also a longer and less elastic fiber which means alpaca garments will drape much more easily and retain less of their original shape over time. Blending the two together gets you the best of both worlds, in a way, but means you also sacrifice some of the benefits of each. Wool/alpaca blends will be warmer and a bit softer than 100% wool, but stitch definition will be a little more flat and you can expect to keep these sweaters for slightly colder days because of the extra warmth. Garments knitted with some quantity of alpaca are expected to drape a little more than 100% wool garments, and you’ll see wool/alpaca blends in a variety of modern garments for that reason.

Finally, the Tanis Fiber Arts Aran is a superwash 100% merino wool. It has all the warmth of regular wool while eliminating most of the scratchiness. Superwash wool usually feels very smooth and wearable for folks who recoil from regular wool (unless of course they are allergic to wool – in which case I am so so sorry), because it has been treated to remove or glue down the sticky hairy scales along the wool fiber shaft that make it fuzzy (and itchy) in the first place. It has been treated this way to allow it to be machine washable without the risk of shrinking or felting, which makes superwash wool super appealing for knitters who want that practicality in their garments (or, say, thinks like a baby blanket that is likely to get washed a lot). It will also feel more comfortable when worn close to the skin than 100% wool. However, superwash wool will not behave exactly the same way as 100% wool. The lack of fuzzy scales means there is a little less loftiness to the yarn and finished fabric, so it will drape a bit more heavily than regular wool and feel a little less structured. A large, loose, boxy cabled sweater knitted in superwash wool will feel heavy and big, whereas a large, loose boxy cabled sweater knitted in regular wool will feel warm and cozy and reassuring.

These are just a few examples from the world of wool yarns – as you can imagine, there are many options in plant fibers (cotton, linen, hemp, or various blends), and luxury fibres like silk or cashmere. Ask yourself why the fiber might have been chosen for that particular garment, and try to choose something as close as possible if you can.

3. Colour
It’s a simple question, but a significant one: does the yarn you want come in the colour you want? It has to cover a large portion of your body, so if you’re going to splurge, make sure it’s in the colour you want to wear. You are not choosing from the four off-the-rack sweater colours the clothing store had to offer, you are choosing from Yarn World, and Yarn World has a lot of yarns in a lot of colours. If the sample is knitted in grey but you want red and the yarn comes in red, well by all means knit that sucker in red.

4. Cost
The bare truth of the matter is that a sweater amount of yarn is going to cost you more money than most other knitting projects you could come up with – the nearest exception I can think of is a blanket or afghan. It will also be a much larger amount of money than you are likely to ever spend on a sweater in a store, so if you’re new to this process, mentally prepare yourself for that dollar amount when you go shopping, and budget for it in advance if you have to. It is not unusual for a sweater project to cost you in the neighbourhood of $100 and up, just for the yarn. If you’re not desperate to shop immediately, keep in mind the quantity of yarn you would need in a given wait, and be smart about sales – yarn sales are the best times to buy a sweater amount of yarn, because usually it amounts to getting 1-2 skeins more for the same cost at regular price.

In general, I recommend taking a moment to learn about yardage and what is typical for a sweater in your preferred size in one or two different weights of yarn. (Here, let me help you with that.) Unlike hats or mitts (usually a 100g skein will get you a finished hat or pair of mitts) or socks (most women can get a pair of socks with 100g of fingering weight yarn), yardage numbers for sweaters are not universal at all. This is useful information to have on hand if you’re at a sale, or at a fiber festival where you might not get the same yarn again.

Finally, probably the most useful tip I can give you about buying yarn and estimating quantity is a fairly common one: buy an extra skein. If you think you’re going to need seven skeins, buy eight, but keep the eighth one un-wound and un-touched, and tuck it away with the store receipt from when you bought it. That way if you don’t end up needing to use it for the sweater, you can still return it for store credit if you want (most yarn stores will allow you to do this if the yarn is in original condition and comes with the receipt). If you lose the receipt and can’t return the extra, the worst that happens is that you spent a little bit more on yarn and now have extra to make a hat or pair of mitts with. The worst that can happen if you don’t buy extra is that you end up with a sweater that has a front, back, and one and a half sleeves and never got finished because you ran out of yarn.


Gauge swatches and why we need them
Finally, on the subject of yarn: if you truly want to be sure about how it’s going to behave and whether you can work with it at the gauge you need to get, knit a little gauge swatch. Once you’ve gotten your fabulous yarn home and have thought about your pattern size and fit (see previous post in this series), allow yourself the time to knit, wash, and dry a swatch, and this will more likely than not give you some helpful information about how the yarn behaves. (Incidentally, Laura Nelkin just did a blog post about this, with helpful photographic demonstrations).

There are a lot of guidelines out there about how to knit a gauge swatch, but generally speaking, what you want is a sizeable enough square of fabric that will lie flat, which will allow you to take a gauge measurement of at least 4 inches both vertically and horizontally. Ideally the swatch should be even bigger than that, since the bigger the swatch is the more likely it is to mimic the fabric characteristics of a full sweater. (There’s an oft-repeated Q-and-A about swatches that goes something like this: Q: “Do I have to knit a swatch?” A: “No, only if you want the sweater to fit.”) If you knit a swatch, then wash it and allow it to dry, you will be able to take a gauge measurement and also understand whether or not the fabric changes at all between knitting and washing. The truth of the matter is that the only absolutely accurate gauge swatch is a full garment, because only once it is in the full shape, size, and drape of a completed garment will it actually behave like a completed garment. However, swatches are still the best tools we have to examine our gauge, and the behaviour of the yarn, to give us our best estimates before proceeding. Or, like Stephanie says, maybe they’re just little sacrifices we make to the yarn gods to help us with a successful project. Either way, I’m going to err on the side of swatches and keep making them.

The central swatch in the photo above, incidentally, is one I made for the sweater I’m working on right now, where I changed needle size halfway through the swatch (to see what would happen), and I left little masking tape notes on the dried swatch to remind me how they were different in gauge and needle size. I don’t manage to be this finicky on every swatch, but it’s super neat when I do manage it. Find a way of tracking gauge notes that works for you, so you can remember what information you learned from your swatch.


Phew! That was a lot of yarn chatter, and even still, I probably could have said more. There is always more, it seems! Next week’s post in this series will be a bit lighter (I think), and will be on the subject of working through the pattern and some things to keep in mind there. I’ll close out with a few resources on yarnly subjects (feel free to suggest others in the comments!) and look forward to seeing you all next time. Happy sweater thoughts!

More Resources

Clara Parkes’ The Knitter’s Book of Yarn and The Knitter’s Book of Wool are two of the most valuable books on the recent market, not just for the pattern collections but for the information about how different wools and fibers are processed and behave in knitted form. They are books I would recommend to anyone.

Amy Singer’s No Sheep For You is one of the few books in the knitting market with patterns and yarn information specifically for non-animal fibers. If you have a wool allergy, live in a warm climate, or simply choose not to work with wool, this is a valuable resource for you.

Ann Budd’s Handy Guide to Yarn Requirements is a pamphlet containing yarn yardage estimates for different garments to fit different sizes, and is often available in yarn shops. It can help you decide how much yarn you need for a sweater if you are lost and need a quick estimate while in a shopping situation.


Filed under sweaters