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Gauge in a Yoke Sweater: understanding where it matters

October 25, 2018

When a knit design includes both stockinette stitch and stranded colourwork, the pattern often lists a distinct gauge for each. This is because the characteristics of the two fabric types are different; resulting in slightly different gauges.

This post is part of a multi-part series that covers the Strange Brew colourwork yoke sweater recipe! To get the Strange Brew recipe pattern (it’s written for 3 gauges, and includes 25 sizes from baby through women’s and men’s 4XL) click here.

This colourwork tutorial series will cover:

We’ve broken the colourwork sweater tutorial into 10 parts. Start at the beginning and work your way through – or just jump to the technique you need help with!

  1. Introduction
  2. How to choose your size: find the right size for you.
  3. Choosing yarn for colourwork: which yarns work best in colourwork.
  4. Swatching for colourwork: a few different ways to swatch specifically for colourwork.
  5. Developing your custom sweater concept: where to place that colourwork
  6. Gauge in a yoke sweater: understanding where it matters
  7. Using the FREE Anthology pattern: a great way to try out your concepts
  8. Applying colour to stranded motifs: time to experiment!
  9. How to design a Strange Brew yoke: using our Strange Brew recipe to turn your inspiration into a woolly work of art!
  10. How to plan a steek in a Strange Brew sweater: prefer a cardigan? Learn how to plan a steek.

And many other topics too! There will also be posts highlighting some great sweaters that were designed using the Strange Brew sweater recipe pattern.

Colourwork Gauge

For colourwork yoke sweaters, while it is ideal to achieve both gauges, there is generally one or the other of the two gauges that is most critical to achieve.

For designs with stockinette at the chest or bust, the critical gauge to meet is the stockinette gauge.

For designs with stranded colourwork at the chest or bust, the critical gauge to meet is the stranded colourwork gauge.

If your project includes both stockinette and stranded colourwork, the best thing to do is to check your gauge over stockinette in the round, making sure you can achieve the pattern gauge, then also check your gauge over stranded colourwork in the round, making sure you can achieve the gauge stated in the pattern. You may need to use a different needle to achieve gauge in stranded colourwork than you do for stockinette.

We explore various swatching methods in this post.

How are stockinette and stranded colourwork fabrics different?

The nature of stockinette fabric is that each and every stitch is a loop. So the the fabric has leeway to stretch in a very accommodating way. This is why knitted fabric is such a lovely medium to work with, and why knit fabrics are used to make t-shirts and the like, due to their innate stretch and drape, which is so different from that of woven fabrics.

Stockinette and other knit pattern fabrics are made up of loop after loop after loop (as you know!), and thus the fabric can stretch quite extensively in the direction parallel with the knit rows. Woven fabrics, on the other hand, typically have very little stretch, as the threads are oriented in straight lines across and up and down.

Stranded colourwork has a different quality than simple stockinette. Stranded patterns are formed by working two (or more) colours at one time, in a single row. A few stitches are knit in one colour, then a few stitches in the other, and this forms the colourful pattern, stitch by stitch. The yarn not in use is carried behind the working yarn, at the back of the work, to the point at which it is used once more. These strands of yarn are called ‘floats’. Because these floats are essentially straight lines of yarn which short-cut across the back of knitted stitches, they prevent the fabric from stretching as readily as plain stockinette would.

Floats of the contrast colour yarn carried across the back of the Compass Sweater

Stockinette fabric tends to have stitches that are wider than they are tall, and it is also very stretchy in the horizontal direction (parallel to the knit rows / rounds). Stranded colourwork, with floats confining the horizontal spread of the fabric, tends to have a stitch gauge is compressed relative to its round gauge; the stitches tend to be closer to square.

When do the differences between stockinette and stranded colourwork really matter?

If you’re working an all-over colourwork garment, the critical thing to check for is your stranded colourwork gauge. Once you achieve that, you’re ready to choose your size and cast on, right? Well, yes, but because of the difference in fabric qualities noted above, especially the fact that stranded colourwork fabric will not stretch as graciously as stockinette, it’s worth considering that, for example, a 44” sweater in stranded colourwork will not fit you in the same way that a 44” sweater in stockinette will. In order to achieve a comfortable fit in an all-over colourwork garment, you must choose a size with more positive ease than you would if the sweater body were in stretchy stockinette.

When it comes to integrating stranded colourwork and stockinette, there are situations when matching up stitch gauge REALLY matters, and situations in which it is less important.

Colourwork at hems:

It can cause a problem if your gauge tightens up at hem colourwork. You don’t want your sweater to be too small there as it can bind and cut into your hips or bum. This may inform into your decision about what size to knit. If you choose a size with negative ease at the hip, and the design includes a colourwork band at the hip, you will likely find that the colourwork will not stretch in the same gracious way that a stockinette hem would.

Colourwork at cuff and hem in the Almanac sweater.

Colourwork at cuffs:

The gauge for colourwork cuffs is generally speaking less critical, as wrists are quite narrow, and if the sleeve narrows slightly at this point due to a tighter gauge, it’s usually fine. However, for baby sweaters, it might be best to skip cuff & hem colourwork entirely, work a size with significant positive ease, or take care that the gauge doesn’t tighten up here, because babies often have those chubby little wrists that we love so much!

Cuff detail from the Marshland sweater

Colour panels in the middle of stockinette bodies:

Campfire features a panel of stranded colourwork in the middle of the body.

Just like in an all-over sweater, when colourwork extends over the bust, which is often the largest part of the torso, it is critical that the gauge for the colourwork section matches that of the surrounding stockinette. Also, as we mentioned above, it is generally a good idea to choose a size with more positive ease than you would for a stockinette body, as the stranded colourwork fabric will not stretch as much as stockinette would.

Colourwork just at the yoke:

The North Shore sweater keeps it simple, it’s all about that yoke!

When colourwork is worked only at the yoke of a sweater, slight to moderate changes in gauge usually don’t cause problems. YAY!

Slight gauge changes might impact the precise fit of the neckline (if the gauge is tighter then it’ll sit a bit higher, if the gauge is looser then it’ll sit a bit lower), but 9 times out of 10 the sweater will fit and look great. This is because there are a lot of dimensions changing in a yoke; the stitch count is changing quite rapidly from a small number at the neckline to a much larger number to fit over the shoulders. At each increase/decrease point, the gauge of the fabric itself changes.

This is not to say you shouldn’t aim to match your colourwork gauge to your stockinette gauge, only that the sweater will likely still fit just fine if you have a slight discrepancy between the two. This is a point of flexibility.

The bottom line is that it really depends WHERE your colourwork is located within the design as to how important matching gauge exactly will be.


3 Comments leave one →
  1. L J permalink
    October 27, 2018 1:03 pm

    All of your sweaters are so nice. Do any of your sweater patterns include short rows at the upper back/neck area so the back is a little higher than the front? Just wondering which, if any, have the short rows before I purchase them. Thanks.

    • October 29, 2018 9:46 am

      Yep, some do and some don’t it depends on the pattern. Do you have one in mind? Cartography, Marshland, and Moraine don’t include short row shaping at the back neck (the modeled sweaters don’t have it)

    • October 29, 2018 10:30 am

      The patterns from our Strange Brew book that include short-row shaping: Mountain Mist, Icefall, Trek, Almanac, Compass, and the Strange Brew sweater recipe. The patterns that don’t include it (because it doesn’t work with the patterning): Moraine, Marshland, Compass. Hope this helps!

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