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Crunchy Leaves: a Strange Brew Example

November 15, 2018

I’m a seeker after beauty. I find it in the everyday, which is very useful. As a parent to small children who works from a home office, there’s a lot of everyday to be had! I manage to squeeze in a little exceptional between wiping sticky tabletops, clearing away Lego, and doing battle with the inbox.

My morning jog, in the autumn, is often interrupted by beautiful moments.

One way that I find beauty in everyday things is dressing my children in handmade items. No matter how snotty and contrary they are on a given day, a hand-knit sweater can make it seem a little better. Not always great (I’m not gonna lie, kids can be tough), but better. Even if you can’t enjoy their behaviour, you can at least appreciate the great knitwear!

When we were developing the Strange Brew pattern, a year ago, I made a pair of little sweaters for Max and Neve to test the sizing and yoke shaping after we decided to add aran and sock weights into the recipe pattern.

Kids playing at the park, in all of the hand knits! It doesn’t get much better than this!
These sweaters were just intended as ‘little swatches’ – opportunities for me to trial colour combinations and concepts, test out motifs, dipped hems, and colour combinations.
I loved the ‘bubbly’ shape of this colourwork motif, and this grapic idea eventually worked its way into my design for the Almanac sweater, which incorporates a similar motif at both yoke and hems.

A disclaimer : Jess, dyer at Ginger Twist Studio, is a friend of mine. So… obviously I’m gonna big up her sweet sweet product. But I wouldn’t be working with it if I didn’t love it! When Alexa and I decided to embark upon a colourwork collection, I’m not gonna lie, I knew that I’d need to amp up my stash big time. So I collected quite a great collection of colours, and used a little of each of them in these sweaters!

In preparation for knitting these prototype sweaters, I collected a pretty fabulous rainbow of Ginger’s Hand Dyed Masham Mayhem Aran and Sheepish Aran

I LOVE the main colour I used for Neve’s little yoke. It is so rich, so vivid, but such a great ‘neutral’ at the same time. It’s called ‘crunchy leaves’ which feels so very appropriate for autumn days. Lately it feels like every day I have to stop to capture another photo of the brilliant morning light shining through the blanket of leaves in the park near my house that I run through in the mornings. Or perhaps I’m just stopping to catch my breath?

I made Max’s jumper first, and discovered that the ‘crunchy leaves’ colour played very nicely with the bright teal, the warm yellow, and both the cobalt blue, the deep grey-blue.

In making Neve’s yoke, I simply picked some lovely little colourwork motifs, and played with them, alternating colours quite often to add richness to very simple patterns.

When we shot this little example yoke in Iceland, I ripped out the bottom hem treatment (which you can see in the earlier photos above) because I thought it was better without.

The Strange Brew pattern is a recipe for designing your own unique colourwork yoke sweater, and it includes 3 gauge options and both top-down and bottom-up construction methods! Check out our in-depth tutorial on how to use the pattern to design a yoke, and our other posts on the process of knitting a colourwork sweater are listed here.

An Example Yoke, created using the Strange Brew recipe pattern

This little example was worked as follows, using top-down aran weight instructions in size 1-2 years:

  • Neckline: Cast on per the pattern, worked 1×1 ribbing
  • Increase Round 1: worked in MC following pattern instructions
  • Pattern Section 1: Worked chart A (it is 3 rounds, not the 4 called for in the pattern)
  • Increase Round 2: worked in MC following pattern instructions
  • Pattern Section 2: Worked chart B (it is 9 rounds, not the 4 called for in the pattern)
  • Increase Round 3: worked in MC following pattern instructions
  • Pattern Section 3: worked chart A; but flipped it (it is 3 rounds, not the 4 called for in the pattern)

So I worked a total of 3 + 9 + 3 = 15 pattern rounds, whereas the pattern called for 4 + 4 + 8 = 16 pattern rounds. The increases fell at slightly different points than the pattern called for, but it WORKED OUT JUST FINE.

This is an important illustration of the fact that you can adjust the Strange Brew recipe pattern, moving the increase or decrease rounds up or down, and your yoke design will very likely still work out! The numbers are SQUISHY.

A Family of Yokes

November 13, 2018

Alexa’s been the one to go ‘epic’ in her personal knitting projects in the past. This has had some unbelievably inspiring results, but I always saw it as impractical for me personally. That is, until now!

I decided to use this year’s #strangebrewKAL as an impetus to really ‘go big’ with my holiday sweater plans for this year. Perhaps you haven’t noticed, but my sweater production has really skyrocketed this year! This is because I’ve been experimenting and gaining skills on my knitting machine. It’s a fabulous tool that I’ll share more about in a future post, but the long and short of it is that by zooming through some of the stockinette portions of a project I can get to the part that I love most (the colourwork! The design challenges at the yoke!) a little bit faster.

As such, I have decided that this year is the year for an epic family photoshoot from the Edinburgh side of the business! I pulled out my stash, and looked at some various options for me, John, and the kids.

Of the four sweaters, Max’s is the furthest along. BUT despite the fact that this yoke looks GOOD, I feel like ripping it and changing the colourwork somewhat might make it GREAT. I documented the design process for the yoke in this post.

My overall vision was a Christmas sweater palette that featured greens and pinks. My parameters were as follows:

  • Work from my stash as much as possible, mixing yarns fearlessly!
  • Make a colourwork yoke sweater for myself, my husband John, and my kids Neve and Max following the Strange Brew recipe pattern
  • Document my design process, in order to provide learning support and examples for knitters!

A coordinated palette of sweaters

The body colours I settled on, after much back-and-forth! The olive tweed is for John, the grey tweed for Max, the deep red tweed for me, and the lovely pink is for Neve!

One sweater I was instantly certain of was John’s. I have been saving this lovely sweater amount of olive green Studio Donegal yarn. It’s super soft and exquisitely tweedy, and a great match for John’s beautiful green eyes. I have (gasp) NEVER knit my husband, father of my two kids, a sweater. To be fair, since we’ve been together I’ve been pretty busy building a business and then producing two beautiful children, but is that really an excuse? Yup. It is. But very good excuses notwithstanding, I think the moment for me to complete a sweater for John is NOW.

So that was the body colour for one sweater nailed down; and as you can see in the photos above, I’ve got a few ideas for palette options for the yoke colourwork.

I couldn’t resist this pink!

Next, I had recently become obsessed with some soft pink yarn dyed by my friend Nina at Rainbow Heirloom. She dyed this colour ‘birthday suit’ on a base called Brit Light, which is 100% superwash British BFL. It’s a plied sock-weight yarn, so it will be durable but soft; perfect for a kid’s sweater. I took the plunge, bought the yarn, and got started selecting colours to coordinate at the yoke.

I’m using Jamieson & Smith 2ply Jumper Weight at the yoke, as I want to use Fair Isle style blending with LOADS of colours… Learn more about this colourwork technique in this post.
I’m part-way through the design process on this yoke, which I’m working from the top-down. I’ve stalled a little bit, so I’m swatching some more before I rip and re-knit the yoke.

Third was the sweater for me, and I struggled to choose among several options for a body colour. I have this exquisite ‘vintage green’ from Rennies, a deep blackened red DK weight from Green Mountain Spinnery, and this voluptuously soft deep red custom spun 4-ply which I made at The Border Mill in the summer.

The deep red is the main colour; and I think I’ll choose a single CC to keep the colourwork for this design quite simple.

Looking at the colours together, I decided that the best option to coordinate with the other two body yarns was the Border Mill Alpaca. Possibly I was also seduced by its opulent drapeyness and outrageous softness? I can’t wait to get this on the needles!

The concept I have for my own sweater is a drapey, boxy body with a high-low split hem. It will have quite a bit of positive ease (4-8″ I’m thinking). The sleeves will be long, and slim fitting. So at the yoke join I’ll modify the Strange Brew pattern to mesh the large body size to the smaller sleeve size. The concept is a single colour body and sleeves, with a yoke that has a large-scale transition pattern. I haven’t cast on yet.

Last I had to fill in the blank, and choose a body yarn for Max’s sweater that would coordinate nicely with the three already chosen. I thought perhaps a mid green would be best, but then I found a sweater’s amount of this grey tweed that had been languishing in my stash boxes, and decided it had a delicacy that would round out the palette quite nicely!

I’ve made the body and sleeves for Max’s jumper working bottom up. I did the sleeves by hand. I hand-knit the body rib, and then worked the stockinette portion on the knitting machine. Then I joined it all together, adding in a few stitches for the steek (they’ll be lost when I cut and pick up the button bands).

So the decision about the main body yarns made, I’ve been slowly chipping away with the process of working from idea to completed sweater for each of us! Will I finish before the end of the KAL? Hmmm I’m not holding my breath. Will I finish before Christmas? Hmmmm still not certain! But I’m enjoying the process nonetheless!

How to Design a Strange Brew Yoke

November 9, 2018

The Strange Brew Yoke Sweater Recipe allows you to ‘brew up’ a seamless yoke sweater of your own unique design. The pattern guides you step by step, but also includes plenty of room for experimentation and improvisation. A sweater, after all, is just 3 tubes (sleeve, body, sleeve) which join to a single tube (the yoke). And you can knit a tube, right?

I’ve made this body & sleeves as part of our #StrangeBrewKAL – it’s going to be a colourwork cardigan for my son Max… I just need to design the yoke!

This post is one of many in our tutorial series about how to knit or design a colourwork sweater, so it assumes you’ve already made decisions about what size to make, what yarn to use and thus which gauge option to follow. Before you begin your yoke design, you also need to decide what construction method to use (bottom up or top down).

Use the Strange Brew Worksheet to pull out the key numbers from the pattern

Bottom-up: knit it this way to get rocking and rolling before confronting the yoke design step! Cast on now and ponder the yoke as you enjoy the relaxation of knitting the body and sleeves. You won’t get stuck on ‘sleeve island’ and you get to save the best (the colourwork yoke) for last!

Top-down: knit it this way to get into your yoke colourwork pronto! Once your exquisite yoke is done, you’ll bust right through body and sleeves so you can get the sweater on your body ASAP. Top-down also makes it a little bit easier to try things on as you go and adjust lengths.

Once you’ve identified your size, gauge, and construction method, you’re ready to design your yoke. Download a copy of our yoke design worksheet, it will be your guide as you designing your yoke. The worksheet includes a page for bottom-up construction, a page for top-down construction, and a page of graph paper that you can print out for playing around with stitch patterns.

Fill in the key numbers indicated for the section that applies (either top down or bottom up). Pick the instructions and stitch counts that apply to your gauge & size out from the pattern, copying them into your worksheet.

I filled the worksheet with the instructions for my chosen size (4-6 yrs), gauge (aran), and construction method (bottom up). Then I sketched the yoke design on the included chart.

Once you’ve filled in your worksheet, you’ll know a few things:

  1. How many total rounds (approximately) you’ll need in your yoke.
  2. Where (approximately) you’ll work adjustment (increase or decrease) rounds, and what the instructions for these adjustment rounds will be, and the stitch counts in the pattern sections following the adjustment rounds.

I’ve thrown the word APPROXIMATELY in here a lot. This is because it’s very important to know that these numbers are SQUISHY. As you proceed to design your yoke patterning, you can move these adjustment rounds up or down a few rounds without ‘breaking’ the yoke. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good in this endeavour!

Insert patterns into this yoke framework

Once you’ve identified the approximate yoke depth you’ll be working within, and the approximate locations of decrease rounds, the next step will be to choose patterns to fit within the yoke itself.

To plan a yoke incorporating a number of narrow patterns, I would:

  1. Choose the patterns, and decide what spacing to put them at.
  2. Stack them up, to calculate how many of them I could fit into the number of yoke rounds I have to work within.
  3. Decide where to my increase or decrease rounds. These can float up and down within the yoke, so long as they don’t move TOO far from where they are suggested by the pattern.
The draft chart that I created for the yoke sweater I’m making for Max.

How to adjust for a different stitch count

Each pattern section within the yoke is designed to be a multiple of 24 stitches. This is so that MANY stitch patterns will fit evenly without any adjustment; any patterns having repeats of 2, 3, 4, 6, 8, 12, or 24, and some others too (ie a stitch count of 240 is also divisible by 5, 10, 15, 16, 20, 30, 40, 48, 60, 80, and 12, in addition to the above). You can get a list of divisors from an online calculator like this one.

You may have your heart set on a pattern which does not fit evenly within the section’s stitch count. In this case you must adjust the stitch count of the piece before you can work the repeat. Luckily knitting is stretchy, and adjusting a few stitches here and there is easily accomplished. After working a decrease round, determine how many further stitches need to be decreased in order for your patterning to fit evenly.

For example, if your stitch count is 144 sts, but you want to work a pattern with a 10-st multiple, you’ll need to decrease an additional 4 sts to get to 140 sts.

Then on the following round, decrease the required stitches to get to the next even multiple that will work for your motif’s stitch repeat. Just use k2tog or ssk to reduce the stitch count. After the patterning in that section is worked, the next decrease round won’t work as written, as your stitch count will not match the pattern. Thus you will need to decrease a few less stitches on the following decrease round.

Then, if the next step in your pattern was to decrease to 96 sts, by working (k1, k2tog) around (from 144), then simply work that decrease repeat 4 less times, then knit to end, since you’re only decreasing from 140 to 96, so you have 4 less to decrease.

The examples above cover decreases; but the principle is the same for increases in a top-down yoke.

Locating patterns within the total yoke depth

There are different points upon the depth of the yoke that you can place your patterning; and each will yield a different effect in terms of the finished look of the sweater. The example above filled in nearly all of the available yoke rounds, but that’s not the only way to do it! See this post for more details.

The depth and placement of the pattern on the yoke (or on other parts of the sweater) can make for so many great options, all using the Strange Brew recipe pattern.

Design planned, get knitting!

That’s all there is to figure out with pencil and paper – now it’s time to get knitting. If you’re not quite sure about the stitch patterns, yarn or colour combinations you’ve chosen, begin with a swatch, or if you’re comfortably knitting ‘by the seat of your pants’ then just go ahead and get started!

I started knitting the yoke design, swapping out colours as I went. The first pattern (the arrows) went smoothly; I was pleased with the colour combination. To determine how to work the next section, I did a little back & forth ‘swatch on the needles‘ then pulled it out, before deciding on which colours to use for that motif.

We always suggest that a hat or cowl (a functional swatch) gives the best results, and so we’ve designed the free Anthology pattern to allow you to swatch in the same 3 gauges that Strange Brew includes. We have also explained a wide range of other swatching methods that may aid you as you knit your colourful way to yoke satisfaction!

More colourwork inspiration from Strange Brew:


Applying Colour to Stranded Knitting Motifs

October 30, 2018

The joy of stranded colourwork knitting is in the myriad of possibilities, and the depth and richness of its many possible expressions. You can start with a single motif, but once you decide to apply colour to it, the possibilities fracture into endless variations, it’s as if you are looking at the world through a kaleidoscope.

One Pattern, near ENDLESS possibilities

The endless possibilities are both the joy of colourwork, and it’s barrier to entry! There are many decisions, much knowledge and experience to gain before a knitter attains a deftness in applying colour to a pattern. But to me, this learning process, with so much experimentation, holds a wealth of satisfaction.

We aim to teach you useful strategies, to ease you into the process with some satisfying results early on, and also set a load of options in front of you in a simple step-by-step way. So with that in mind, let’s take a look at the various different ways that a single pattern might be coloured up.

I’ve used this 6-stitch and 7-round motif throughout this post, to illustrate how changing the colour palette can yield so many different results.

I worked my swatches in Jamieson & Smith 2ply Jumper Weight, a fabulous Shetland yarn perfect for colourwork, with an extensive and nuanced palette.

Keep it Simple : Monochromatic or 2 colours

We talked extensively about using monochrome and 2-colour palettes in this post, which you may also find helpful.

A dark FG colour against a light BG colour.

How does this look on our chosen sample pattern? It’s easy to see; we can either choose a dark FG (foreground) on a light BG (background), or choose a light FG on a dark BG. The different colours chosen, and their relationship to each other, give different effects. There is a range from subtle to strong contrast, and colour combinations that look soothing together, or combinations that scream with vivid and harsh contrast. But in each case the motif reads clearly.

A light FG colour against a dark BG colour.

When speaking of the examples, I will use the terms ‘foreground’ (or FG) and ‘background’ (or BG), as I feel they are more descriptive than MC and CC given the many colour changes that may happen. I typically consider the foreground colour to be that which forms the pattern which reads against the background fabric. It is also typically the yarn which I will hold in the dominant position, forming slightly larger stitches.

The Cartography Hat looks great in a monochrome or two-colour pair.

Add Some Complexity: Use an Ombre

The second strategy, to add further complexity, is to use an ombre. We wrote more extensively about this here, but lets see how it might work on our sample motif.

This example shows an ombre of yellows (from light to deep) in the FG worked against a single dark, neutral BG colour.

The first example uses the ombre in the foreground position, forming the motif. The second example uses the ombre in the background position, against which the motif, in a single colour, pops.

This example shows a single FG colour worked against an ombre of reddy/pinks in the BG.

With the second example you can see how working shifting colours in the background can emphasize horizontal banding.

The Mountain Mist hat uses an ombre to great effect.

Add a Third Hue or a Highlight

When you take the step to add in a third hue, things get a little more interesting!

This swatch uses a lighter version of the same hue (blue). This is a very easy way to develop a 3-colour palette.
This swatch uses two distinct hues, teal and red, in the FG against a single BG colour. Because they both have good contrast against the BG colour, the pattern reads clearly.

The placement of the two hues or values within the pattern itself can create vastly different effects. The same pattern, shown below, is worked in the same colours, with their placement reversed. Which do you prefer?

All of the examples above swapped out the FG colour, but the BG colour can be swapped out to great effect too.

Swapping out a neutral BG colour for a more vivid, but still light BG colour makes this pattern sparkle.

The Cartography sweater is a great pattern to play with this kind of palette. Alexa used a single red for the narrower motifs, and two tones of teal to work the FG of the deeper motifs, against a consistent white BG colour.

Cartography is knit in Brooklyn Tweed Arbor.

Or you can work alternating foreground colours, if you’re making a garment or accessory with all-over colourwork.

Another way to add a third colour into a project is to work whole motifs using a different FG colour. In this version of the Cartography sweater, Alexa knit the deeper bands in light teal, and the narrower bands in golden yellow.

Fair Isle Style Blending

The fourth and most complex strategy for colouring motifs is developing Fair Isle style blends. This style of stranded colourwork knitting was developed and popularized in the Shetland Islands, but has spread far and wide and inspired many knitters and designers.

The basis of this method is the idea the foreground and the background colours may be swapped out over the course of a single motif band, although as a general rule no more than two colours are used per round.

Let’s look at a few ways we could colour up our chosen motif using this method.

I picked three palettes; each one with three different ‘light’ yarns and three different ‘dark’ yarns. It’s easy to convert a photo to black & white on your phone camera, to quickly assess whether a colour might fit the ‘dark’ or ‘light’ category of a palette. You can watch how I picked these palettes in this video.

The critical thing when choosing fair-isle palettes is the VALUE (relative darkness or lightness) of the yarns chosen. The HUE (the colour) is often quite a bit less important. Further explanation of colour terminology for knitters can be found here. This concept is a difficult thing to accept, and I find it counter-intuitive to use different hues within the same blend, but doing so really amps up the interest in the resulting pattern.

This Fleet hat is a good example of how the value of the yarns in FG and BG positions in a blend is more critical than the hue; the brick red is a very different colour than the navy blue, but as it’s a similar value (dark rather than light) the pattern reads clearly, and the palette is richer for its addition.

I worked our favourite motif in each of the 3 palettes I chose, trying light-on-dark and dark-on-light options.

With this brown, blue & gold palette I really like both of the final effects. The striking cobalt blue really adds to the vibrancy of the final pattern.

With this purple, brown and pink palette I prefer the light-on-dark option; perhaps the dark palette doesn’t have enough difference, one yarn to the next, to provide as much interest when it is placed in the foreground.

With this fuchsia and teal palette I really love the dark-on-light option. I chose the pink as the MC, one of the darker, more saturated colours, against which the jewel tones used in the FG really sing.

Get Knitting! Practice is the Only Way to Become Fluent In Colour

Here at Tin Can Knits, we focus on creating crystal-clear patterns and useful tutorials, in part to convince you that whatever the technique you’d like to learn, it is within your reach! This is our genuine belief.

That said, neither Alexa nor I find creating colourwork palettes EASY. The only way to gain proficiency is to practice, but we all love colour and knitting, so the practice is generally a pleasure. With this in mind put together this in-depth tutorial about swatching for colourwork, AND designed Anthology, a great free pattern that will allow you to trial motifs and colour combinations while making beautiful accessories!

Time to rip and swatch more extensively….

Or you can take it easy; just cast on one of the hat designs from our colourwork collection Strange Brew, and mix up the colour usage! Mountain Mist is designed specifically for an ombre, but the Cartography hat, Compass Cowl, and Fleet Hat could be adapted for any of the colour strategies covered in this post.

Anthology : a free pattern tailor-made for swatching

October 26, 2018

One of our favourite ways to swatch for a Strange Brew recipe design-your-own colourwork yoke sweater is to make an Anthology swatch hat, or a cowl.

This post is part of a multi-part series that covers the Strange Brew colourwork yoke sweater recipe! For a list of the other posts in this series, click here. 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.

The Cartography Hat was developed as Alexa swatched and swatched (and swatched) to perfect her design for the Cartography sweater.

While developing the designs for our yoke sweater collection, we found that the best way to trial yarns, colour combinations, and stitch patterns was to make swatch hats! OK, ok, this is not a new idea, and we’ve been banging on about this for what seems like years now.

As part of Strange Brew we’ve released the free Anthology pattern which will do the ‘heavy lifting’ for you, so you don’t need to calculate stitch counts, and can instead skip right to casting on! And really, who doesn’t want to do that?

Oh, and did we mention this is a FREE pattern?! Click here to download Anthology now.

Anthology is designed to work together with our Strange Brew sweater recipe; it is written for the same 3 gauges (to work with yarns in your stash in sock, DK, and worsted/Aran weights). So once you’ve tested your yarn, motifs, and gauge using this fun little pattern, you can use the same yarn and needles to cast on for your own yoke design!

You can make an Anthology cowl or hat to trial out yarns that you might use for a sweater! If you knit a hat, then wear it for a week or two, you will really learn how the yarn you’re considering wears, stretches, and feels.

How would I use Anthology?

First I’d pull out a PILE of yarns, and pick a main colour (MC). Perhaps that yarn would be one that I was ‘auditioning’ for use in a sweater project, or perhaps it would simply be a pretty skein that had been calling out to me “pick me, pick me” in my dreams (yeah, this is a thing that happens, I’ve got wool on the brain!).

Next I would decide whether to make a hat, stand-up cowl, or tubular cowl – the Anthology pattern includes directions for each! I tend to make hats most often, but they don’t give quite as much room for experimentation as a cowl. And a tubular cowl gives you miles and miles of room for trialing motifs!

My plan for my next Anthology swatch project is a hat to practice my Fair-Isle blending skills… Of course I’ll be working in Jamieson & Smith’s Jumper weight… I’ve got a pretty fabulous rainbow of it!

The next step would be to select a few of the motifs from the mini-stitch pattern library included with the Anthology pattern; it includes 90 motifs to play with!

Just a few of the motifs included in the free Anthology pattern. You can use these motifs as-is, or adjust them as you see fit, working in just two or a rainbow of colours.

When thinking about colour palette, I may have seen a beautiful scarf out on the street, and be inspired to explore a similar colour combination. Often I’m inspired by a beautiful photo I took or found, and pull a colour combination or motif out of there. More on my design process here.

A Pinterest board I’ve put together to collect inspirations for colour palettes I’d like to try.

Another sure-fire way place to find motifs and colour palettes is to turn to a stitch dictionary. My favourite for Fair Isle style blending is Mary Jane Mucklestone’s 200 Fair Isle Designs, but we have a more extensive list of our favourite colourwork books here.

Adjustments: For the hat, stitch counts are divisible by 6, so motifs of 2, 3, or 6 sts will fit evenly (and in some cases other multiples too). To work a motif of a different multiple, simply increase or decrease a few sts after the ribbing so that your chosen pattern fits! For the cowls, stitch counts are multiples of 12, so motifs of 2, 3, 4, 6, or 12 sts will fit evenly.

How will YOU use Anthology?

You could use it to create a perfect winter hat as the weather turns cool, or as a testing-ground for yoke design ideas!

If you’re a knitting instructor, you are free to use Anthology to run colourwork courses at your knit shop! If you’re participating in our Strange Brew KAL over on Instagram ( #strangebrewKAL ) or in our Ravelry group, you can get started with a swatch hat to help you think through your yoke design!

At a loss for how to start? Check out our Week Of Colour blog series for ready-made ideas that will work well with the Anthology pattern.

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! For a list of the other posts in this series, click here. 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.

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.


Swatching Colourwork

October 23, 2018

Swatching for colourwork is a little different than swatching for any other type of project. There are a few more things you want to know, especially if you are embarking on a larger project like a sweater.

This post is part of a multi-part series that covers the Strange Brew colourwork yoke sweater recipe! For a list of the other posts in this series, click here. 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.

Different methods of swatching for different purposes

When swatching for colourwork you want to figure out your gauge, but you also want to trial out your yarn and test your colour combinations. If you are designing your own yoked sweater from our Strange Brew recipe pattern you will also want to test out your motifs.

Looking for more basic swatching and gauge info? Check out our intro to swatching tutorial here.

When swatching for your Strange Brew sweater you want to find out:

  • What is your stitch & round gauge?
  • Are your colour combinations working?
  • Do the motifs you have chosen look the way you hoped?
  • Is this a yarn you want to knit an entire sweater in?

In this post we cover several swatching methods, each of which give you different sorts of information.

Five Swatching Methods:

Before we get started: Don’t knit a 2” square back and forth and think that will give you a good idea of your gauge. If this is your method, just skip the swatch! A 2” square knit differently than the final garment isn’t going to tell you anything.

There are no knitting police, if you really don’t want to swatch that’s a-okay with us, just be ready for a bit of tinking!

To check gauge for any of the Strange Brew sweater patterns or accessories it is most effective to swatch in the round. A knitters gauge when knitting often is different from that of purling, which means that a knitter’s stockinette in the round is often different gauge than stockinette knit back and forth in rows. Given that seamless sweaters are in large part knit in the round, this is the condition that you want to emulate with your swatches, and we have a few suggested methods.

Knit a tube and cut it:

For this kind of a swatch, cast on enough sts for at least 6” of fabric and knit a little tube. Once the tube is complete, cut it vertically up a single stitch, then wet-block it flat. For this swatch I worked a portion of a yoke wedge design.

What it’s good for: This swatching method will give you useful information about your gauge in stranded colourwork and show you how the colour and motifs you have chosen are working together, as well as allowing you to test increase or decrease methods. A tubular swatch like this one can also be a low-pressure opportunity to try steeking, in preparation for working a steeked colourwork project. Check out our in-depth tutorial on steeking here.

Carry the yarns across the back:

For this swatching method you must use either DPNs or circular needles. Cast on and knit 1 row, do not turn your work. Slide the stitches to the other end of the needle so the right side of the work is still facing you, and the yarn is on the left side of the work. Knit the next row. Draw the yarn very loosely across the back of the work in between rows.

What it’s good for: If the swatch is made large enough (6″ of width at a minimum) this method can give you an indication of your gauge in stockinette in the round, and your gauge in stranded colourwork in the round. However, we tend to use this method in smaller swatches intended to simply trial out motifs and colour combinations, because it can very quickly show if an idea will work, with hardly any investment of time or yarn.

Knit a ‘Useful Swatch’:

The Mountain Mist hat makes a great swatch for the sweater!

One of our favourite ways to swatch for colourwork is to knit a hat – this way you don’t waste a single stitch! Hats don’t really take much longer than a proper swatch does, and are far more useful. A colourwork sweater isn’t exactly a small undertaking, so when swatching, you might want to go big or go home!

What it’s good for: If you knit up a hat you will have an excellent idea of your gauge in colourwork (as good as it gets without actually knitting a whole sweater). The other bonus is that you can take your yarn out for a spin. Wear your hat for a week and you will really know how the yarn will stretch and wear. A hat or cowl has quite a bit of room for trialling motifs and colour combinations too… So this swatching method ticks nearly all of the boxes.

Fleet Hat

The free Anthology pattern makes a useful swatch simple. It’s a recipe for a hat or cowl, just plug in your motifs and swatch away! 

Download the free Anthology pattern and check out the Week Of Colour blog posts to find the charts we used in creating this family of swatch hats!

Swatching on the Fly:

Sometimes, you just want to get started already! So here are a couple of methods that allow you the satisfaction of casting on, but give the opportunity to check for gauge and test out patterns as you work.

Use a Sleeve as a Swatch:

This is the start of a sleeve swatch.

If you are knitting a sweater from the bottom up, you can just start with a sleeve. After working ribbing and a few inches in stockinette or pattern in the round, stop, and wet block the work on the needles.

I use the magic loop method, so I just leave the long circular needle in the work, but if you’re using DPNs you will want to remove the needles and place the stitches on hold on waste yarn.

After the sleeve in progress has dried, you can measure gauge. If it is not as desired, you can make a needle size adjustment and simply continue, or rip back to the the ribbing and try again with a different needle. More on this method here.

What’s it good for: This method is great for checking your gauge in the round; either the stockinette or colourwork gauge, or both. It can also be useful for testing motifs and colour combinations, although if you find you dislike the result, it might mean ripping back to the cuff or cast-on to begin again.

Swatching ‘on the needles’:

While working on the Almanac pattern Emily tested motif options by swatching on the needles. She worked back and forth on 4 pattern repeats, a total of 32 stitches wide. This gave enough of an indication of what the pattern would look like to be useful, without taking too much time.

When designing yokes, Emily loves using this quick and dirty swatching method. While designing, you start with a plan, but it can change so quickly! To trial the next set of patterns or colour combinations, you can knit back and forth on a small number of stitches, right in the middle of the work. Take a photo and draw the chart of what you are doing as you work, so you don’t lose that information. Then once you’ve decided which ideas you like, and which you don’t, you can simply rip that small section back, and proceed in full rounds.

What it’s good for: This is a quick and useful method of trialling motif and colour combinations, and checking them against the context of work already partially done. This method isn’t very useful for checking gauge, because it’s worked back and forth, and because you’re already part-way through the project, so you are hopefully confident in your gauge and needle size choice already!

Wash and Block your Swatch!

Once you have created a beautiful swatch (by whatever method you have chosen), make sure to wash and block it too. Having put in the effort of making a piece of knitting that will tell you something about the finished product, don’t skimp on the last step! Many yarns change a bit with blocking and you really want to know what that change will be. This is most critical for swatches that will check for gauge, and less important for quick swatches that are simply intended to trial motif and colour combinations.

If you are following along in our Strange Brew blog series we have now armed you with a few methods for swatching colourwork. Next we will be talking all about colour palettes and motifs so pull out your stitch dictionary (we have some recommendations here) and a rainbow of yarn, here comes the fun part!

More colourwork from TCK:


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