Swatch Diaries: Searching for Sweater-worthy Cables

Forge + Cables = Love

Way back when our worsted-weight Forge was a twinkle in our eyes, its mandate in life was clear: we love hats, we love scarves, we love accessories of all stripes, but first and foremost, we're sweater knitters, and we wanted a yarn that would make the cabled sweaters of our dreams as eye-catching and wearable as our, well....dreams. Our early swatching experiments led us to really love the stockinette fabric Forge makes on US 7 / 4.5 mm needles, which tend to produce a gauge somewhere in the environs of 19-20 stitches per 4" [10 cm]. Similarly, at that needle size, we loved how Forge's balance of roundness and delicate halo makes for a fabric that feels cohesive and soft, but still yields cables that seemingly "pop" off of the background fabric. 

At that gauge, Forge is great for a number of cabled applications: hats, sleeves, cardigans (particularly if they're done in pieces and seamed), and you'll see a number of our pieces from our early collections that come in about this way (see, e.g., Felton, Fulton, Middagh, etc.) This makes sense: because the fabric is a little on the sturdier side, it's more durable for applications that involve more taking off and putting on, and prioritizing stitch definition over drape is okay when you're working on fabric that isn't going to need to fit gracefully over, well, curvier body parts. Cables, by definition, make fabric denser, and this is totally fine a lot of the time, but you usually want to put it in some place where it doesn't have to fit closely over something that curves.

Felton concentrates its cables on the back, bands, and sleeves, where the added sturdiness doesn't impact fit as much.

But in a quiet moment this spring, I started thinking about those kinds of garments that need a little bit more drape because of where the fabric is going to sit on your body—namely, the bodies of pullovers. I'm not shy about my desperate love for sweaters in Weld, but a densely-cabled fingering weight pullover is no small undertaking, and I'm deeply committed to designing things that are practicable to knit and to wear, and I know that for huge segments of the knitting population, sweaters are a DK-weight-and-heavier proposition. One obvious solution was to confine the cabling to a narrower portion of the sweater, allowing for plenty of stockinette fabric to either side of a panel of cables, allowing for more drape to the sides of the body (my Summit pullover is an example of this approach). But I had a light-colored, allover-cabled pullover stuck in my head for this fall, and I wondered: is there a way to make this work in Forge?

So, I started swatching, first in stockinette, and then playing with some of the cables from my fantasy pullover on US 8 / 5.00 mm needles (giving me a gauge of something like 17-18 stitches over 4" / 10 cm in stockinette), and was delighted with the results. I lost a little bit of height and dimensionality to the cables, but that's exactly what I was looking for: we're talking about cables that you'll wear right across the middle of your body, where most of us don't want a super thick, highly three-dimensional fabric. Giving the fabric a little extra room to bloom added a ton of drape and air to the fabric, and allowed the cables to flatten into a kind of overall embossed texture with the kind of ready-to-wear-inspired vibe I'm always looking for. So far, so promising.

There's a lot of daylight coming through my blocked swatch, but that's just what I was looking for.

Part of my search for drape was finding the right needle size (and I went on to swatch with US 9s as well, but that was too holey), but it was also about how I blocked my swatch. You've probably heard that you should block your swatch how you plan to block your garment, and that's absolutely true: the goal of swatching is to give you a realistic take on what your finished object is going to be like, and if you're going to wear it on your body, I certainly hope you're planning to wash and shape it at some point. But, how do you do that for sweaters? The answer is, it depends a little bit on the sweater:

  • For cabled sweaters (or anything heavily textured), I usually pin my swatch out relatively aggressively, because cables bunch a lot as you knit and I'm trying to get the fabric to be relatively flat (again, being conscious of the extent to which I do or don't want a thick fabric on my body).

  • For stockinette sweaters, I may not pin, or pin very lightly.

  • For lace (which I don't personally do very much), I'm likely to pin aggressively to open up the fabric.

Everyone's got different theories about how they like to actually wet their fabric (or steam it, I suppose)—rinseless wool wash, water only, cold water, hot water, etc., etc. We've tried a lot of options for Forge and Weld, and here's our favorite:

  • Fill a bowl with warm water and a squirt or two of Dawn dish soap (yes, regular old Dawn dish soap).

  • Soak your swatch (or your FO) in there for 20-30 minutes, then drain the water.

  • Gently squeeze (without twisting or pulling) water out of your swatch or FO, and then refill the bowl with clean water to rinse.

  • Squeeze your swatch out one more time, then dry (I like to roll mine sandwiched between two towels).

  • Pin as applicable and allow to dry. Your swatch will shrink back some after you remove the pins, so let it settle for at least a few hours before you try to make any measurements.

Here's my swatch, pre-blocking, which is super different, and would have given me a very different sense of what the sweater was going to be like.

Ultimately, swatching is all about experimentation. I like to think of it as if I was doodling with yarn instead of a pencil, getting into that same kind of flow state of playing with new textures and ideas. And remember: your first goal is not to "match gauge," but to get a fabric that you like for the kind of object you're making. And don't be afraid to try something a little unusual: you might just open up a whole new set of possibilities for the kinds of projects a yarn might grow up to be.

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