Can you make a Gauge-free sweater Math-free too? No gauge swatch needed and no calculator?
What if throughout a sweater you only had8 to refer to one number, call this the primary number. Then you might need 2 times that number and then later, half that number. Does that count as doing math? You can do it in your head. No calculator needed.
I seem to be drawn to what I call Magic Numbers. It happens without me knowing it. When I wrote the Need A Hat book by Cabin Fever, it became clear, very quickly, that the entire book is based on the number 8. It’s one of my favourites. The idea for the book came when I was giving a talk about knitting hats. You take someone into a yarn store to choose yarn and they immediately go to a colour they love. Now you have to find a pattern for that yarn weight and size and with a style the recipient would like. What if we wrote a book where every hat could be worked in any weight of yarn? That got it started.
Now I’m working on this Gauge-Free cardigan idea, Build a V, without stitch gauge numbers in it at all.
The entire sweater is based on one number. That number is the number of Ridges it takes to make the Beginning Triangle for the Back of Neck measurement. It’s a different number for everyone.
I called this measurement D, for the only reason that it’s the 4th thing you do in the cardigan.
So now we have ‘D’ number of Ridges. For my little person cardigan in worsted weight yarn, ‘D’ = 6 Ridges. That number ‘6’ is going to be used over and over in the making of this sweater.
Make the Fronts ‘D’ number of ridges shorter than the Back. You got it, 6 Ridges shorter.
That makes two more pieces of the puzzle that is this cardigan.
Now join it up to make a half a sweater. Pick up & knit along the sides of the Front. For the shoulder, which is going to link up the Front and Back, Cast On 2 x ‘D’ number of stitches. Pick up & knit along the Back. There it is again, that Magic Number: if ‘D’= 6 Ridges then 2 x ‘D’= 12 sts for the side of the neck opening.
Now knit for the width I want.
Half the cardigan is done. YAY. Build a V cardigan is now published.
The Back of Neck is an important measurement. I’m sure you know what your favourite Back of Neck width is, No? Go and measure some sweaters. I’ll wait here ….. well, what did you find?
I bet you found that you wear not one but several different neck styles with different widths for the Back of Neck. Me too. Wider for the summer and narrower and cozier for the winter. I’m sure you like to wear some better than others. Maybe the neck width has something to do with that.
To knit this Gauge-Free sweater you get to choose. You are the boss of this knitting.
The Beginning Triangle sets up your Back of Neck measurement to whatever you feel like making it for yourself. Then you knit a long strip the length of the cardigan.
But I can’t seem to leave it alone. So for the adult versions I added a 2 stitch I-cord to each side edge. That gives you 2 stitches of stockinette stitch at the edges of the garter stitch. I think the I-Cord edging looks so neat and tidy. It also holds the garter stitch from stretching when you have a narrow strip of knitting that is at least 20″/51cm long.
The other change I made from the child version,Build a V, to the adult version is to give the bottom of the Back Panel strip a rounded bottom. The child version has a nice pointy bottom edge, fine for kids, not so wonderful for adults. I didn’t want an arrow pointing to my butt.
I made it rounded by working the centre increases further and further apart as the strip is knit. It makes the knitting go quickly when there is something to concentrate on. That seemed like a good idea at the time too.
So now the Back Panels are done for all three of my cardigans. Now onto the Front Panels. My testknitters are also hard at work. But that’s another story.
Thanks for reading. I have to get back to my knitting so see you next time,
This Gauge-Free Build a V sweater business is a new and exciting idea for me. Being able to dive into my stash and not worry about matching a specific gauge is wonderfully freeing.
I am going to begin with something small. It’s always easier to figure things out on a little sweater, no large time or yarn investment. I’m way ahead of this blog with my knitting and it’s looking great.
I am knitting a baby-sized Build a V sweater for a 12 month old. I have worked my Triangle Beginning to establish the width at the Back of Neck. That’s where it all starts, at the top of the Back. That’s an important measurement as you know but instead of working with a certain gauge we are going to use a ruler. Yes, a ruler with inches or centimeters on it. How simple and familiar is that?!
Dive into your stash, find some yarn and a pair of needles and knit along if you like. It’s a mystery baby knit. (There will be a published pattern soon.) Oh yeah, did I mention NO GAUGE SWATCH IS NEEDED!!!!
This Triangle Beginning took no time at all and measures 4″/10cm across the top finished edge. Yay. Step one completed. That was really quick.
Now to work a Back Panel. This piece of knitting is the anchor of the cardigan. It determines the total length of the garment.
We’ve established the Back of Neck measurement so now, keeping the stitch numbers the same and maintaining the V shaping that started with the triangle, knit a strip as follows:
Work a decrease at the beginning of the row, work the 2 increases at the centre marker as you did for the beginning triangle and then work a final decrease at the end of the row. Two decreases and two increases keeps the stitch count the same. Knit the wrong side row. Repeat the two rows. Work to the desired length for your cardigan. My 12 month size Back Panel measures 12″/30cm. It’s a l-o-n-g, narrow piece of knitting. Easy to knit once you get going.
Then, of course, since you know I get a trifle obsessed, I started 2 adult-sized sweaters because if it works for little people it could work for me too. The triangles are finished but there is more to come. I don’t want my sweaters to have a pointy Back Panel pointing towards my derriere, thank you very much. A change must be made to avoid that.
I may regret trying to knit three sweaters at the same time but here goes nothing…
We’re not going to make a swatch, YAY. I’m all for that. This is freedom from the tyranny of getting gauge. We are going to be the boss of our knitting!
You can dive into your stash and pick any yarn you like. But … this does change where and how we begin since there are no specific number of stitches in an inch to guide us.
This cardigan is knit in blocks. The first block of the Build a V is a Back Panel the width of the Back of Neck. The Back of Neck is an important measurement in a sweater.
The Specific Gauge pattern Baby J begins in the same way, with the neckband.
That would be my preferred place to begin most of the time too. Because this pattern is worked for DK weight yarn there can be a specific number of stitches to cast on for each size.
Then the Back of Neck number of stitches is determined.
And a Back Panel is knit with that number of stitches.
All that works a treat.
But when you want to knit it Gauge-Free there are no specific stitch counts. We can’t begin with the neckband because we don’t know how many stitches to cast on. We have to think of another way of determining the Back of Neck width.
We can begin with a triangle. It works just like a triangle shawl. Cast on a few stitches and work 4 increases by working one increase at the beginning of the row, one increase before and one after the centre marker and another increase at the end of the row, followed by a knit row. Work until the finished edge is the width you want for the Back of Neck.
The marker is there to indicate the Right Side of my fabric. This is a 12 month size with a Back of Neck measurement of 4″/10cm. That’s not hard, right? And so it begins.
Where do we need to start on our Gauge-Free Build a V Cardigan? We need to start with an idea.
Bernice Vollick and I worked on a series of patterns for Cabin Fever that are built block by block. I am taking the basic ideas we worked on in these patterns and developing them further. Bernice has since passed away but I think she would be happy to see these ideas progress.
If you want to follow along with these specific-gauge patterns we have already published (links in photos), as I natter on, that would be great. You’ll be able to see the changes we need to make to make them Gauge-Free.
The major change I’m going to make is to make the Gauge-Free version a V-Neck for both the children (Build a V) and adult sizes. It ties in with how we need to get started. There are additional options for adults. One will be to make a standard fitting sweater or a boxy sweater. I’m going to be knitting both. You can knit along too.
The hardest part for me is not the knitting. That’s actually really easy. The hard part is writing the pattern so it’s easy to understand when I’m not there sitting beside you or standing at the front of the room leading a workshop.
I could use some help. If you’re interested in a mystery testknit, I need a couple of knitters (5 for child’s size and 5 for adult size) to critique my instructions as you knit along with me. I am going to work on a child’s version (up to 8 years old, maybe 10 years?); a straight Adult version (no body shaping) and an Adult version with A-line shaping. I’m asking anyone interested to let me know (firstname.lastname@example.org), specifying which version you want to knit. It’s a commitment to knit and offer feedback. Beware!! There will be ripping back. There will be corrections, changes and possibly, makeovers (that’s a nice word for “start over again”). This will not be a straight forward process.
I am knitting the first blocks now and will have the first part of the patterns up by next week. Fingers crossed.
Can we make a sweater with no reference to gauge? If we don’t know what the gauge is how can that work? Isn’t gauge the most important thing? Doesn’t it ensure I make the proper size? If I get the correct gauge with my yarn I will be successful, right?!! I will make the sweater as pictured and in the correct size.
Let’s be rash and throw all that gauge stuff out the window. No more swatches, YAY. I call this “knitting without a safety net”!
What if you could dive into your stash, choose some yarn and get started. Is it possible to build a sweater piece by piece, fitting it as you go?
That’s what I’m going to do. I’m practicing positive thinking! I am going to make a Gauge-Free Garter Stitch V-Neck Cardigan piece by piece with a plan, as opposed to a specific-gauge pattern, with no reference to the gauge EVER. Don’t ask, don’t tell.
I’ve already started on a 12 month size. New week, the adult size begins too. You can join me and knit along.
SPECIFIC gauge (traditional patterns), MULTI-gauge, ANY gauge, gauge-FREE. This is a sliding scale of how important a specific gauge is and how much information about the number of stitches per inch/cm is needed in a pattern to get a certain size of garment. It’s also the history of my designing journey and where it’s leading me, and you, as you continue to read along with me.
A SPECIFIC GAUGE pattern, a traditional pattern, tells you what gauge is expected with a certain weight of yarn (and often a specific yarn by name) and needle. When you match the needle size and gauge correctly you’ll be successful.
Unfortunately for some of us, me included, gauge is difficult to get and we don’t often hit the gauge with the needle size recommended. Changing needle sizes is necessary to get close to gauge and close is usually the best I can do.
I have written a lots and lots, over 100, specific gauge patterns for Cabin Fever. I have used the same yarn for many of these patterns. Not the same ball of course, ha, ha, the same style and weight of yarn. Familiar yarn makes knitting traditional patterns easier because I know what I need to do to get gauge.
They totally work. As a designer, they are satisfying to write because once the gauge is established the calculator comes out and it’s all about basic arithmetic. Imagine that a sweater is a schematic of little boxes, all the same size. It’s sort of like drawing a life-size garment on a giant piece of knitters graph paper, except that I don’t actually do that. But now that I think of it … no, no, not going there.
MULTI-GAUGE patterns give you a range of weights of yarn you can use. This is the basis of the Need A … series of books by Cabin Fever. Each book with a title that begins “Need A …” gives you several gauges of yarn to choose from to knit each garment. For example, each of the 14 hats in the Need A Hat book can be knit in any yarn from sock weight to chunky weight. We knit lots and lots and lots of hats to show you how they look in the different yarns.
Having multiple gauge patterns are great for stash diving. It gives you a range of yarns to use and a range of gauges to duplicate. Sometimes you can hit the gauge of one of the choices with a different weight of yarn than we used. For example, in the Need A Circular Yoke book you could get the gauge for DK weight of 22 sts = 4″ with fingering (sock) weight yarn with a 4.0mm/US6 needle and make a terrific sweater following the directions for the DK weight sweater. It would totally fit (because you got the gauge correctly) but it would have a different feel and drape.
ANY GAUGE patterns are all about the size of the garment in inches or cm, not specific stitch counts. Dive into your stash for some yarn, grab some appropriate needles and work a swatch. Measure and work out your own particular gauge, with your chosen yarn, and then do the math for each part of the garment.
It’s a step away from traditional patterns and puts much more control in your hands. You are designing your own garment along with general construction directions from the named designer. You will be able to see places where you can add your own design elements to make your very own unique garments.
I have written several Any Gauge Raglans in this way. You work out your own gauge and then do some simple math, cast on and work Top Down to make your own sweater. I have knit the 3 sizes of Any Gauge Raglan Pullovers in all different gauges of yarn. It works.
Next GAUGE-FREE where the gauge doesn’t matter at all!! Phew. No swatches, no changing needles, no measuring tiny parts of stitches. This is Gauge Freedom!!
How can this work? Knit, following the directions, until the piece measures the size required, measuring with a ruler. I know, very old-school. No one cares what the gauge is at all. Write down the number of stitches on your needle and continue on. For example, in the Any Gauge Mitten pattern you cast on and work until the mitten fits your hand. Note down the number of stitches on your needle. The pattern uses that number of stitches as a basis for the thumb size. It doesn’t matter what yarn you used or what size you’re knitting. Once the mitten body is the correct size you’re golden.
Which of these types of patterns have you knit? Would you like to try some of the others? What is drawing you to them?
Following a pattern exactly is comforting. But can you do it? Right to the end – no deviations?
Following exactly gives you a very good chance of success after many hours of knitting. You know what it’s going to look like from the beginning. Learning something new can make it exciting. Admiring clever construction is fun. But can you do it?
Do you step away from the pattern? If you don’t make modifications do you wish you could? What’s stopping you?
I seem unable to stay the course to the end. “What if I just …” runs through my head constantly. And I mean CONSTANTLY!
I am knitting Climb Every Mountain by Heidi Kirrmaier. I really like how she writes her patterns and this one was up to her usual standard. I started out fine. It’s an oversized, poncho style, Top Down pullover in DK weight yarn. I thought my daughter would like it.
I worked it a size smaller since I thought it would fit my daughter better. I worked to script to the Great Divide where I did the cuffs for the sleeves. This was great. No sleeves to knit. I loved this part.
Then I started thinking. I had quite a lot of knitting left and the interesting part was done. This is always a most dangerous place. I was taking a good look at the schematic and thinking about the recipient of this sweater and … made some changes.
Longer and wider seemed to make sense for the person I was knitting for. I’ll tell you why in a minute.I just finished steaming it with my leaky steamer and am pretty happy with the result. It’s 6.5″ longer for a tunic length. To make it wider I didn’t work the decreases on every Round 7 which added 4 sts to the width.She likes it and there is room for a baby bump under there.Thanks for reading, Deb
What’s in your “knitting time out” corner? Do you know why it’s there?
My 3×3 Cardigan has been sitting in the corner for several weeks. I have found myself putting this new design down to work on something else that seemed more pressing. I look at it every day and pass it by. Nope, not today. Right now I am knitting Climb Every Mountain sweater for my daughter and socks for myself and telling myself I needed this break but It’s TOTAL DENIAL!!
I was just stalled and trying to ignore it. I thought I had made all the design decisions for the 3×3 Cardigan. That’s the idea right? Make all the design decisions at the start, think of everything you want to do and then just knit it up. Easy, peasy, right? In hind sight, I realize now that I had to do a rethink on some of those decisions and didn’t want to admit it.
This cardigan has a square neck (which will eventually be filled in at the back of neck) and quite wide shoulders, as you can see.
That means that at the Great Divide many knitters will find that the sleeve size they need will be inside the Raglan Lines. The raglan lines are only used as a guide here, not the exact size of the sleeves. (The orange markers are the raglan lines and the green markers show where the width of my sleeve is going to be.)
The problem is … what to do with the raglan lines themselves. I used YO increases for the raglan lines and did’t want to leave the line of holes hanging, sort of dead ending at the underarm level. I’m sure no one would notice that they just stop but it doesn’t seem right or finished.
Do I continue the lines down at the same angle to make a V under the arms? I did that on the Any Gauge Raglan Pullover which worked fine. The underarm V made nice clean lines and worked into the side seam line.
Not the case here. Way too much going on to see the V.
Soooo, there my latest 3×3 Cardigan sat in the corner through no fault of it’s own. Just my indecision causing a Big Stall.
I have taken myself in hand and made a decision. I had to take a good look at where I was now and think ahead to consider what kind of shaping I want for the body of this cardigan.
Decision: I’m taking the raglan lines in a straight line down the sides. I’m keeping the YO increases and working corresponding decreases to keep the stitch count even. I know, not exactly earth shaking stuff.
I think this will work fine. What to you think?
There is going to be A-line hip shaping in this cardigans future because I want to make it quite long. I have the wool. Now doing the A-line shaping should be easy to work. At the side panel I will work the increases without the decreases every inch or so, and ta, da, it will be wider at the hip where I need some extra room. Now of course the decision is how often to work the shaping. Stop! One decision at a time please.
I have a plan. The sweater is out of the corner and I’m getting a better feeling about continuing. I might have a new spring cardi yet.
Thanks for reading,
Catch me on instagram for my other knitting projects because you know there has to be more than one.
I’m back on my regularly scheduled project, the3×3 Cardigan, now that the holidays are over. I hope yours were joyful and have helped you prepare to face and conquer another winter.
Now that I’m back knitting this cardigan I’m looking at the wool I chose. Thanks everyone for helping me choose 3 colours.
Two of the colours are discontinued wool from my stash. The blue though, well that has a history.
I have had it in my stash for more than twenty+ years. Yes, a long time. It’s roughish rustic wool and I believe was hand dyed. Many years ago we were driving along an isolated road in Scotland and came across a croft with a yarn sign outside. In the middle of no where (at least it seemed so to us).
Stop!! There was wool, local wool, from the sheep we had been looking at out of the window. I bought it because the croft was so amazing, the view beautiful and as a treat for myself. But it sat in my stash for all this time. There wasn’t enough for a sweater and it’s too rough for a hat.
I feel like I failed this wool. I’m sure it didn’t want to sit in the dark in my closet for all this time. I’m sure it wanted to be … something special. It wasn’t telling me what though. So now it’s going to be something, a cardigan. A big, cozy cardigan that I will associate with Scotland and an isolated croft in the middle of a purple field of heather.
I’m sure it’s sighing and asking what took me so long. Am I the only sentimental yarn collector?