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.
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?