Gauging & Swatching – Again

LarryCardiganI decided to use Thor’s birthday sweater as a learning tool on the topic of yarn selection.

I was attracted to Josh Bennett‘s Man’s Cable Cardigan and thought it might be a good way to use up some of my (vast) stash of “Prairie Silk.”

The more I studied this pattern, however, the less I liked it.  I don’t like the fat button band in the front, and I thought the cable pattern a little bit boring.  (Of course, I could always change all that.)

Nonetheless, I decided Bennett’s pattern would be my starting point for this exercise.

First Step:  Can Brown Sheep’s “Prairie Silk” be substituted for Rowan/Westminster’s “Lima” (the yarn called for in Bennett’s pattern)?  At a first – and superficial – glance, yes.  They are both worsted weight yarns.  Here are the weights and lengths of each skein along with the suggested gauges:

Prairie Silk:  50g/88y, 4.5 st = 1″ on US8
Lima:             50g/109y, 5 st. = 1″ on US9/UK5/MM5.5

It is easy to see why many knitters might stop here and simply “knit down” with the Prairie Silk.  So I decided to go that route and went on to gauge swatching.

SwatchPicGranted, I tend to knit loose, but I couldn’t get the gauge for the pattern without going down several needle sizes.  Even after washing and blocking, those swatches could have been sewn together and used for armor.

Here’s a picture of a swatch with Prairie Silk in two gauges that I liked, but this gauge was far larger than the one called for in the pattern.

Next Step:  I used my app YarnPro which told me:   “Avoid: The substitution yarn (Prairie Silk) is unworkably thicker than the original yarn (Lima).”

YarnPro is based on algorithms, and the answers the user receives are based on set numerical points in relation to the base numbers.  That said, of course a knitter/crocheter can still knit/crochet down or up.  The question is: Should she?

Third Step:  Let’s look more closely at the yarns.


YarnRowanLimaFiber content: 84% baby alpaca, 8% merino wool and 8% nylon.

Yarn construction:  You can see from the picture to the right (picsource), that it has a “chainette” construction – a type of hollow core tube.

As hinted at by this picture, it will knit up very light and lofty.

Prairie Silk (by the way, no longer made):

Fiber content:  72% wool, 18% mohair and 10% silk.

Fiber construction:  Single ply.


If you enlarge this picture to the left (pic source), you will be able to see that Prairie Silk is a dense single ply yarn.  The mohair gives it halo, the silk its shine, and the wool its weight.

Knit this up in Josh Bennett’s pattern and you have a (very) heavy and (very) warm sweater – one that will probably be able to let you walk through a downpour without getting too soaked and maybe even cross in front of dart players without worry about being skewered by a dart.

Next step:

Two important questions await you:

Can you (i.e., is it possible to) substitute Prairie Silk for Lima in Bennett’s pattern?  Yes.

Should you substitute Prairie Silk for Lima in Bennett’s pattern?  I wouldn’t.


About sweatyknitter

Fiber art devotee, author, and amateur artisan bread baker.
This entry was posted in Crocheting, Fibers, Knitting, Pattern Construction and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Gauging & Swatching – Again

  1. Oh yes … and too many crafters ignore that … sadly. I am still experimenting with cable ideas. 🙂



  2. needleandspindle says:

    Great post and reminds me of the primacy of the yarn in knitting. It is not just a paint-by-numbers vehicle for the pattern, the characteristics of the yarn itself really drives the choice of pattern. I have no doubt that yarn is destined for something very beautiful.


  3. Excellent points. Yes, spinners who want to design around their yarn (or use it), have to take care to swatch and test. Your point about “less drapey overall” is well taken. (I am STILL stunned by the comment the owner of a very popular yarn store when she argued that a knitter can substitute ANY yarn for another as long as she can get the gauge. I hope she doesn’t teach classes!)


  4. Thank you! (I don’t understand the thinking that “as long as you can get the gauge” …)


  5. I am still determined to use the Prairie Silk. (I have SO much of it and it really is a nice, warm yarn.) But Thor’s birthday is coming up, and designing my own will take some time. So I talked to him about it, and he doesn’t mind if his birthday present comes late! So I decided to keep with the yarn and design the sweater pattern.


  6. caityrosey says:

    I’ve been playing a lot with substitution in my current knitting-up-my-handspun inititaitive. It’s inescapable. Each project is an education in contrats. The beret i just knit out of chain plied wool. It looks really nice, but I noticed that the drape of the hat I knitted was a bit different than the sample in the pattern picture. And I’m pretty sure it is because my hand spun was a lot denser and less drapey overall. I think it works ok in the hat. Not enough surface area to matter all that much. But it’s a very different hat. And I shudder to think what it would feel like if I had knitted a cabled sweater with this yarn. Like yoiu said. Armor.


  7. I certainly know the excited let’s-get-knitting feeling but years ago learned – the hard way 🙂 – that it is always better to do these preliminary steps so you will be just as excited with your finished project!


  8. I feel like “can you” is almost always a yes when knitting, but “should you” is definitely the more relevant question. Nice explanation of why!


  9. Thanks for sharing this. I love the part about being able to walk in front of darts without worry. I never thought to include looking at the way the yarn is spun. But of course it would make a difference. So what is your next move? What yarn will you use?


  10. I’ve been trying to get into the habit of doing more analysis like this one with my knitting. Most of the time I am just so excited to knit that I skip over all those important steps and end up with something I don’t love as much as I could. Thanks for sharing your breakdown! -Nizzy


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s