I'm so excited: I have finally started preparing to knit The Shepherd!
Because of the special yarn I'm using, the first step was a bit unusual. Before I swatched, I had to wash my yarn.
The Shepherd & Shearer yarn comes from the mill still full of a LOT of lanolin, grease that helps in milling, and other dirt from the sheep's life, and from transportation. To get it ready to knit with, I uncoiled each skein so that the yarn hung in nice loose hanks, and then soaked it in room temperature water with some wool wash.
SO MUCH CAME OUT IN THE WATER! Check it out:
Yes, that water is opaque. I rinsed the yarn several times in clean water, and even did a soak in a sinkful of water with a tablespoon of white vinegar added. The vinegar helps to close up the wool scales.
This process is really useful for yarns that have come almost directly from a farm. It really helps you to know how the yarn will really look and behave once it's knit into a garment!
(Cormo yarn on the left, Shepherd & Shearer yarn on the right)
You might not believe it, but in the photo above: those are THE SAME YARN, after washing on the left, and before washing on the right. I KNOW!!! It's a fairly dramatic transformation. Colour, texture, and loft all change with washing.
Once the yarn was dry, I could not WAIT to swatch.
Here's my unblocked swatch. The bits of blue yarn are to help me measure stitches and rows without having to count so much - the method is explained nicely here.
And here's the blocked version!
Blocking is crucial for cables. It really helps the stitches to even out and sit nicely.
So! Did I get gauge? The blue yarn marks out the pattern's stated gauge for my size: 26 stitches and 32 rows/4".
Let's look at row gauge first, the vertical measurement.
I measured from the top to the bottom of the blue yarn. You can see that it's a bit too long - closer to 4.25" than 4". I'm not too worried about that, because most of the length requirements in the pattern are of the "knit until piece measures x inches or desired length" variety. That means I can easily adjust to get the length I want.
Changing the length of sweaters is virtually always part of my sweater process, because I am very short, and most patterns are written for adults of average height. I want my sweaters to be proportional to my body, so I often shorten both sweater sleeves and sweater bodies.
So! Even though my row gauge is a bit off, I'm okay with it. What about stitch gauge?
With all swatches, but especially with a patterned or textured swatch, it's super important to think about which part of the fabric you're measuring. Ideally, you should measure the middle of the swatch, because stitches can be distorted around the edges. With a cable pattern, it's also possible that the fabric will measure slightly differently at different points in the motif. To get a good idea of the actual dimensions, I measured the stitch gauge at several different spots.
Here at the top of the swatch, it looks like it's too big. However, if I had continued in the cable pattern, only 2 rows away would have been a major cable that would have pulled the fabric inwards again. What about further down?
Aha! Here, in the middle of the swatch, it looks like 4" just about right on (measuring from the edges of the purl sections on either side of the two middle cable sections).
Closer to the bottom of the swatch, it's just about 4" as well.
I'm happy with this stitch gauge, as well, even though it measured too big in one part of the swatch. When I'm deciding on gauge, I also try to keep in mind the consequences of being a bit off: if my swatch is slightly too big, that means the sweater will be bigger than the stated measurements. With this sweater, that would be okay with me, too: I'll be knitting the 38" size, and that should give me about 1.5" of positive ease. The pattern suggests 2" of positive ease, but the next size up is 41", and that's way too much.
So, knitting the 38" size at a gauge that might be a teensy bit big will probably give me a sweater that's slightly larger than 38" - which is what I'd like to have, anyway. This is something I find really reassuring about swatching and gauge - it lets me decide what size I want, and sometimes what I want is a size between those the pattern provides.
Now that gauge is sorted, I'm looking forward to casting on for the sweater really soon!