Mapleshade KAL: Getting Started

Over the next two months, we’re having a little knitalong for my Mapleshade sweater, here, on Instagram, and in my Ravelry group. Need to catch up? Click here for the full set of posts. Some of these will overlap with our normal Technique Tuesday and/or Theory Thursday posts, so they’ll have some general thoughts and some Mapleshade-specific ones as well.


Welcome! If you’re making a Mapleshade with us this spring, I’m so glad you’re here! Even if you’re not knitting along with us live, I hope you’ll follow along with this little series of posts, which will contain some hopefully-useful thoughts about sweater knitting, with a bit of a Mapleshade-specific spin. This week, we’re going to talk about some topics near and dear to my heart (and, indeed, the heart of successful sweater knitting): picking a yarn, picking a size, and swatching.

Picking a yarn

I designed Mapleshade in the Fibre Company’s Luma base, a blend of Merino wool, cotton, linen, and silk. It clocks in at that magic 50% wool percentage, so it feels pretty “normal” as far as plant-fiber-blends go (plant fibers don’t have the elasticity that wool does, and some knitters find this makes for a pretty harsh hand feel). For the original sample, we knit it up at a pretty standard DK-ish gauge of 5.25 stitches per inch (21 stitches and 32 rounds over 4” / 10 cm). Our sample was in “Sherry,” which is a kind of raspberry color, but there’s a decent collection of Mapleshade projects on Ravelry that have used it to date, if you’re keen to see it knit up in some of the other colorways.

I really like my Luma Mapleshade: it has lovely drape, the color choices fit my own personal instinctive color story beautifully, it’s easy to wear, and it’s held up well to some pretty rough wearing (including the entire weekend at Squam last year). The Fiber Co. has a reasonably large network of stockists in the U.S., so there’s a decent chance this is one you might be able to find at your LYS, if being able to see the yarn in person first is important to you. Full disclosure here: while I sometimes get what’s called “yarn support” for projects that I work on, where the yarn company provides me with yarn either free or at a discount, in exchange for my work designing a pattern for the yarn, I didn’t in this case (I, in fact, bought it at my local yarn shop), which means I can talk a little more freely about specific suggestions for substitution.

But say, for whatever reason, Luma doesn’t float your boat: what else might you use? I say this almost every time I talk about yarn substitution, but it bears repeating: you can make a lot of things out of a lot of yarns, and particularly for a sweater this simple, a huge range of things can work. But, while your mileage may vary, here are the things I think will make for the most successful substitutions for this particular sweater. If you’ve taken my “Speed Dating for Yarn” class, some of these concepts will be familiar to you.

  • Mapleshade is a top-down, seamless sweater with an A-line shape and some additional fabric weight at the bottom, because of the cable pattern. Unless you want to be reblocking it constantly and hoping it doesn’t quickly morph into a tunic instead of a tee, you need something with some real elasticity in it, not just drape. I would aim for something with a significant percentage of wool to provide that necessary rebound and structural integrity. The other fibers need to include something with some significant drape—silk, alpaca, linen, bamboo, cashmere…

  • Further to the structural integrity point, I probably would stay away from 100% superwash merino here. It’s an option, and it works, but, I don’t think it gives the best result, and it may over time result in a sweater that grows more than you’d like. If you do use a superwash merino yarn, swatch and block your swatch very carefully.

  • Think about how much variegation you want. I’ve seen great projects with this sweater that are super variegated and ones that are totally solid. I tend more towards the solid end of the spectrum myself, but I think both can work well. If you’re using a highly variegated yarn, alternate responsibly.

  • What about a lighter or heavier weight yarn? My dear friend Gayle from Hudson Valley Fibers knit a Mapleshade for our Rhinebeck booth last fall in Hudson, an aran-weight wool-alpaca blend, with long sleeves, as a kind of winter-weight sweater. I loved it. Very different vibe, but great fun. Another good friend knit one in Purl Soho’s Mulberry Merino, a sport-weight wool-silk blend, that was a little lighter and even drapey-er than my original. You could, in concept, knit it in a fingering weight yarn at loose gauge (again, use caution and check your math extensively), but if you’re going to do so, I would be particularly concerned about what kind of fiber you’re using—make sure it’s a yarn with enough bloom to it that the stitches want to move towards each other, rather than rolling away, and that the fabric has enough resilience and integrity to hold up to the kind of wearing you want to do on your sweater (for more on this, I love Amy Herzog’s sweater fabric test video).

What am I using this time around? As I mentioned the other day, I’m using another one of my very favorite summer yarns: Magpie’s Solstice, a lovely, slightly stubby blend of merino, cotton, and silk. Like Luma, it hits that magic 50% wool number, so it feels quite a lot like an ordinary wool or mostly-wool-blend yarn to me, and it takes texture beautifully. Dami Hunter and her team hand dye Solstice, but it comes out with minimal variegation, which I like for garments with stitch patterning, and I love the way the small slubs and silk nubs in the yarn take the dye a bit differently from the wool base. It drapes beautifully and wears well in a variety of climates, and is great for our Northern California summers, which seem to always involve a decent amount of the day where you need to wear a sweater! My gauge for a sweater fabric I’m happy with with Solstice (about which more Thursday) is just a tiny bit bigger than what I got for our original Luma Mapleshade, so I’ll make a couple of tiny adjustments as I cast on.

Are you knitting along with us? What yarns are you thinking about using?