Mapleshade KAL: Picking a Size and Swatching

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.

Where we last left off, we talked about picking a yarn for your Mapleshade. Today, we’re going to talk about two slightly interrelated topics: picking a size, swatching, and making adjustments based on your gauge.

My OG Mapleshade sample and swatch, and my readily-caked Solstice for my KAL version.

My OG Mapleshade sample and swatch, and my readily-caked Solstice for my KAL version.


Potentially radical thought? Swatch first! Probably (hopefully) you’ve swatched some in trying to pick a yarn (or you’re using a yarn you’ve used before, or you have some other indication that the yarn you’ve picked will work up at a gauge that is at least in the same solar system of the stated pattern gauge), but I’d encourage you to make a “realistic” swatch before you finalize your size choice, as it will help you pick a size and hammer out any modifications you’ll need to make the sweater work for you. What’s a “realistic” swatch? I hate to break it to you, but it’s a decent sized one. I’d cast on at least 35 stitches, and work for about 4-5 inches / 10-12.5 cm before binding off.

Now, what should you swatch? For this pattern, the bulk of the sweater is in stockinette (as are all of the bits of the sweater with “complicated”-ish shaping), so if you want to make it easy on yourself, you could just swatch in stockinette. My design swatch for this sweater included the cable pattern, because I needed to know how wide the cable panels would be to design the sweater, but that math is less critical if you’re knitting it. (If I were knitting something where I was to use the same needle size for multiple stitch patterns and I wasn’t sure the row gauges would line up, however, I would definitely swatch all of them together, just to make sure that I was happy with how they all blocked out together.)

In concept, because Mapleshade is knit mostly in the round, you should swatch in the round, and there are a number of good tutorials on how to do that (here’s a good one from Brooklyn Tweed). But, for me, this is a bit of a “knitter, know thyself” moment. Have you knit things in the round before? Do you usually notice a change in your row gauge between knitting flat and knitting in the round? (This isn’t uncommon, and it’s because for many people, purl stitches are looser than knit stitches, because the yarn physically travels further in a purl stitch than it does in a knit stitch.) If you do, it’s worth swatching in the round, because, as we’ll talk more about next week, row/round gauge is a critical parameter in a raglan sweater (and in sweater knitting generally), and any modifications you want to make, as well as the success of your finished sweater, depend on having an accurate prediction of what your row/round gauge is going to be.

As always, you’ll need to block your swatch the way you plan to wash and wear your sweater, or it won’t be predictive. For sweaters, for me, this usually means not-very-much pinning, because you probably aren’t going to pin out your sweater every time you wear it, but as long as you’re consistent, it’ll be okay. The #1 most important priority for swatching is that your swatch be realistic and honest about how you actually knit, so don’t manipulate your knitting to try to “get gauge”—it’s always easier to make adjustments in math (or creative blocking) to accommodate your natural knitting style than it is try to fix a whole sweater you’ve knit based on a non-predictive swatch.

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Now that you know your actual gauge, you can pick a size, and start thinking about any modifications you’ll need to make. Like most garments, Mapleshade’s sizes are specified by finished bust measurements, in this case, 28.5 (33, 36.75, 39.75, 44.5, 47.5, 52, 55)” / 72.5 (84, 93.5, 101, 113, 120.5, 132, 139.5) cm. My original sample is the 36.75” / 93.5 cm size, and my friend Michelle, who modeled it, has approximately a 36” bust.

I like Mapleshade with anywhere from -1” to +3” of positive ease. Because it’s a raglan, there’s a relationship between bust width, yoke depth, and bicep circumference that’s baked in to the structure of the sweater (we’ll talk more about that next week), which means that if you go too far out of that range in terms of bust ease, you’ll need to check the schematic carefully to make sure that the resulting armhole depth and the bicep circumference will work for you.

Now, what about your hips? Mapleshade has a swingy A-line shape that at least for a lot of us, is a really easy one to wear. How much A-line? Well, as always, the assumptions at the heart of the pattern matter. The Craft Yarn Council of America’s standard sizes, to which many designers grade, assume that, for most sizes, hip circumference is approximately 2” / 5 cm larger than bust circumference (so a garment with no ease at the bust or the hip would still be 2” / 5 cm larger at the hip than the bust). The pattern “grades out” from about .5-1” of positive ease at the bust to about 2”-3” of positive ease at the hip, depending on size.

I find this is a manageable amount of positive ease at the hips for a lot of people, a sort of gentle grading out that allows the sweater to drape relatively straight and just hang softly away from your hips (hip ease is a longer topic, which we’ll discuss at some point, but won’t belabor extensively here). If you want a more dramatic A-line shape, or your hips are much narrower or much wider than the pattern’s background assumption relative to your bust size, you may want to make some modifications, which we’ll talk about in more detail next week.

All sweaters have some designed-in relationship to your both your bust and your hips (“oversized” is still a relationship), and depending on the sweater construction and design, one is usually more important than the other in choosing a size. Here, the answer is pretty clear: bust wins. This is because of the relationship between bust, bicep, and yoke in a raglan, and also because of the relative ease of making adjustments to the bodice of this particular sweater to better suit your hips.

So, why did I say to swatch first? Not so you can do what I often see in sweater projects on Ravelry: notes that start with “well, I didn’t get gauge, so I made a different size, hoping it would work out.” But, so you can be aware of ways that your natural knitting style, and the resulting realistic gauge you get, may result in a sweater that differs from the schematic for your chosen size, and the ways you might, or might not, want to make modifications for that.

For example: when I swatched in Solstice, I ended up with a gauge that was just a smidgen larger (in both stitch and row gauge) than our Luma sample. The medium size is still right for me (I’m a 36”), but I know, because my gauge is a tiny bit off, that this will result in a sweater with a tiny bit more ease at the bust, hips, and bicep, and a tiny bit of a deeper armhole. Because I’m going for an easy to wear, relaxed summer sweater, that’s totally fine with me. If I was aiming for something more fitted, however, I might pick to go in a different direction. We’ll talk more about row/round gauge when we talk about modifications next week, but remember that both stitch and row gauge matter in a raglan with this kind of construction.