Design WIP: Cabled Sweater > The Swatching of Elimination

My clean, humorous Poppy Markham: Culinary Cop amateur sleuth mystery series.

When I was writing my Poppy Markham: Culinary Cop amateur sleuth mystery series, all three books developed from a different seed.

With the first one, If You Can’t Stand the Heat, I didn’t really know what I was doing, so I started with Poppy’s job—a health inspector—and the fact that her family owned a restaurant, and built a story around that.

In the second, Stick a Fork In It, I had the death-themed restaurant setting in mind and let the story come out of that.

And in the third, Out of the Frying Pan, my vision was to put all of my main and recurring characters in the same place at the same time, say at Eeyore’s Birthday Party (a real Austin event), and let the plot and subplot happen from that. As it turns out, the third books takes place at a dinner at an organic farm, and some, but not all of the recurring characters are there. (Stories rarely do what you want them to do.)

All of that to say that a creative work can start from anywhere. It has taken me many years, but I’ve finally learned to trust the process and keep feeding the noodle until something starts to firm up. In the case of writing, I brainstorm and mind-map. In the case of knitting, I swatch.

In our last episode, I showed you a couple of swatches I had started with. I liked them as cables, but I knew they wouldn’t be the main character that’s front and center and would drive the story of the sweater. They could be ribbing or supporting cables, though. (Had I liked one of them enough, I would have used it as the seed and searched for a main cable that would work with it.)

I don’t like having too many choices (for anything), and with the history of knitting going back centuries and the talents of Melissa Leapman, there are a lot of cables out there, so I needed some way to narrow my options. I don’t particularly like diamonds or honeycombs, so those were out. And I didn’t want to use a plait cable for this sweater. I do love them, but they aren’t different enough for my vision of this sweater. I really dislike asymmetrical anything, so I could skip those kinds of cables, including anything described as “drunken.” And then there are the drapey horseshoe-type cables. Nope.

Nope. Nope. And nope.

You might be wondering if there are any types of cables left. Yes, bunches. Ropes and braids and XO and snakey.

Yes. Yes. Yes. And yes.

Back to the dictionaries I went, looking for something else to speak to me. I looked at side cables and main cables. I looked at all-over cables. I even looked at pieces of cables, knowing my design could spring from any of them.

When designing with multiple cables, row count is more important than stitch count, so I decided to make things easy on myself and establish the main cable, then look for cables that go with it, both row-count-wise and overall feel.

(The Harmony Guide 220 Aran Stitches and Patterns is the only stitch dictionary I’ve seen that understands row count importance, helpfully sorting the cables by number of rows. But it offers only 220 cable patterns, which isn’t a lot when you’re trying to design the world’s most awesome Aran sweater, so I had to hunt down row numbers from the charts or instructions in my other stitch dictionaries.)

I swatched one that I liked, but it didn’t seem important enough. So I found another bigger one that was similar and changed it* to include the seed-stich element I liked from the first cable, which means that this particular cable is entirely unique.

The new cable is 27 stitches wide and 48 rows high. Pretty substantial. So my selection of supporting cables is now limited to ones with a row count multiple that is evenly divisible into 48—3, 4, 6, 8, 12, 16, 24.

I found an 8-row cable that had the same feel as the main cable (8×6=48), and a 12-row cable that used seed stich (12×4=48). Then I created a chart in Excel with the sequence I wanted to test.

Part of a chart with my design shorthand.

I cast on 67 stitches (in prettier yarn this time), and a couple of hours later, I had this.

A jolly good start.

I can already see a glitch, but I need to finish the swatch to a) better understand the design and how to fix it, and b) decide if I want to keep going with this combination of cables because it’s really hard for me to believe that I nailed so much of the design on my second swatching attempt.

*Changing a cable is not as easy as it would seem from that short statement.

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