Tour de Sweater: Portage Cardigan

Before I begin I have to admit that this sweater in this form no longer exists. It has already been transformed into this sweater here and I regret absolutely nothing.

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The moment I first saw the Portage Cardigan on ravelry I fell head over heels in love. This cardigan has the kind of details I love. An all-over cabled back, amazing pockets, and a shawl style collar.

The problems began when I also set my heart on using Berroco Remix – a heavy worsted/aran weight yarn – for a pattern that recommends dk weight. Problems continued when I determined this yarn did not highlight the cable pattern, and culminated in my choice to substitute cables with a slip stitch pattern.

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Yarn substitutions: I am a serial yarn substituter. I can think of two projects where I have used the recommended yarn + pattern combo (my vest and shrug). Since both of these projects were just completed this summer, I have spent most of my knitting career substituting yarns. Yarn substitution is a helpful skill to have as a knitter, especially one with a tight budget. The basics of yarn substitution are simple: rather than knit with the recommended yarn, you knit with a substitute. The easiest way to substitute yarn is to find a replacement yarn in the same yarn weight. Most of the time I’ve found this works relatively well. But sometimes the results can be less than satisfying.

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A gauge swatch is essential for any successful yarn substitution. Determining if your selected yarn matches the stitch and row count is the first step, but isn’t the only thing that matters. Any patterned stitches should be swatched to see if the yarn and pattern work well together. That was one lesson I learned with this cardigan. When I swatched the honeycomb cable section in this yarn, I found that the cables were almost invisible. This isn’t just because the yarn was black (though black has a bad reputation for visible cables). While there can be a number of reasons a particular yarn doesn’t work for something like cables, I found that the most glaring factor of this yarn was the tweed content. The white flecks were much more visible than any stitch pattern. Another factor was the spin and sheen to the yarn. The recycled content of this yarn includes silk, which reflects light, combine that with a loosely spun yarn and the likelihood that pattern stitches will stand out is low. Overall the fiber content reflected light, the white flecks that reflected more light, so all the light was reflecting away from my cable stitches.

Rather than admit my defeat, I decided to replace the patterned stitches with a slip stitch pattern. I did swatch, and the slip stitch gauge matched the cabled pattern gauge. So I just stormed ahead – guns ablazing – ready to knit.

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So what happened? Well, the slip stitch pattern shrunk the back part of the cardigan, while the two front sections grew longer  than expected. So I unintentionally created a low back long front cardigan. The front was so long that I couldn’t easily put my hands in the pockets. While I wore this cardigan for a few months last winter, I found that every time I looked at it I would feel incredibly dissatisfied. After quite a bit of reflection, I determined that these feelings were rooted in all the shortcuts I took while I knit this sweater. I felt no pride when I wore this cardigan – instead I felt slouchy (not the cute kind) and messy. Those are not qualities I want to feel when I wear handmade garments. It was time to take action – I have the ability to make clothing, and I have the ability to remake clothing. So I could either hide this sweater in a corner of my closet, or I could reknit it into something that would bring me joy. So I exercised my knitting agency and knit my new go to cardigan.

I learned some very important lessons about yarn substitution with this sweater. While I was not happy with the end product, I believe these lessons have been essential to my knitting confidence. I learned about what yarn types work with cables and other patterned stitches. I know this skill will be extremely useful in future knitting projects. So while this sweater no longer exists, it has left a lasting impression.

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