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This is a strange and difficult time. When the world seems crazy and out of control, I draw some comfort from the things I can control, like what I can do with sticks and string.

In this month’s grab bag we will address misbehaving yarns, yardage, and our old frenemy, gauge.

Wrestling With a Single Ply Yarn

Dear Patty,

I am swatching some lovely lace-weight, single ply Cotswold yarn on large needles for a loose-gauge sweater. My swatch has a definite diagonal bias.

Is it hopeless to knit an in-the-round, mostly stockinette sweater because of this bias?

Dear Marlene,

Is it hopeless? In short, yes. I’m afraid you’ve hit on the 1, 2, 3 punch: single ply + loosely knit + stockinette = bias. And when you toss the final ingredient into this bias stew—working in the round—you eliminate your last best hope: seaming.

First (you knew this was coming), let’s look at the why.

The Nature of the Beast (Or Why You Gotta Be that Way?)

The amazing Jillian Moreno wrote a great article called The Why of Ply, showing how differently-constructed yarns work up in different stitches. In it she mentions, “In stockinette stitch, [single-ply yarn] shows every weirdness in your knitting . . .  This is the stitch that will bias if there is any over-twist in the yarn. Sometimes you can block it out, sometimes you can’t.”

So, why? When yarn is spun, there is energy (twist) put into the fibers to turn them into yarn. Yarn is plied so that the twist that was put into each single will balance out.

A single ply yarn doesn’t have other strands to balance it out. Single ply yarn is not unlike what would happen if my sarcasm were let loose on the world by itself, without the balance of my husband’s good nature.

When a single ply is really twisty, you might hear it called an “energized single.” That’s knitter speak for “Watch out, she’s gonna blow!” If you ever want to test your yarn for this, pull out a length and fold it in half. Does it twist on itself like a two ply? If it does, that yarn needs some special treatment.

Loosely Knit (Or Nothing to Hold It Back)

When you take the wild, untamed beauty of a single ply yarn and give it room to roam by knitting it loosely, then nothing is going to hold it back. No columns of firm stitches, hanging onto each other, to give any hope of containing the madness.

Here’s a swatch I knit many years ago out of an energized silk single. A magazine assigned me the yarn for a garment that had short row intarsia. Unblocked, it biased like crazypants!

I gave it a hard block and then did what I never do with a stockinette swatch: I pinned it out to dry.

When it dried, I held my breath, unpinned it, and—boing!—it went right back to where it had been.

 Stockinette: You’re Not Helping

Last year I wrote about what happens to a fabric when you put all the purl bumps (the heads of stitches) to the same side of a fabric. This effect doesn’t get better when the yarn biases.

Bonus: Knit in the Round

When you work in the round, you not only lose the stability of the seams but also your last hope of balancing the opposing tugs. The hope that you might be able to block a bit of the bias out of each piece and balance them by seaming them together is gone.

What Now?

Does all this mean you can’t ever work with that yarn? No. You can try a variety of things.  You can switch up your knitting style. Try continental, since throwing often adds twist to the yarn. You can also see what happens when the yarn is knit in a denser fabric, or in a textured stitch pattern with knits and purls on the same side, like seed stitch.

Or you can knit that single ply yarn loosely and in the round, and proudly brag about how tricky it was to make that stylish asymmetrical hem.

On Cables and Suckage

Hi Patty!

I found a great plain sweater pattern, but I want to add cables.

I was wondering if there is a set amount of extra stitches you would add to create a cable from a normal stockinette stitch sweater. I’m sure it depends on the cable size. I’m hoping there is some formula. 



Dear Patti,

Ah yes, the age-old wish for a magic formula. As my mother used to say, “If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.” I have no idea what that means. But I do know this: as you suspected, there’s no simple formula that will always work.

The good news is, the math is not that hard.

Here’s are two different cables that I knit up out of a yarn whose stockinette gauge is 4.5 stitches per inch.

Here’s a 12-stitch cable that measures 1.75” (6.85 stitches per inch).

Here is an 8 st cable that measures 1.125” (7.1 stitches per inch).

As you can see, each cable has a different “suckage” value. (Yes, that’s a word.)

So let’s say you want to add three cables to a stockinette sweater that is 18 inches wide. Knit at a stockinette gauge of 4.5 stitches per inch, that’s 81 stitches.

Three Easy Steps

Step 1. Swatch the cable and measure the width. (Come on, you knew that was coming.) Make sure to add extra stitches on either side of it so you can isolate the cable and measure its width accurately.

Step 2. Say I’d like to add three cable panels. Each cable pattern is 12 stitches and each measures 1.75” wide.

3 x 1.75” = 5.25” used for the cables.

Step 3.  Subtract these inches from overall width of garment. The remainder is the stockinette portion

E.g., Sweater Body is 18” in 4.5 gauge in stockinette = 81 stitches

18” – 5.25” = 12.75” of stockinette .

12.75” x 4.5 (gauge) = approximately 58 stitches of stockinette

If you have 3 cables, you have 4 sections of stockinette (2 sections between the 3 cables, and 2 sections on the sides). You want to keep the stitches symmetrical, so divide by 4. You can have 2 sections of 15 sts and 2 sections of 14 sts.

Add the number of stitches in the 3 cables (36).

58 +36 = 94.

Your cast on would have to be 94 stitches instead of 81.

If the cables continue to the top of the sweater, the “suckage rate” (it’s a thing!) remains the same for the whole sweater. This means you can follow the armhole shaping as written, but you’ll have a different number of stitches for your neck and shoulders, so those you’ll have to tweak.

So, there is a formula, just not one formula that would work for all cables.

In the MDK Shop
We got the suckage all sussed out in this marvelous set of interchangeable cable patterns by Norah Gaughan. Thanks for your purchases. They support everything we do here at MDK.
By Kay Gardiner and Ann Shayne

Free Swatch With Purchase?

Hi Patty,

I have come to acceptance (most of the time) on swatching.

When patterns state the yardage required for a project, do they include enough yardage so I can knit a swatch and still complete the project?

Also, if I change recommended needle size to get gauge by a substantial number of sizes, how does this affect the recommended yarn amount?

Many thanks,

Dear Catherine,

According to my family motto—hope for the best, expect the worst—it’s safest to assume you need to get extra yarn for swatching. However, pay attention to how many balls of yarn are used for each size. If you are knitting the second size and the third and fourth size both use the same number of balls, then odds are you’ll have enough yarn for swatching.

The needle size you use won’t affect yardage. The number of stitches or rows per inch is the measure. You might use a different needle than I did to get the same number of stitches and rows per 4 inches, but we’ll both be using the same amount of yarn.

Swatch on my friend!

Keep those questions coming! Since I can’t teach live for now, I love hearing from you even more. Email your questions to

Wash your hands, don’t touch your face, and knit on.

Patty in your Pocket

Here’s how to save this article in your MDK account with one click.

About The Author

Patty Lyons is a nationally recognized knitting teacher and technique expert. In her pursuit of training the mindful knitter, Patty is known for teaching the “why” in addition to the “how.” She specializes in sweater design and sharing her love of the much-maligned subjects of gauge and blocking.

You can find Patty at her website and on Ravelry.

Do you have a problem you’d like Patty to tackle? Write to her at



  • Patty, thanks for being here! I love your style AND your math. Just what I needed this morning.

  • As a spinner-and a self taught spinner- I learned the lesson of knitting with single ply the hard way! Now I’m wondering now much of a difference spinning woolen verses worsted makes. Any insights to share?

    • I’m a spinner too. Garter stitch and singles go together for me. For stockinette, use long staple fleece, underspin the fibre, just enough to create a continuous strand (like Lopi yarn).

  • Absolutely love Patty’s description of single ply yarn: “…not unlike what would happen if my sarcasm were let loose on the world by itself…” !!

    • Me too! Patty, love your sarcastic-humorous way of looking at all of life.

    • Just what I was going to say. ♥️ I actually spit coffee when I read that bit!

  • My Mom used to say that about the horses and beggers too !

  • Just curious, why not pin out a stockinette swatch? I always do, without stretching it. Should I be wetting it and just let it lay out to dry? Or?

    • Yep. Just lay if flat and let it be. When knitters pin out a stockinette swatch, they can usually get a false gauge. Even if you try to not stretch it out, it’s hard NOT to stretch it accidentally. Many fabrics will slightly tighten up as they dry, if you pin it out when it’s wet, you are forcing it to not go to it’s normal shape. So, if you measure a wool right after it’s dry, you’ll get one gauge (a false one), go back to that swatch 3 hrs later, 8 hrs later, it may be a different gauge. Remember, being off by 1/2 a stitch in a measure of 4″ can be off by a LOT in a sweater.

      • Thank you so much for your answer. Another question: I have knit a few swatches and wet them and pinned them out. Can I rewet them, not pin them out, and re measure? Or just need to start over with fresh yarn?

  • On swatching and the need for more yardage: I have been known to cheat and knit a half-size swatch either through sheer laziness or being in a hurry to Get Knitting On The Project. Sometimes because my yardage is tight. I have also been known to rip out and reuse my swatch.

  • Thanks for the well explained advise! Also, “beggars would ride”….A beggar wishes for a horse so he doesn’t have to walk everywhere. Of course he doesn’t get one! The rest of the thing…If turnips were watches I’d wear one by my side. (you likely knew that, but I just couldn’t help myself. My Danish Gran used to say this to me every time I would say “I wish…”

    • Also, there’s so many wishes out there that even beggars would have horses to ride if there was a horse for every wish.

    • Wow, the timing on the cable suckage issue was perfect!! I recently saw a pic of someone wearing a store-bought cabled pullover I’d love to try and replicate using a non-cabled pattern, but I knew I’d somehow have to account for the “suck factor.” Thank you, Patti and Patty!!!

  • Thanks Patti, knowing the whys helps me to remember the other parts!

  • Is it only me who swatches, doesn’t cut the yarn, wet blocks with the spray bottle, then once measured frogs the swatch for use of the yarn in the project??

    • You’re not alone. If I swatch, I frog. What’s the point of keeping one once you’ve measured it?

  • Your photos of the bias single ply make me feel so good: I had the same twisted frustrating result using a steel and silk yarn some years ago. Try as I could, nothing would make that very fine yarn, knitted on large needles, look like anything but a tank top full of mistakes. Unseen dropped stitches added to the dismal effect. The bias twist was several inches off to one side, and the hem was uneven as well. So now I know it probably wasn’t me.

  • Thank you so much for the easy to understand problem solvers. You are making me a better knitter.

  • Surely enjoyed this article. Thanks for your expertise. Knit on and stay out there for us.

  • I’m a bit of a meany! I always fix the last stitch of the cast off of my swatch with a lockable stitch marker. I pop it in a jug of water, lie to dry, measure it then unravel it straight back onto the ball of yarn!!

  • I wish I was as good a knitter as you all. I wish your field guides had tittles as to what the subject matter is so I knew which book to get. Unless I missed it. Be safe. Psalm 91. God bless. Gloria

  • Help with pesky moths….PLS

  • Patty – The photo that accompanies the picture above “How to Tidy Up That Bind-Off” would cause my mother, who taught me to knit (Continental and knit-in-the-back stockinette), to rip it out and make me start over again. I’ve seen this so many places, the knitted stitch, instead of being a ‘V’ looks like a slash with a column of twisted yarn next to it. I once complained about this someplace else, and got a totally bogus reply about it being a design element, which I’m not buying. Why pretend this is acceptable, and what causes it?

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