Swatch It! Winter 2014
By Clara Parkes
Fisherman's rib is a deeply satisfying stitch, one that's easy to work and produces a plush, hearty fabric. I'd never worked it in two colors before, and the minute I saw Ashley Rao's Epicenter, I knew I had to give it a swatch.
Rao chose a classic wool yarn for the original garment. Classic Elite Mountaintop Crestone is an evenly spun, traditionally plied yarn with spunk and soul. It walks that fine line between crisp and chaos in a way that's perfect for any fisherman's rib.
In fact, pretty much any traditionally plied yarn will look beautiful in this pattern. Knowing that, I decided instead to veer completely off-road and see how a novelty texture would work. It needed enough uniformity to render the stitches with reasonable clarity, and it needed enough innate elasticity to hold the ribbing in place. Tube yarn—call it tape, cord, what have you—fit the bill perfectly.
Digging through the stash I found two complementary colors of just such a yarn, and I cast on. (The lighter shade is Rowan Lima, the darker a now-discontinued wool/silk/polyamide blend from SMC Select called Silk Wool.)
Two-color fisherman's rib requires a bit more needle acrobatics than you'd face when working just one color. You do a lot of knitting and purling into the row below. I soon discovered that slippery needles with pointy tips don't mix well with needle acrobatics and (snag-friendly) tube yarn. I frogged three times before finding my pace, only to drop a stitch near the end and nearly lose my mind trying to fix it. (I never did. It's a swatch. Heaven help me if it ever happened in the real sweater.)
As problematic as those first few swatch attempts were, I loved the notion of what I'd created. Tube yarn gives splendid loft and sponginess to any fabric. Work an already lofty, spongy stitch pattern in a tube yarn and you have something that's almost impossible to stop squeezing. Both of these yarns also gave an almost brushed effect to the finished swatch, concealing the color-strand shenanigans going on behind the scenes and rendering the stripes with lovely cohesion. If I were to try again, I'd definitely switch out the slick pointy needles in favor of a blunt, grabbier bamboo.
For my next swatch, I picked another unlikely contender: a nicely rounded singles yarn. But not any singles, for Zealana Heron is made of 80% fine New Zealand Merino and 20% Brushtail possum. I knew that if this behaved anything like the other possum yarns I've tried, a vigorous warm soapy wash would produce just enough halo to fill in any gaps left behind by the smoothness of the original yarn.
While knitting this swatch was a breeze compared to the last one, it did come with one drawback: The smooth, well-rounded singles wasn't as willing to conceal my tension irregularities as the plush, puffy tube yarn was. My purls came out much looser than my knits, making one color appear wider than the other.
Looseness is a key element of two-color fisherman's rib, regardless of which yarn you choose. In the pattern notes, Rao explains that this is a very wide, vertically compressed stitch. So wide and so vertically compressed, in fact, that you'll need to use a needle three to four times smaller than what's recommended on the ball band.
Yet when I dropped that swatch in warm soapy water, it relaxed and that much-anticipated discreet halo began to appear. Better yet, the swatch was happy to have me tug and prod it back into shape so that those knits and purls appeared remarkably even after the swatch dried.
In fact, now that everything's washed and blocked, if I hadn't said anything about the gauge problem or that dropped stitch, you might never have even noticed.
Let's keep this between us, shall we?
Clara Parkes is the brilliant mind behind knittersreview.com and the author of several fantastic fiber books.