By Clara Parkes
Nowhere is a yarn's construction as immediately evident as in garter stitch. There's just something about the acute three-dimensionality of that purl ridge that exposes all to the eye, every time.
Garter is one of my favorite stitches to swatch, and it's what first drew me to Liisa Nieminen's Channa. While not actually knit in garter stitch, this oversized sweatshirt/boyfriend sweater is knit in a gloriously simple—and revelatory—ridge pattern in which one purl row accentuates three otherwise smooth stockinette ones.
The original pattern calls for Fibre Company Acadia, a delicious two-ply blend of 60% Merino, 20% baby alpaca, and 20% silk. The fibers have been blended until slightly lumpy, with heathered color variations that add to the nuance. On its own, Acadia is a fine choice for this sweater. The two plies push away from one another constantly, rendering the garter ridge in fabulous corrugation.
But it's always good to swatch other options, right? So I decided to start with a somewhat predictable construction before moving to less likely and, at last, a complete wild card.
The first yarn was Westcountry Tweed from the U.K.'s Blacker Yarns. This three-ply, woolen-spun wool yarn has flecks of tweed to lend a slightly irregular effect to what is, otherwise, beautifully even. Unlike the warring two plies in Acadia, the three plies here sang "Kumbaya" together as they produced round, smooth, even stitches. The purl ridge was still quite pronounced though more rounded in appearance, rather like the snub nose of an old Volkswagen Beetle. The sturdy construction makes this type of yarn a solid contender for durability, while the woolen fiber preparation gives the fabric a wonderfully old-school, comfy sweater look.
From here I shifted to a distinctly crisp and refined look with an S-on-S, multiple-ply superfine Merino from Rowan (called Super Fine Merino DK). The super-springy, super-rounded yarn did what all S-on-S yarns do, rendering one leg of the stitch more vertically than the other. This produced an almost "corduroy" effect running vertically in the stockinette. Meanwhile, the horizontal purl ridges were slick and vivid, rather like the raised motif in a piece of Wedgwood china. If you were looking for a more polished look, you'd be well advised to swatch this type of yarn construction and see if you liked it.
Finally, the wild card. What if, instead of using any kind of traditional wool yarn at all, we swatched a brushed mohair? What if this oversized sweatshirt were conceived as a fluffy, translucent, vaguely textured veil over whatever you happened to be wearing underneath? (Fingers crossed you remembered to put something on.)
I picked a skein of brushed mohair that's been patiently waiting in my stash, one without a label so I can't tell you what it was—but it was heavier than Kidsilk Haze, lighter than Classic Elite La Gran. The purl ridge was wonderfully wobbly and decorative, the underlying stockinette tight enough for stability while open enough for halo and that diaphanous, under-the-sweater reveal. I thought I'd be bothered by the halo snagging on my needles at such a tight gauge, but it didn't, not even with my pointy-tipped Addi Turbo Rockets.
If time were no object, I would've kept swatching along these lines forever, moving to finer brushed mohair and making endless pairings with fine strands of linen, stainless steel, and who knows what else. I could easily envision the finished sweater on the pages of an elegant catalog, with knitters taking one look at the price tag and vowing to cast on first thing in the morning.
Clara Parkes is the brilliant mind behind knittersreview.com and the author of several fantastic fiber books.