I Can’t Leave Well Enough Alone: Cobalt Cables Sweater

I can’t leave well enough alone. My cookbooks can attest to that. On just about every recipe I use, I have annotations and substitutions inked in — even recipes that I wrote myself. I can’t resist the temptation to tinker with recipes and directions, to question them, to adapt them for my particular needs.

And so it goes with my knitting. Being small of stature and large of gauge, I have to adapt just about everything I make. It’s a rare (and welcome!) event when I can pick up a pattern and knit it as written.

When my husband chose Marly Bird’s Cobalt Cables  as his next sweater, it was therefore no surprise to either of us when I made a working copy of the pattern and immediately began to mark it up with changes. It was a perfectly fine pattern, but I couldn’t resist the urge to modify it. Some of the changes were to accommodate my gauge, and others were to adapt the pattern to suit the wearer’s preferences.

It’s wonderful to knit custom clothing, but it does require a good deal of math. Now that I’ve designed several sweaters from scratch, and heavily modified quite a number of others, I will never begrudge a designer the fee that he or she charges for a pattern. It’s well worth it to have someone else figure out the math, supposing that I can live with the pattern as designed. Even if I have to make changes, the inspiration a design provides, along with whatever math I can salvage, is still worth the pattern price.

Marly Bird’s Cobalt Cables strikes a good balance between complexity and simplicity. Offset diamond cables make up the front and back panels, with small cables interspersed between. A diamond cable runs the length of each sleeve and continues onto saddles. Filler stitch is simple seed stitch.

My husband examined the photos of the sweater on my working copy. He picked up a swatch of basketweave braid lying on the table. “I like this. Can you add it?” he asked. “And the neckline,” he continued, “can you bring that in just a bit?”

Of course I can, I told him. I looked at the charts. If I cut out the small cables between the larger diamonds and moved the diamonds all next to each other, I could make room for the basketweave braid on either side of the main panel.

Offset Diamonds front

To make the neck opening smaller, I could swap out the wider diamond pattern on the sleeves for the narrower basketweave, which would make the neck opening smaller while preserving the saddle.  And, while I was at it, I’d swap out the seed stitch for a waffle weave filler stitch I’d used on other Arans.

full sleeve

saddle sleeve

I turned my attention to the sleeves. The design called for drop sleeves, which are a total gift, as far as I’m concerned. Easy to knit, easy to wear. On the last sweater I knit, though, I experimented with shallow cap sleeves, which are not as deep nor as complicated as true cap sleeves, but require more effort (read: math) than drop sleeves. The result is more tailored than drop sleeves, but still casual. I decided to add those in.

shoulder cap sleeve

A good deal of swatching and cutting and pasting of charts later, and I had my revised design. I cast on 20 percent fewer stitches for the ribbing than the body for a slightly blousier effect that my husband prefers, and knit on.

The most laborious part was doing the math for the sleeves. I used Janet Szabo’s Aran Sweater Design book to figure out the sleeve caps (and corresponding decreases on the front and back) and Principles of Knitting to re-figure the slope of the sleeves.

Steve's sweater sleeve cap

It was a huge relief when all the pieces came together gracefully, and I picked up the stitches for the neckline.

puzzle pieces

As usual, I purled the first row after picking up the stitches, which I think sets off the neckline ribbing nicely.


The result? A sweater that was a good deal more complicated to knit than the original design, but totally worth it. It fits well and has the design elements that my husband wanted. Custom clothing. Inspired by Marly Bird, tailored by me.

Steve's sweater done

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One Response to I Can’t Leave Well Enough Alone: Cobalt Cables Sweater

  1. 36berkeley says:

    Beautiful! I love the waffle-weave filler stitch – to my eye it looks more “designed” than just plonking the cables in a basic filler stitch (although of course that requires less maths!). Well, I’d better get back to modifying a sleeve cable on my cardia project. Thanks for the detailed post.


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