Before you start swatching aran stitch patterns, you need to calculate your "field of play", that is, the amount of space you have to fill with patterns of your choice. The first step to figuring this out is to decide on the desired finished circumference of your cardigan. For simplicity of design, I'm focusing on a hip-length, boxy shape. My bust is 32" and I'm aiming for a finished bust of 36". That will allow for 4" of ease, and the width just happens to correspond to my hip measurement to create a straight silhouette. If you feel at sea in deciding on a finished size, I always recommend that you measure a favourite sweater and use that as a guide. You don't need to decide on any length measurements at this stage. Indeed, you'll find that a lot of the fun in sweater design is your ability to make decisions as you go. It's very freeing.
Step two involves what I refer to as the "quadrant approach". Divide your total circumference into four. In my case that works out to 9 x 4 = 36". Each quadrant will take up 9". A diagram is a useful tool.
Here the front of the cardigan is shown at the bottom. I want a front border of 1 1/2" in width. That is enough to allow the fronts to overlap comfortably and at the same time support some nice buttons. With the total band width at 1 1/2", each front will lose 3/4" off its 9" total. That means a "field of play" of 8 1/4". I need to choose stitch patterns that when swatched together come out to something LESS THAN that measurement. Why less?
It is customary (certainly not mandatory!) that there are "filler" spaces between aran panels. These make it easier to design cable panels since you don't have to aim for a precise measurement; the filler spaces will get you to your desired total. These are often in simple stitches such as double moss, seed stitch, or even plain stocking stitch. You can see this in my Hedgewood at the sides of the body and sleeves.
When doing the actual knitting, these spaces feel like "relief" spots, where you can catch your breath before moving on to the next bit of cabling. Look back at the right hand side of the diagram and see that I've allowed for small filler spaces at the sides and centre back. (I've planned for them in each quadrant, but I'm only illustrating them in two.)
Since I'm working a little ahead of my blog posting, I've already completed my swatching and I know that my cable panel (which contains three different cables) measures 7 1/4". That means that my filler space at the sides in each quadrant will measure 1" to get to the 8 1/4" total. When the back and front sides come together they will result in a side filler space of 1 + 1 = 2". The centre back will be a filler space of 1 1/2"; it is the mirror of the space occupied on the front by the button band.
So, go ahead and do your calculations. Of course, at this stage you won't know the actual width of your cable panel(s), but the point of this post is to help you focus on the size of the space you will have to fill. My next post will be all about how to choose cable stitches and how to put them together.
Part 4 is here.