Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Pick Up and Knit

Now, where were we?

I was all on about theoretically being short on yarn and knitting the standard size of my latest cardigan project without alterations re: crazy ass pattern elements.

Today's update confirms that I can find a new ball of yarn in the right colour, but not in the right dye lot. (Nothing for sale or trade on Ravelry, either...) That's cool. I'm not going to freak out about it. The different-dye lot version will have to do (or not), when and if I get to the stage that I require an extra skein. It's not like I can't go all crazy contrast if I feel like it. Note to reader: I do not feel like it. I want a simple cardigan in a flattering colour that will go with everything. Navy is my version of black.

It's not that I'm not into colour, we all know this, but my colourful sweaters (butter yellow, bright blue) haven't got a lot of wear. On that front, I think the fit is more to blame for that than colour. When first I started knitting sweaters I didn't understand how to alter patterns. Many of you have advised that handmade sweater sizing is quite forgiving. I do agree, but the combo of nascent knitting skills and no technique to speak of has left me with one sweater that's too big and shapeless (this one) and another that's too small in the shoulders and vaguely obscene (this one). I don't begrudge these projects at all.

Every sweater I've made has taught me about how yarn works, how patterns work, what kind of ease I'm looking to achieve. There's no way to accomplish everything overnight. I have to say that I'm really proud of my knitting-to-date because it's the mark of lots of effort and lots of fun. Somehow it doesn't (generally) stress me out like sewing. (Yellow sweater project notwithstanding.)

I know I've expressed issues with Craftsy lately, but it seems to have updated its interface. I truly hope that solves the viewing challenges some of us have experienced. Presuming that's the case, I can wholeheartedly recommend this course, which has transformed my ability to knit for my shape. I don't know if it's on sale for 20 bucks or if that's its new price. I paid twice as much and it was well worth it.

Hardcore Knitter Section:

I want to discuss my rationale for making the unaltered size small, in a bit more detail. Let me start this by saying that Katy (who knits beautifully and has an excellent, revamped Ravelry page) has been insanely helpful in addressing mathematical and sizing questions. I cannot believe she spent hours figuring stuff out with me on the freakin' holiday Monday. I have fine crafting friends.

OK, here's what I did first: I made a stockinette gauge swatch using the needle size the pattern suggested (US6). Then I blocked it aka washed it as I will my final garment. There are lots of thoughts about whether blocking a gauge swatch really helps. I'm betting on yes, but who cares? It took 5 minutes to wash it and 2 hours to dry. I could have dried it faster with a hair dryer.

I know you know what gauge is, and why it's so important. Just so we're all on the same page, in the most simple terms, gauge is merely the number of stitches in 1 square inch. But man, in an applied sense, this is a seriously complicated topic. At its core, as long as you get the same number of stitches (as the pattern) in each direction, your finished garment will be the size the pattern stipulates. Presuming the pattern is correct, of course.

I substituted a slim worsted wool in place of the pattern-instructed DK yarn. They are very close to the same weight, and should knit 5-7 stitches per inch (spi) but the worsted is slightly thicker.

I was not not surprised to find my gauge swatch off. Pattern gauge is 5.5 and 7 in 1 inch. That means, on the horizontal plane one should get 5.5 stitches, and on the vertical plane 7 stitches for every square inch. I was getting 4.5 and 7. As everyone will tell you, being off by 1 horizontal stitch per inch is meaningful. That would impact the chest circumference by more than 6 inches - and by that I mean it would make the garment bigger!

No probs. It's not like someone smacks you for changing up the size of your needle to achieve pattern gauge. (For what it's worth - you don't even need to get gauge as long as you understand how your measurements will be impacted by not getting gauge. See below.) I went down a needle size and knit another gauge swatch. And blocked it.

That means I used a smaller circumference of needle on the same yarn with an aim to produce more stitches per inch. Since the pattern is defined, on one level, by total stitches, the more horizontal stitches per inch means the smaller the width. Smaller needle, same yarn, smaller circumference.

On the size 5 needle I got 5 stitches horizontally. That's still amounts to a final garment about 3 inches larger than the pattern's 35 inch circumference (the dimension of the size small). Given that I am concerned that the 35 inch circumference might be too small* (despite the fact that the sweater isn't meant to close over the bust), this actually works optimally for me.

(*Complicated side bar you might want to gloss over: the tighter the knit, the slighter the ease. Going down a needle size tightens the knit aka smaller needle, same yarn, smaller circumference, tighter knit. So, on a size 5 needle, I won't get my preferred 2 inches of horizontal negative ease. I'll only have about an inch. Note that simple stretching of my gauge swatch proved this to me.)

Furthermore, all of my compulsive measuring - though in the end, I opted just to follow the pattern - has confirmed every last one of my vertical measurements. This pattern advises me to knit to "inches of length" (rather than "numbers of rows") before switching to the next section. Happily, that means I can lengthen - as necessary - to ensure that there's enough fabric length over my bust so that the ribbing starts properly underneath it.

Let's leave it at this, since I suddenly feel as if this may be the least interesting topic I've covered in a long time - and I'm not exactly tackling the sexy topics these days.

But I'd love to know your thoughts about gauge. Do you totally ignore it? Obsess over it? Choose some moderate middle path? Please let's chat!


  1. I found this post totally interesting! I tend to take gauge issues pretty seriously-- there's nothing worse than knitting an entire garment and finding that it's way too big or small. I have found that it's also important to make sure that you're comfortable with the feel of your gauge swatch-- sometimes you can reach the proper gauge, mathematically, but the resulting fabric is too stiff or too loose.

    1. G: See my comment below - for some reason, it didn't reply as it was supposed to...

  2. Fascinating stuff. Maybe I should give that Craftsy course a go sometime eh? Sounds pretty useful! So much to learn!

    Gauge is very interesting. I swatched for my Miette and it grew after I washed it, so I think it's definitely a valuable exercise. I don't think I'd want to risk not swatching!

    Interesting point about the smaller needles making your knit have less ease- that totally makes sense!

    1. Well, I don't think you could have a better scene than doing your sweater with Gail. She's pretty awesome :-)

  3. That is SO true! In fact, I said to Katy that though my gauge was still off on the size 5 needles, I don't want to go down any more as I don't want the fabric to be any tighter!

  4. This is very interesting to me. I have been knitting for a long time, but usually stick with socks. I have found over the years that I seem to knit loosely. When I don't want to knit a swatch (which is most of the time!) I just start with needles one size smaller than asked for. This gives me the correct gauge about 80-90% of the time. This is rather risky when making a sweater with expensive yarn, but not so bad for socks.

    1. Interesting! I don't know how risky it is with sweaters, to tell you the truth. Unless you need lots of shaping, and the sweater is designed to fit closely, I think you can get away with quite a bit. And, your life energy notwithstanding, you can always rip it out and start again :-)

  5. I obsess about horizontal gauge, but mostly ignore vertical because I don't know what I'd do if vertical was off anyway.

    My problem is that I'm a newbie so even when I do a circular swatch, my stitching seems to get tighter when I switch to DPNs. So basically, I swatch as I should and then I continue to worry about gauge until my project is done. I hope that goes away with experience.

    BTW this post wasn't boring at all! I loves me some knitting analysis. :)

    1. The interesting thing is that vertical and horizontal gauge change at proportionately different rates. So, the process of getting yourself to horizontal gauge is bound to mess up the vertical. I think the way to manage it is to understand how many rows or inches that gauge relates to - and to know your own personal measurements as you begin the garment. Then you can align one with the other fairly easily.

      When you do a circular swatch, do you have those strings hanging all droopily on the WS? I can't stand that! :-) I've heard that flat swatches make better arbiters of final gauge, for what it's worth (not that I can say for sure).

      My advice, once you start your garment, is to try not to worry about gauge. Allow the (generous) swatch (measured in a number of places) to liberate you from that concern. You will knit more evenly if you're not anxious about the outcome.