Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Gauge-less gauge swatches, or "dating tips for knitters"

includes a how to
You've read the blah, blah, blah advice a hundred times--make a gauge swatch before you start knitting your garment. Wash the gauge swatch. Dry the gauge swatch. Measure the number of stitches and number of rows per inch to be sure you're getting the same gauge as the pattern calls for. Adjust to smaller needles if you need to get more stitches per inch, larger needles for fewer stitches per inch. Blah, blah, blah.

If you do all that stuff, congratulations--you are a sober, mature person with whom it would be a honor to shake hands--a beacon, a knitting role model. You're all set--no need to read further--read a different blog for today.

Back here in the real world, there's a ball of yarn screeching to be knit, and a pattern demanding to be started NOW. You know you shouldn't, but sister, you know you're going to do it anyway--grab the needles recommended in the pattern, cast on, and hope for the best.

It's a classic in philosophy--what happens when an irresistible force meets an immovable object? What happens when your irresistible desire to start NOW smacks up against the stone-cold fact that, without a gauge swatch, you're most unlikely to actually accomplish that flattering, graceful garment in which your imagination clothes you? Will you stop and reconsider? Will you actually make a gauge swatch? Maybe--but if you're still reading, I'm not laying money on it.

So, how shall you tame the mighty urge?

I have one word: gaugeless objects. (OK, that's two words. But it's still the answer.)

If you're ready to make a whole sweater, starting right NOW, that's puppy love. You've got to face it--you're in the grip of a crush. But no matter how HUGE the crush, you'd never marry that cute guy before you went on even one date, would you? What if he snores? What if he already has a wife? What if on closer inspection, he's unacquainted with the concept of soap? So how about a date with your new yarn--just one date? Check it out, just once, before you commit to slogging through the sleeves (two) the fronts (two) and the endless back; or, for circular garments, the doubly endless tube to the underarms.

Classic gaugeless objects are scarves, potholders, pillow tops, quilt squares and hats. Wouldn't it be a testament to your skill to have a one-of-a-kind unique and amazing patchwork pillow around the house made with one square from every project in recent times? How about a set of potholders, ditto? A quilt?

You might think I'm tricking you into knitting a gauge swatch and just calling it something else. And maybe so. But then, maybe not. Today's fashions are adorable, flattering and short. Maybe it makes actual sense to have a matching scarf to cover the shivery parts left uncovered by that fashion-forward masterpiece?

And, maybe you'll be glad you've got that potholder made ahead for your Christmas gift basket when you realize that the yarn with which you were planning to have a long term relationship is a flirt, a liar and a come-on artist. What if you HATE the yarn after you start working with it? What if that hand-dyed, hand-spun one-of-a-kind masterpiece skein turns out to be overtwisted? What if you discover that P5tog (purl 5 together) pattern, although exceeding beautiful, has a side you weren't expecting?

Have I convinced you? A little bit, at least? If so, here are some considerations.

HOW TO go on a date with your new yarn

First, buy only one ball of yarn for a start. If it's too late--if you've already succumbed to the desire to possess massive quantities of THAT yarn right NOW, at least keep the receipt handy--think of it as your rescue call if your first date is going sour. And for heaven's sake, DON'T wind all that yarn off the hanks into balls before your gaugeless object is complete and your decision made to proceed--once it's wound, it's yours.

Second, make the gaugeless object with the exact yarn and with the exact stitch pattern you're going use for the garment. If the garment is in moss stitch, it helps you not at all to have a stockinette stitch object. (Yup, it's obvious. Yup, I've messed up on this myself...)

Third, change needle sizes at least a couple of times over the course of your object. That way, you've got a better chance of actually nailing the desired gauge, and who cares if the gauge for a scarf or potholder or quilt square wanders?

Fourth, make the gaugeless object with the same technique as the garment. If the garment is made back and forth, make the object back and forth--a potholder, quilt square, pillow top, skinny scarf.

If the garment is made circular, cast on enough stitches to go round on dpn's (double pointed needles) or your smallest circulars, and make a gaugeless circular tube neck-scarf. Other than sewing up the ends if you're inclined to, a skinny tube neck-scarf features no finishing at all--all those dangling ends from color changes, etc. will be on the inside and will never, ever, be seen by any mortal again.
click picture
If even a circular neck-scarf is too much work--if you're too deeply smitten by the "right now" bug to go round and round for so long, at least make a potholder by using the method for "circular swatch knitted flat," illustrated below. (For a potholder, cut the ends and tame them by knotting or felting)
click picture

Most important, after you make your gaugeless object, LOOK AT IT. Do all the blah blah blah stuff. Wash it. Measure it. Be honest with yourself. Ten and a half stitches over 2 inches isn't the same thing as five stitches per inch. It just isn't. But, because you were foresightful, and made your gaugeless object with several different needle sizes, you've got exactly ten stitches to 2 inches in there somewhere.

And finally, I've said it before, and I'll say it again. For each garment you make with the same yarn and needles, you'll get an increasingly professional result--your body of experience with that yarn and those needles will make more likely a "handmade" result, as opposed to a "home made" result. And after the first garment, you won't even have to swatch at all.  (Have a look at these made-more-than-once projects on Ravelry to see the lovely possibilities.)



kmkat said...

I see some patchwork pillows in my future someday :-)

Clair. St. Michel said...

Thank you for the idea - I always feel like I am wasting yarn with my gauge swatches, but this is a great idea!
Also funny :-)

Angie said...

I love the dating analogy for gauging. I'm looking forward to the gauge/swatch hat. Very enjoyable and educational post.

Carol in WI said...

Hello new knitting friend whom I met tonight. (Wednesday). You asked me to look this over and all I can say is WOW! It is absolutely great! Your explanations and drawings are so good. Wish everyone had such clear instructions and drawings. When I got home, had to tink the sole of the slipper I was working on cause I had put it on the wrong way. It would have been so much more helpful if the illustration in the directions were a little clearer and larger.

It was great meeting you tonight and hope to see you again next week. The more our group grows, the more fun and diverse it becomes. See ya Crazy Carol

Krawuggl said...

It took me some time to find you (the link in your mail didn´t work), but here I am and WOW, this is a great knitting blog, so many gorgeous tips, ideas and excellent explained knitting techniques. Looks like becoming a wonderful encyclopaedia, an answer for every question.
Thank you very much and best wishes!

C said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
C said...

Hi there, I was browsing through the Knitting Blogs ring and your site caught my eye. I love the dating analogy! It works so well. Oh, and circular-knit scarves rule!

(sorry for the double-post, I've been having issues with blogger today)

Anonymous said...

I have a related tip. When changing needles as you recommend, mark the size needle you used by "purling it into" the appropriate area of the sample. For example, at the beginning of an area to be knitted in stockinette with size 7 needles, make 7 purl stitches on the right (public) side of the test garment, each one separated by a knit stitch (to make the purls easier to see). When you change to size 8, make 8 purl stitches, and so on. Not only will this remind you of the needle size you used, but it will also permanently mark the row where you changed needle sizes.

Anonymous said...

I start with a sleeve ... I know what I'm getting into by the time I reach the first elbow ...

great post and what a cute way of stating the obvious - you gotta go on a first date!

Anonymous said...

That's the most entertaining blog I've read in a long time. A dose of bitter reality with all the sugar necessary to make it go down. ;-)

And Yes, I one of those who never swatch anything.

Much thanks!

MaryInBoise said...

I've been reading through many posts on your blog. Very helpful! I did want to let you know that a lot of the links in this particular post are broken.

ANGI said...

I love the way your write. And your honesty. And the fact that you didn't write, "Thirdly." Your links to silly knitting are a bonus LOL. Thank you for honest, awesome, writing about knitting. Swatch? Pshaw!