Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Part 1 of the 8-trick pocket hat: putting gauge in its place

Includes 6 illustrations. Click on any illustration to enlarge.
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ADDENDUM, 2011:  The KAL laid out below stretches out over 5 posts, and is free.  However, some folks have written to say they find it hard to follow the pattern over so many posts. So...if you like, you can buy the pattern in an easy-to-print, all-in-one place pdf.
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Several themes have popped up lately at chez TECH.
  • The little kids around here keep actually losing their hats, and the big kids keep claiming they're "losing" theirs.
  • Various threads on Ravelry show the depths of despair knitters are feeling about getting gauge, and particularly, row gauge.
  • I've been saving up a grab-bag of tricks to share-- a truly flat top for a hat, a ribbed fabric without any icky little "dots" showing on the front of the fabric, an easy-peasy way to start a garment with a stretchy edge--a trick so methodical you can start a garment at a meeting.
Knitting away over the past few days, all three themes came together in a series of little hats, quick to make. I call these little numbers "pocket hats" because they are small enough to slip into a pocket as a spare hat, until a good stiff windchill reminds even careless little kids and hair-conscious teenagers that frozen ears=bad,  hat=good.

Pocket hats are easy in the gauge department: they're made in 2x2 ribbing, a fabric very forgiving of stitch gauge. Also, they are made in three different lengths. Even if your row gauge is wildly off, you should nevertheless get a wearable hat somewhere in this range of offerings.

As to the grab-bag of tricks, there are 8 of them, and each post in this series will first lay out one or two of these tricks, and then apply that trick to the hat. The next post after this one will show how to make the easy-peasy cast on: a reverse stockinette tubular cast on, which will immediately be put to use as the hat brim. Following posts will show jogless stripes and working in tails as-you-go as adapted for 2x2 ribbing--and also how to knit a ribbed material without "dots." The later posts will lay out that nice flat hat top I promised, which incorporates three tricks on its own account. The series will end with two tricks to help tame "itchy-wool-against-the forehead" syndrome, for 8 tricks in all--the 8-trick pocket hat.

The series can be read like a little knit-along (KAL). However, even if you have no need for a hat at present, the tricks will be written up in the first portion of each post in this series.

Putting gauge in its place, and making hats that fit

The theory of gauge is simple enough: Suppose you want to achieve a GAUGE of 6 stitches to one inch, and 8 rows to one inch. You gather your yarn, and select the needles which experience has taught you to expect may be the correct size, and you knit a swatch. Next, you measure your gauge, both row and stitch gauge, using a tape measure or a gauge meter specially made for knitting.

If your stitch gauge is off, you switch needles, and try again  For too MANY stitches per inch--7 st/in, instead of the 6 st/in you want, for example, knit another swatch, using LARGER needles.  For too FEW st/in, re-knit using SMALLER needles. 

The same idea goes for row gauge; If you have TOO MANY rows per inch, use a larger needle, if you have TOO FEW rows per inch, use a smaller needle.

All this is clear enough (if dull) but now can come trouble: it often happens that when you finally get the STITCH gauge correct, then the ROW gauge is off. The fact is, fixing this so they are both correct is truly a BIG problem; beyond the scope of this post.

Taming the stitch gauge/row gauge problem
The beat answer is to knit items where ONE of the gauges DOES NOT MATTER. Often, the ROW gauge is immaterial, because the measurements are given in LENGTH (inches or centimeters) rather than being expressed in row count. For example, the instructions will say "knit 48 rows or until piece measures 6 inches." If, for example, the row gauge for the pattern is 8 rows/inch, but you are getting 7.5, simply knit until you get to 6 inches (45 rows, instead of 48). Even if the instructions aren't written using length measurements, you can use math in this way to figure it out.

There are also knitted items where the STITCH gauge does not matter, or at least, does not matter very much-- scarves, afghans, pocketbooks--items which not fitted to the body. However, some garments (including these pocket hats) also aren't crucial as to gauge.

Specifically, with the pocket hats, the ROW GAUGE is not exactingly important for two reasons:

1. The pocket hats have been test-knit in three lengths.

A. (below) A close-fitting watch cap:
B. (below) A medium length stocking cap:
C. (below) A longer rasta-style hat:
Your hat is most likely to end up somewhere in this range, and you can say that you meant to make it in that length all along.

2: the final length on these hats can be adjusted by unraveling and re-knitting the top. These hats are knit in stripes and all the shaping happens very suddenly, all in the top color. Because the top is not actually a "stripe" but is actually a big "spot," it can be made a different number of rows than the preceding stripes, without ruining the look of the hat.

The STITCH gauge is not exactingly important with pocket hats either, because these hats are made in 2x2 ribbing (k2, p2). Ribbing is SO stretchy that specifying a gauge is difficult anyhow. Should the ribbing be stretched when measured? How stretched? Ironed flat? If not stretched, then how "unstretched" should the sample be when measured?

The only real answer is that when a garment is made in ribbing (or any other heavily textured fabric) the pattern should provide a stitch gauge in stockinette. The theory behind a stockinette gauge swatch for a ribbed garment is that if you can match the stitch gauge of the original creator in stockinette, you will match their gauge in ribbing too--not a great assumption, perhaps, but all that we have.

And there is one surprising thing about a stockinette gauge swatch: although the number of stitches per inch varies substantially between stockinette and ribbing, the ROW gauge is accurate and can be read off directly from the stockinette swatch to the ribbed fabric of the hat: on the photo below, each ribbed hat stripe (left) is 16 rows high, each stockinette gauge swatch stripe, 8 rows high, and the stripes line up 2-for-1 perfectly. In other words, the row gauge is identical across the two fabrics, regardless of the variation in the stitch gauge from the textured hat fabric to the smooth stockinette gauge fabric.
So, having stuffed you up with all this conversation about row and stitch gauge, what IS the gauge for the pocket hats? Here is the materials list, and the actual gauge instructions...


These hats are knit in a DK weight of yarn. Each hat has 5 stripes, and each stripe uses about 1/3 ball of a 50 gram ball. In other words, 5 balls will make about three 5-color hats.

The yarn used is Dale of Norway HEILO yarn, in a grab-bag color assortment of colors (truthfully, in left-over scraps.) Heilo is a long-staple yarn, reasonably tightly spun with excellent durability and a wide color range, in a DK weight and excellent for utility knitting: the garments look as good at 5 or 10 years of age as when they came off the needles. Heilo is hand wash, however. If you want to make this same hat in a machine washable wool, consider Dale's FALK yarn: same yarn as Heilo, but  superwash.  Heilo (and Falk) are relatively ITCHY wools, and the last tricks in this series deal with how to tame the itchy-wool-on-forehead syndrome. They are also fairly coarse wools.

For the reasons above, the HAT is knit in 2x2 ribbing (k2, p2) but the GAUGE SWATCH is knit in stockinette. The swatch has 12 stitches/2 inches (same as 6 st/in), and 16 rows/2 inches (same as 8 st/in). In the photo just below,  see for yourself.

Two last notes to swatchers.
1. the hat is knit in the round, so the gauge swatch should be also. Click here for a trick to make that faster and easier.
2. The swatch here, as well as the hats, were dressed before measuring by a light steam blocking. Click here for more info on steam blocking.

Bottom line: make your swatch in stockinette, to match as close as you can: 6 st/in OR 8 rows/in (if you get pretty close to both row AND stitch gauge, bonus points!) Next time we'll cast on with the nifty reverse stockinette easy-peasy rolled cast on.
--TECHknitter (You have been reading TECHknitting on: "making hats fit--putting gauge in its place")


sharonmattnadia said...

If one wanted to do the math, could one make this hat in worsted weight, or is there a particular reason to choose DK?

Marnie said...

This should be a fun project to watch unfold.

I'm personally of the mind that most row gauge issues stem from the way purl stitches are worked. As a combined knitter, I tend to get a slightly different ratio of stitches to rows than traditional knitters. I'm not sure there's a fix for that. Knitting in the round, in stockinette helps but only if you don't need to eventually split the piece and work flat. And textured stitches still probably have the same problem.

I think another problem that sometimes happens, though I'd like to believe it's rare, is that machine knit pieces tend to have a tighter row gauge. If the designer worked her original piece on a machine and used that gauge, it would be hard for a hand knitter to match it. I think this practice is generally frowned upon and it'd be incumbent on the designer to convert the pattern to a hand knit gauge.

my 2¢

--TECHknitter said...

Hi Sharonmattnadia: There is no structural reason the hat is in DK, it is done that way for stylistic reasons: I prefer DK for textured fabrics because more detail is possible, in this case, a hat with narrower ribs and more of them-- You could certainly do the math and do the hat in ww or bulky (or sock yarn, for that matter!) Whatever scraps you have at hand!

Hi Marnie: You touch at the heart of a mystery--why some knitters get so substantially different a row gauge than others, even with the same yarn and stitch gauge. I am very interested to read your theories, and if anyone else has a theory about this, please write! At some point, the answer will no doubt emerge, but for now, all we do have is theories, and thanks so much for sharing yours!

Mary-Lou said...

That's a really good point about giving a gauge in stocking stitch, for really textured stitches, thanks!

Kathleen C. said...

I agree. I really, really wish gauges were given using stockinette. I've done several items where they used the stitch pattern and it's so hard to read sometimes! (if it involves ribbing do you stretch it and how much? if it involves lace how do do you count including even numbers of YOs and decreases?)

I love the colors in your yarn! And if your kids were willing to not jump off a bridge if seen in them, then the design must look excellent indeed!

Eve said...

You make my day!

Camping Jason said...

These look cool. And I'm really interested in how to avoid the color bumps when you change color in ribbing.

Anonymous said...

I am looking forward for the easy cast on.
Congratulations again and again.

I have printed many of your pages to read them in the tramway when it's too crowded to have a seat and being able to knit !

Merci encore pour vos écrits et schémas magnifiques.
-- stamm92 (From France)

Deborah (aka Mt.Mom) said...

Hey, TECH. How 'bout posting this on Ravelry as a KAL? (I mentioned it on one of the Group boards, but I expect there's an "official" way to invite folks to a craft-along.) Then more knitters could stumble upon your helpful posts!

Patti said...

for some reason lately I've been on a jag to learn new techniques. I sat on the couch with yarn and needles and EZ's Knitters Almanac the other day, and did her Knitted on I-cord, and her double Knitting thing. I was excited beyond what is considered normal, but I was on my own couch! This knit hat is just the thing for me, especially the joggles join thing! Can't wait to find some yarn and join in the fun

Deborah (aka Mt. Mom) said...

My stash is a bit thin in the DK department, so I've been doing a bit of swatching and have a question to help me choose yarns. I usually use a smaller needle on ribs than on stockinette and wonder exactly what texture I should aim for in the swatch: hat-like or a bit more dense? If my stockinette is hat-ish, might I need to size-down for ribs; or maybe a denser stockinette would translate into just-right ribs when using the same needles. . . ?

Advise, please.

--TECHknitter said...

Hi Deborah: I'm not exactly following your question. Please feel free to contact me personally at and I will do my best to answer your question. Thanks for writing!

Gabriel said...

I never seem to get row gauge when I get the right stitch gauge in ANYTHING. (Usually, but not always, my rows are too big.) I do try to do as you suggested and knit items that give length measurements in inches rather than in number of rows. But the difference in row height starts to matter when it comes to shaping. My attempts to jury-rig the measurements have been uneven so far. Do you have any advice?

--TECHknitter said...

Hi Gabriel. I (and, I believe, others) are trying various experiments to try to answer this question, this very VEXING question. At this time, sadly, I do not have an answer, although this issue is certainly on my radar. All theories about this are welcome, by the way, so if you or anyone else has a theory about this, write! In the meanwhile, a mathematical approach is the only solution: work out the number of inches (or centimeters) required for various shapings, take your own row gauge and multiply by the inch/cm measurement and that's the number of rows to go by, NOT the pattern number of rows.

Sorry I have nothing better for you at this time. Perhaps some day...


Anonymous said...

Geez, I came looking for info on jogless stripes, and I found a source of encyclopedic knowledge of knitting! You really know your s... stuf :-)