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")