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My track record with gauge March 30, 2010

Posted by Fiona in Craftiness, Knitting, Look what I did, Sheer bloody-mindedness.

This post is going to be fairly heavily knitting-related compared with usual, so I apologise in advance if some of you sane and reasonable folk out there don’t quite get what I’m on about; I’ll try to be clear.

Gauge is the number of stitches of knitting you get per inch.  It changes depending on the size of needles you’re using, the thickness of the yarn, the style of the knitter (how you hold the yarn and how tight you pull it, for instance) and the stitch pattern.  For example, in these fingerless gloves, the twisted cables (four stitches) are at a tighter gauge than the ribbing stripes with the beads on (two stitches).

The effect of this is that if I cast on fifty stitches and knit them with just ribbing, it’s going to be a lot wider than if I knit them with cables.  I might compensate by changing the size of my needles: if I use bigger needles, I’m going to get fewer stitches per inch.  The reason gauge is vitally important is that if, say, a sweater pattern says cast on 200 stitches at 5 stitches per inch, and you cast on 200 stitches at 6 stitches per inch, you’re going to get a sweater that’s coming up to seven inches too small for you around.  That’s a lot of breathing in.

The point of this is that before you start a project you knit a swatch: a small bit of unpatterned knitting (I think you’re supposed to go for something four inches across) with the yarn and needles you’re planning on using, and you compare that with the pattern, which will usually tell you what gauge you’re supposed to get, and then you tinker a bit with your needle sizes until you get something comparable.  Some people even wash their swatches to see if it’ll still look like that when they’ve washed the finished garment, or if it’ll stretch.  Sound logical?  Yes.  Sound like far too much effort when you just want to get on and knit something pretty?  Equally so.  Herein lies my problem: I hate swatching with a passion.

Anyway, Elizabeth Zimmerman is a woman for whom and upon whose advice I would do many things, including wasting an hour of my life knitting a small square that’s only going to get unknitted again immediately afterwards.  So I knitted a three-and-a-bit-inch swatch and came up with a gauge of 4 1/2 stitches per inch.  I was supposed to get 5 spi, but the fabric looked just about what I wanted, so I mucked about with the maths a bit and cast on 140 stitches.  All well and good until about four inches into the sweater, when I measured it again for posterity’s sake and discovered that actually, my gauge was bang on 5 spi.  Evidently when I swatched I’d been stretching the fabric a bit.  I thought I’d been being careful!  So I swore loudly, as you do, and decided the best thing for me to do was not to rip back four inches of pullover, because that would make the last few hours utterly useless, but to increase a stitch every fourteen to make my stitch count up to 150.

Now, I can’t see how I could have done this better – I used a backwards loop increase, which seemed to me to be the least visible one, but in fact resulted in this:

…a small, but altogether absolutely clear, hole.  (Holy blurry photos, Batman!)  (Parentheses 2: I’m sorry the stitches look uneven, I’m blaming it on the fact that the yarn is Rowan Cotton Jeans, which is essentially 100% cotton worsted weight rope, and muttering earnestly under my breath about it being rustic.)

Not sure about that?  Think I might have got away with it?  Let’s see two of those in situ:

I’ve decided if I’m bubbly and outgoing while wearing it, and/or wearing a belt, then nobody will notice.

Anyway, I got to the end of the round, discovered I was a stitch short, so did my usual trick of knitting into the front and back of the last stitch.  Headdesk.

The knitter’s curse.  It’s a small mistake.  But I know it’s there.

Anyway, it’s (probably) the right size now – I tried it on and it seems to be okay.  I feel like a better knitter for having messed around with gauge, and learned a lot more about it, and been a bit more confident in my own mistake-fixing capabilities, even if they are ridiculously bodged and if I’d been making this pullover for anyone else I would have ripped back to the beginning in the first place.  I feel more confident for having discovered that it’s not the end of the world.

But seriously, though.  It’s only stocking stitch.  It’s my first proper jumper, and it was intended as an experiment anyway.  And besides, who doesn’t modify patterns when they realise they’ve made a mistake?

Don’t answer that.



1. Lucy - March 30, 2010

If it makes you feel any better, I have just interfaced and carefully sewn in an inside waistband piece (smaller) where I should have an outer waistband piece (larger). Am I unpicking all that overlock stitch? Am I heck!

Watch out for a ‘feature’ on this one…

2. Fiona - March 31, 2010

Oh no! I look forward to it – does it still fit okay, though? Bodging makes the world go round, I’m certain of it. Measure twice, dear, measure twice 😛

3. redfear - April 28, 2010

It is indeed a small mistake and doubtful one that would be noticed by anyone else when you’re wearing it. Unless they’re a knitter, even then doubtful and if they’re looking at it THAT closely – smack ’em ; )

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