Saturday, April 7, 2018

Gauge, a Knitting Tutorial

I can't fix everything, but I can rip and repeat, something not all knitters love to do. You can consider it an opportunity real life seldom offers; a chance to redo, make it better, prettier, before presenting it to the world/recipient. Each day, we wake up with a chance to make this one a better day. Each knitting project, in theory, can be undone and reknitted. (But I draw the line at ever frogging this one.) Here is a recent project, a three-piece set in an accidental three size differentiation.

Pretty, huh? And that quilt in the background? It was made for baby Charles, by a dear friend I knew through a parenting group, a family treasure. Sadly, the layette set I so happily knitted with gauzy dreams of a future baby in mind, is made up of at least three different sizes. There is no baby that is going to be wearing all three pieces at the same time...a question of gauge gone wrong.

What can I say? I found the yarn in a cute shop in Estes Park, just before heading home with five kids in the car. I quickly downloaded a cardigan pattern before I lost all possibility of doing so, and got to knitting. 

Of course, I knit a swatch and checked my gauge before beginning. No I did not. It was for a baby, any baby, how much could gauge matter? It would fit at some age, very briefly, then be passed on to another baby who would be at the right size for about 2 and a half minutes as well. News for me; this sweater would fit a small premie, maybe, or a large doll. Dang. Let's fix this.
First problem; the bottom ribbing is clearly sloppy and loosy-goosy. Need: smaller needles. Always use 1-2 sizes smaller needles for a project's ribbing.

First; before unknitting, use what you've got. Take a ruler and measure the gauge you had with this needle and this yarn. Take a look at your knitting; how did this gauge work out for how you want the piece to look? Measure the dimensions of the piece you achieved with these needles this time through. Compare it with the size of the object you desire, if you want it to fit anyone. Take notes.

To measure gauge: use a sample, ideally, of at least 4" by 4", or 10cm by 10cm. Flatten out the swatch, no stretching, pulling or pushing, and, using a ruler (tape measures can stretch and move, I like rulers better), measure how many stitches you can count in the middle of your swatch in a 1" section. To be more precise, measure across several inches and divide it by that number. DO include half and partial stitches in your overall count. This is your gauge. 

Make a decision, take a deep breath, then frog the whole thing. Eat a large piece of chocolate. It will help, it really will.

Then choose a different needle, and/or change the pattern dimensions; a size up, if you like the look of the gauge you achieved. Maybe I had a limited selection of needles in the car, perhaps I cast on at the neck and that ribbing looked OK, so I did not question it once I arrived at the bottom. Maybe I used different needles for the bottom any case, I will switch to size 1's for the ribbing this time around, as the sweater and hat were knit with size 3's, and clearly, the ribbing should not be. And, for sure, the pattern instructions for this yarn and these needles and my tension, did not produce the right size. 

Once you have measured and compared and NOTED, you have a choice. You may proceed using your pattern, simply going up a size, or you may use your own judgment and measuring skills to decide how many stitches you need to cast on in order to achieve the size you require. For best results, measure the person in question and multiply your gauge by their size, plus an inch for give, if the object in question is a sweater.

Let us say, for instance, that the circumference of the small person's chest is 20" around. Your swatch says you have knit, with this yarn and these needles, a gauge of 6 stitches per inch. To obtain the correct size, you add in an inch for give, then multiply 21X6, for a total number of stitches to cast on of 126.

You do, however, need to knit your swatch in the same way you mean to knit the garment; if you will knit it in the round, knit the swatch in the round. If this seems like a lot of work, just think that a swatch knit in the round, as Elizabeth Zimmerman liked to point out, can be made into a hat; you get two for the price of one. If it will include cables, you had better include cables in the swatch, they take up room and can shrink a knitted piece by quite a bit. A flat, cabled swatch makes a pretty wash cloth. Accuracy comes from paying attention.

If it is for a baby not yet born or it is a surprise or you are knitting for someone who lives far away, here is my best hint ever: go to Ravelry. Read the reviews you can find on the pattern you have chosen. Ravelry is the best thing that has happened to the world of knitting and crocheting since Elizabeth Zimmerman and Barbara Walker. If you are not familiar with it, check it out and sign up for a free account.

On Ravelry, you can search and find a list (with photos) of any project you might ever have dreamed of crafting. You can click on the photo and find out what yarn, pattern and needles were used, what the knitter thought of the pattern, and, if you wish, a short bio of the person who did the handwork. You can send messages and store your projects (finished and future) in your own little box. You can even find a skein of yarn for that awful moment when you realize the yarn you begun a project with three years ago is no longer available, and that you will not have enough to finish it, and some kind soul is willing to ship it to you, for free, from Germany...true story. 

Look me up if you stop by; on Ravelry, I am deartricot. You can post your own name in comments too.

Happy knitting!

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