Saturday, October 10, 2009

Dr Strangegauge: or How I learned to stop worrying and love the swatch.

Yesterday I finished the ribbing on Dad's Alpaca vest. Or, rather, it finished me, and I decided that 20 rows (out of a recommended 24) was quite enough and started on the plain stocking stitch of the body.

I used the 4mm needles called for in the pattern and had about 15 rows done before it started to dawn on me that it didn't look or feel quite right. It was gathering up quite a lot on the 60cm needles, so it was obviously quite large. And the stitches looked...well, ... big. I was on the bus without all of my supplies, so I tried to stretch it out as much as I could on the needles and measure it. 5 stitches to the inch...(there was no way I could get a flat 10cm to count the stitches in that distance)......that makes 20 stitches to 10cm, and the pattern calls for 22. It's okay, maybe I'd stretched it out a little bit when I was trying to get a flat bit. I decided to keep knitting and measure again when I got home and could stretch it out on a longer cable.

When I got home I used my new Knit Pro cable connectors (love them!) to join on a longer cable and pulled it through, then smoothed a section out flat to measure. Ouch. 18 stitches to 10cm. The vest was going to fit your average elephant. (Just in case you were wondering, my Dad is not an elephant).

You may ask why I managed to get so far off track. Didn't my gauge swatch tell me which needles to use?...Um, well, no, because I didn't swatch.  You see, I swatch so rarely it might as well be never. If I measure my gauge at all, I do it partway into the project, which usually works out okay. I knit with 8ply yarn about 80-90% of the time, and I almost always get gauge (or close enough that it doesn't matter) with 4mm needles for all of the 8ply wool or acrylic I've ever used. I think i can count on the fingers of one hand the times when I've been off slightly, and was lucky that always happened on projects where gauge wasn't important.

So I'd obviously been lulled into a false sense of security. I should have known. Not only have I never knit with this yarn before, but I've never knit with this fibre, not even in a blend. In the end, when I did swatch, I had to go down to 3.5mm needles. I suspect I should have redone the ribbing with 3mm needles but I'm not going there again. It's probably not perfect but it looks okay, and Dad's supposed to love it regardless, right?

I ripped back to the end of the ribbing and started the stocking stitch anew with my 3.5mm needles. This is what it looks like now.

I'm not sure how likely this experience is to influence my future swatching behaviour. Despite the title of this post, I don't think it's looking good for future swatches, especially seeing as though the swatch that identified the need for 3.5mm needles was only about 15 rows deep, although it was about 15cm worth of stitches across. Hmmmm. I suppose we'll see what happens next time.

I also got another square finished and sewn onto my Wrap With Love blanket this afternoon. I now have 7 out of 28 squares done. It gives me something to do with the acrylic which has been slinking around in the stash.

Edited about one hour later to add:
And yet still somehow I got it wrong. I've now knitted enough with the 3.5mm needles to work out that I'm getting 21 stitches to 10cm instead of the desired 22.5. (Am I knitting a bit looser due to the weight of the whole piece? Don't think I've done that before.) That's going to result in the vest being 8.5 cm larger around the chest than it should be. Since I had to go up 2cm from Dad's chest measurement to fit one of the pattern sizes, an extra 8.5cm doesn't sound like something we can accommodate. So I'm off to swatch again, and maybe go down a size on the pattern. And this time I'm not going to get away with keeping the existing ribbing. That's going to have to be done on 3mm needles, which had better be good enough, as it's the smallest I've got in a circular needle! Aaaargh. Oh well, at least I'm getting lots of practice at the tubular cast on.

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