Monday, October 12, 2009

Got Gauge?

My thoughts on gauge are a lot like my thoughts on patterns. I sort of do my own thing and go with the flow.

My approach to swatching has changed.

When I first started knitting I was in such a hurry to get going that I would just do a 'quick & dirty' swatch to find out the number of stitches per inch in stockinette stitch.  I would look at the yarn label, cast on the number of stitches that "should" make 6 inches, knit 4-5 rows in garter stitch and then 4-5 rows in stockinette, then measure.  If I liked the way it looks and liked the way it felt while I was making the stitches then I would rip it out and away we would go.

I still do that every once in a while.  I've learned some patience and mellowed a bit but I'm not gonna lie to you. I still do a 'Q&D' every once in a while. For the most part though, I have learned to enjoy swatching for swatching's sake.

Because I rarely use someone else's pattern I am free to chose my yarns based solely on what I like.  I base my choices on what speaks to me at the time. I may have a specific color or fiber or yarn weight in mind. Or not.  What's on sale that day also plays a part in my choices (now more than ever).

Most recently, I have had this little jacket in mind.  It is cropped.  It is asymmetrical (in shape and stitch pattern).  It is fitted.  It is for spring.  It has 3/4 length sleeves.  It has a gauge of 4-6 stitches per inch in stockinette. On a size 5-7 needle.  It is 'electric' blue. It has good stitch definition.

When I started looking for the yarn that this sweater-in-my-mind is made out of I ran into some problems.  The first yarn I found that seemed to fit the bill was Noro. I forget which ones because I love them all and enjoy mixing them.  That was the problem.  I made two of my last three sweaters out of Noro (Kuryon & Silk Garden Sock Yarn). I know I will making more sweaters out of Noro's lovely yarns just not this one.  When I finally tore myself away from the Noro goodness I had a really hard time finding anything. All the amazing blue yarns that were the right color were too heavy. So I kept reminding myself to "Think Spring". Think Spring, think Spring, think Spring. And as I walked around the Yarn Basket I saw a basket of this:

(imagine picture of cozy, pastelly, yarn.  I will photograph soon.  I promiss.  When the light is good.  But I wanted to get this post up in the meantime. )

Great Adirondak's 100% Alpacca in soft sweet pastels.

It was love at first sight.  So, the little jacket I am knitting now is going to fall short of the S.I.M.M. because it is NOT that magical color of blue, and it will not have the tailored look I wanted.  That's okay.  As I knit it I am thinking that I will add a little bit of ruffle detail to accentuate it's soft, feminine feel.

Meanwhile, I didn't give up on finding THE yarn that is going to make THAT jacket.  I looked around Kathy's stash-for-sale at Colonial Yarn and found IT. The only problem (although it is not really a problem more of a misconception on my part) is that it is cotton.  With cotton in hand I searched the shop again. No luck. I never imagined that a cotton (not my favorite fiber) would be the answer but it is.

So, I bought 8 skeins of that perfect blue and 2 skeins of a darker almost navy blue for trim accent.  When I got home I started swatching.

(Insert picture of swatch.  No, not the picture from the phone.  A better picture.  Take it when you get off your ass to take the picture above.)

Swatching for stitch patterns (and gauge) is one of my favorite things now.  The goal of this kind of swatching is to decide on a needle size, get the gauge measurements, and most importantly play.  In playing I find out what kinds of stitches and stitch patterns look best with the chosen yarn.  Since the goal is to play and then choose a favorite or favorites I don't feel the sense of impatience to 'finish'.  In this case, I swatched a whole skein (only 70+ yards) to get an idea of the coverage I am going to get from each skein.

(While you are at it, take a couple of pictures of the Got Gauge Sweater and put them here so people can understand what you are talking about when you blather on about the mathematical relationships between the multiple gauges, blah, blah, blah.)

My last Noro sweater taught me that gauge can be your friend, and that playing with gauge can be fun and effective.  For this sweater,whose name incidentally is the same as this post title, I wanted to do something different with sock yarn.  I experimented with different needle sizes.  The first size I tried was a US 2.  I got a gauge of 6 stitches per inch.  Then I went up to a US 9 and got 4.5 stitches per inch.  Lastly I tried a US 13 and got 3 stitches per inch.  I had made notations of the three needle sizes and the three gauge numbers.  As I was trying to decide which swatch's stitches I liked best I looked at the numbers and realized there was a mathematical relationship between them that made sense to me.  So, I made a sweater whose main gauge is 4.5. The lower half and sleeves have a very lacy and flowy feel in a  gauge of 3. The finished edges are closely knit and ruffly and the sleeve seems are very finely knit in a gauge of 6.  Because the numbers are mathematically related the increases and decreases were simple.  So, in this case, gauge was my friend and co-designer. 

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