Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Ravellenics Sweater SUCCESS, Finishing Other Things, and a Crazy Cat

Great news! I finished my sweater on Friday night (day 15)!!!  By the time it was done Friday, I was too tired to deal with blocking it, but I did that Saturday morning.
In this photo, the ribbed fronts/neck are folded back. Once it was dry, I didn't like the crease that was formed, so I steamed it a bit to remove the crease. I love it so much. It's warm and cozy, but looks really nice too.

Inspired by the fact that I finished a complete sweater in 15 days, I started looking at my other projects to see what else I can finish when I put my mind to it. Saturday, I finished my Dreambird Shawl.
I promise better pictures of both items as soon as I get a chance. My iPhone just doesn't take stellar pics.

So, having completed that, I went for something a little more difficult. Back in July 2012, I started the Evenstar Shawl. The body of the shawl has been done for a long time. Well over a year. I just needs an edging. So, I pulled it out. About 10 repeats of the edging were done. That's when I gave up. I love the way lace edgings look, I just don't enjoy knitting them. It's the same few rows over and over and over again until you feel like poking your eyes out with your knitting needles. Well, guess what! The time has come for me to just suck it up and get it done.
Each repeat of the edging (one of those peaks) takes about 18 minutes. The shawl requires 56 of those buggers. That's 1008 minutes of knitting just those 20 rows over and over and over again. That's almost 17 hours. I have 23 repeats done. It would take a lot longer if I were adding the beads (as called for in the pattern). But I'm not. Thank God.

In other completely unrelated news, one of our cats has taken to keeping me company when I shower in the morning. It's the weirdest thing. He jumps up between the fabric curtain and the plastic curtain liner. Then, he walks to the back of the tub and sticks his head into the shower. He meows at me the entire time I'm showering. It's like he warning me about the evil water I'm standing in. It's hilarious.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Ravellenics Sweater: Day 13

I still don't have anything terribly exciting to report. Knitting 1x1 rib over 371 stitches for 8" of depth is sort of like knitting the Great Wall. It feels like it will never end.
Doesn't look a whole lot different from yesterday. But, trust me, there are a good 2 or 2.5 more inches of ribbing now than there were before.
I don't have anything on my schedule this evening once I pick my daughter up from her flute lesson at 5:30, so maybe (hopefully!) I will get the ribbing done tonight.

When I was laying my sweater out to get the photos above, I was struck again by how much I love the Phoney Seam.
In this picture (more than the ones from the other day), you can really see how the "seam" almost sits on top of the fabric, encouraging it to fold there. I just love it. It looks so nice and finished.

I'm really excited about finishing this and seeing how it looks!!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Ravellenics Sweater: Day 12

I don't have any brilliant advice to share with you today. No pictures of special techniques or information about how to calculate anything. Just a picture of my sweater and a few of inches of ribbing. It's going faster than I thought it would and isn't eating as much yarn as I feared it might. I don't think it will get finished tonight because we have too much going on, but maybe tomorrow....

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Ravellenics Sweater: Day 11 and Phoney Seams

Yesterday was wonderful. Due to being able to knit at work for a while AND our evening plans being cancelled due to snow/ice, I had tons of knitting time yesterday. The main body of the sweater is DONE!
First thing this morning, I picked up a gazillion stitches up the right front, around the back of the neck, and down the left front. Now I get to knit 7.5" of 1x1 ribbing all the way around. I have about 288g of yarn left, which should work out really well with a minimum of yarn left over.

Let's talk for a minute about Phoney Seams. These were an "unvention" of Elizabeth Zimmermann (unvention instead of invention because she didn't believe there was anything in knitting that hadn't already been done by someone, even if it hadn't been recorded). Phoney Seams were the result of people complaining that seamless sweaters didn't hang right because they were missing the seams, which gave a certain amount of structure and support to the garment. I like Phoney Seams for that reason, but also because they give a definite fold point to the side "seams" when blocking. To see exactly how to do a Phoney Seam, follow the link above. I just wanted to show you a couple of pics of how mine turned out.

First, dropping that one stitch down always makes me cringe a little. It's not like I'm worried I can't fix it or that I'm stressing about it not being right. I'm not sure why, but cringe I do. Look at that wide gap where just one column of stitches used to be.
But, then, after spending a few minutes picking the stitches up with the right ration (1 bar, 2 bars, 1 bar, 2 bars, and so on), it looks like this:
See that nice line of Vs that stand out from the rest? Lovely and perfect.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Ravellenics Sweater: Days 8, 9, and 10 and More Math and Injuries

Now that I'm working on the body, I probably need to start thinking about how much yarn I will need for the wide ribbing that will go around the fronts and neck of the sweater. I know it will be 1x1 ribbing and will be 7 1/2" deep (at least). How do I make sure I save enough yarn for that?

Well, if I was knitting the sweater on the same size needles with which I swatched, it would be pretty easy. Remember the swatch? Here's what it looked like:
See that bit of 1x1 rib on the left? I could count the number of rows and note how many stitches wide it is, then measure it. Note all those numbers. Then unravel it and see how much yardage was used for that bit.

However, I did not knit the sweater on the same size needles as the swatch. So, I'll have to knit another. This one won't be as involved as the first one! I'll cast on 30 sts and knit 1x1 rib ..... honestly: until I get sick of it. Ideally, I would knit that swatch to 7 1/2" long. This would give me a very good (but probably not exact) idea of how many rows it takes to knit 7 1/2" of 1x1 rib. The weight of the sweater as I'm knitting will affect this a bit. Let's face it: 7 1/2" is a lot, and I will honestly not knit that much for a swatch.

Once the new swatch is complete, I'll do the same counting, measuring and unraveling I would have done with the existing swatch.

Here's where it gets a little tricky. The longer I knit my sweater, the more yarn I'll need for the wide ribbed band. So, it's not like I can say, "Okay, this band will take 200g of yarn. I'll knit until I have that much left over." What if knitting until I have that much left over results in needing 210g of yarn for the band? If I want to use as much of my yarn as possible with a minimum left over at the end, I'm going to have to work some magic. I'll have to go into it with a rough estimate, then measure and work the numbers regularly as I approach desired length.

If I'm willing to fudge a bit and overestimate and end up with some yarn leftover (which I am), that makes it a little easier. I know I want my sweater to be 30" long. So, I just have to figure out how much yarn I'll need to go 30" up each side and 7 1/2" around the back neck. Easy, right?

I knit a swatch of 1x1 ribbing on size US6 needles (which I completely forgot to photograph before I ripped it out to measure the yarn). I will admit to skimping a lot on the swatch. It was only 5" wide by about 1 1/2" deep (I was seriously lazy on this). The swatch used about 6.3 yards of yarn (3g). I need to knit 67 1/2" of ribbing that is 7 1/2" deep. So, if 5"x1 1/2"=6.3 yards, then 5"x7 1/2" =  31.5 yards. So, for every 5" of ribbing, I will use about 31.5 yards of yarn. For 67 1/2" of ribbing, I should use about 425.25 yards of yarn, which works out to almost exactly 200g. That's a really rough estimate. I'm going to make sure I have a bit more than that just to be safe--maybe 250g. And that shouldn't be a problem because I started with ten 100g balls.

OK! So, enough about math. Let's look at how my weekend knitting shaped up. Friday night, even though it was Valentine's Day, my son had two basketball games (he's in a rec league for middle schoolers). That was a lot of knitting time. By the end of the day Friday, my sweater looked like this:
I had made pretty decent progress on the body. At this point, I knew I was increasing at the side seams every 6 rounds because I'm somewhat pear-shaped, and I need more fabric go go around my hips than around my bust. When following a "regular" sweater pattern, I often use one size for the top part of the sweater and a size or two up for the bottom part. So, the rows are getting longer by 4 stitches every 6 rounds. Translation: the knitting is going more slowly.

Saturday morning, I had to clean my house. It was driving me freaking nuts and I just couldn't take it anymore. We also went out for an early dinner Saturday late-afternoon to celebrate the kids' golds at Solo & Ensemble, Tim's 40th birthday (which was Wednesday), and Valentine's Day, so that ate into my knitting time a bit. Even so, by the end of the day Saturday, it looked like this:
Sunday was quiet. Thank heaven! I had my usually early-morning grocery trip, and Sunday is always laundry day. At one point, my husband and kids said, "Let's all go see the Lego Movie." My reply: You go ahead. I'll just stay here and finish the laundry. And knit. And watch the Olympics. They were gone several hours (because they also ran some errands), which was glorious. It was nice and quiet and just about perfect. By the end of the day, my sweater looked like this:
I'm getting there! I honestly believe I'll be able to pick up the stitches for the front/neck ribbing before the end of the day today! I'm really ahead of schedule!

One price we sometimes pay for overzealous anything is injury. Olympians experience it all the time. When I was watching Snowboardcross yesterday afternoon, I saw two women suffer injuries that took them out of the rest of the Games. One blew out her knee. The other...well, I'm not sure specifically what got injured, but watching her crash, I was surprised she didn't break her neck. It was really scary.

While knitting injuries are rare, they usually involve some kind of repetitive stress--carpal tunnel, tennis elbow, etc. Mine is, thankfully, not as severe as either of those. I managed to knit so much that I actually punctured the skin on my index finger where I push to slide the stitches up the left needle. Apparently, I always push in the exact same spot. It's a hard habit to break. Every time the needle tip hits there accidentally, I about go through the roof. I'm making a concerted effort to pinch the tip of the left needle when I have to push the stitches up, but it's just not as fast.
It's not a career-ender, or even a game-ender, so that's good! I'm working around it, and I'm determined to finish! LOL!

Friday, February 14, 2014

Ravellenics Sweater: Day 7

Yesterday was a spectacularly successful day of knitting that put me a day ahead on my goals! I had a 2-hour meeting yesterday with a few of my favorite colleagues who don't mind at all if I knit during meetings. They know I am usually even more attentive if my hands are busy. So that really helped. Here's how far I got yesterday:

It kind of looks like some sort of weird crab, doesn't it? LOL!

Several people have asked me why I knit the sleeves before the body. It's entirely a matter of preference. There's no right or wrong way. I prefer knitting the sleeves first because then I don't have the bulk of the body of the sweater to wrestle with while knitting the comparatively small circumference sleeves. I also mentioned this a few days ago when I discussed hand painted yarns. I also find that if I wait until after the body is done, I'm more likely to get lazy and knit short sleeves instead of long.

I know what you are thinking. OK, so I didn't have to wrestle with the body while knitting the sleeves, but now I have to wrestle with the sleeves flopping around while knitting the body. What's up with that? The solution:
I fold the sleeves over the back of the body and secure the entire thing with this giant safety-pin style stitch holder. Works perfectly for keeping the sleeves out of the way and neatly contained while I knit the body.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Ravellenics Sweater: Days 4, 5, and 6 AND Interchangeable Needles

Have I mentioned yet how much I love the Olympics? I'm not really a sporty kind of girl. At all. I enjoy watching football, and that's about it. I loathe basketball but tolerate it for the sake of my son, who really enjoys playing basketball. And for the sake of my daughter, who is in pep band. (Yes, I realize my hatred for basketball is entirely at odds with the fact that I was born and raised in Indiana.) But the Olympics! It's the international representation and the camaraderie and the fact that we don't get to watch these kinds of sports all the time. I mean, Luge? I watch luge exactly once every four years. And it's amazing! Curling? Please! I love curling! But the only time I get to watch it on TV is during the Olympics. (Also, curling is really fun; if you a have a local curling club, check them out!)
That's me at the club in Indy. Five years ago!

Last night, as soon as I got home, I flipped on the TV to CNBC to watch curling. At 7:30, my son (bless his little 12-year-old heart) said, "When this is over, can we please watch something all of us want to watch?" I said, "Sure!" He said, "When will this be over? " I said, "February 23." He didn't like that too much, and replied, "That's what I was afraid of."

So, it's been a few days since I updated you on my sweater. At the end of Day 4, it looked like this:

You can see that I started one of the sleeves. It's so much easier to knit the sleeves at this point rather than waiting until the body is done and then having to wrestle the entire sweater around to knit the sleeves.

I forgot to take a pic at the end of Day 5. But, at the end of Day 6, it looked like this:
Yes! The first sleeve is complete and the second started!!  Also, it's amazing how different light makes the colors in this yarn look different. The first picture was taken in the back room at work under fluorescent lights. The second was taken on the floor in my living room last night under soft white whatever bulbs my husband put in the lamps. (He firmly hates the compact fluorescents, so I know it's not those.)

I'm hopeful to get a good portion of that second sleeve done today, and the goal is to have both sleeves done by the end of the day Friday. That would give me almost a week to complete the body and a couple of days (weekend days!) to do the bands around the fronts and neck.

One thing I have really come to love with this project is my Knitter's Pride Symfonie Dreamz Interchangeable Circular Needles. Not that I didn't love them before, but with this project in particular, they have been a huge time saver. I use the cables and end caps as stitch holders. So, when I'm ready to knit, all I have to do is attach the needle tips and go. No slipping stitches around, no picking up stitches from a spare thread. It's wonderful.
See the red circles? Those mark where the end caps are. While I was knitting the body, the back neck and sleeve stitches were each held on separate 16" cables. (The cables themselves aren't 16" long; they are used along with short needle tips to create 16" needles.) I should point out that the sets don't come with oodles of cables. However, the cables are super cheap--less than $3 each, and they come with end caps. Totally worth it!

Monday, February 10, 2014

Ravellenics Sweater: Days 2 and 3 and a Tip about Hand Painted Yarn

This weekend was kind of a whirlwind. Friday night's opening ceremonies were.....interesting. Not my favorite opening ceremonies ever. The projection effects were really cool. The Swan Lake thing was kind of weird. They looked more like big jellyfish. The symbolism used throughout (like the red cogs and gears for Communism) was interesting. I keep using the word "interesting." But, my favorite part is always the Parade of Nations. I love watching all of the athletes enter the stadium, so proud to represent their countries. Seeing all the different outfits is always fun too. I loved Germany's brightly colored coats and pants. Lithuania was awesome in green--they looked like big limes. Slovenia looked fresh and bright in white, lime and turquoise. Canada and Russia both looked classically amazing. Great Britain, Japan, and Australia were kind of boring. Of course, you always have the tropical island nations dressed in shorts (Bermuda, we're looking at you). But the USA just looked stupid. I'm sorry. I know their outfits were made in the USA with USA-sourced materials and designed by Ralph Lauren, who is USA through and through. But they looked stupid. Ugliest outfits ever for the USA in the history of the Olympics.
So, enough about those sweaters. Let's talk about MY sweater. During the opening ceremonies, I was able to knit part of the back and enough of each front to pick up the sleeve stitches first thing Saturday morning. 
You might notice that these needles are different than those with which I cast on Friday afternoon. This is another way knitters need to be flexible. I cast on with US7s, which is what I used for my swatch, and after a few rows, it just felt too loose. Rather than fight my instincts, I followed them. I pulled out those few rows and cast on again with US6s, and it just feels perfect. I measured my gauge, and it was definitely the right decision. So, that's where I was at the end of the day Friday.

We spent Saturday morning at ISSMA (Indiana State School Music Association) Solo & Ensemble. Tori was performing with a flute ensemble and a solo. Her two performance times were about an hour and a half apart. Needless to say, I brought my sweater. But, before we get to that, allow me to brag on Tori for a moment. While she had the experience of performing with an ensemble last year, she had never gone to S&E with a solo before. For her first solo, she performed at Division I level, which is the most difficult. She got gold!!!  Which means she will go to State Solo & Ensemble in March. I'm so proud of her!!!!

In the interest of giving equal time to my kids, I would also like to share that last Saturday, Aaron competed at S&E and earned gold for his Division V piano solo. He's been taking piano lessons for less than a year, so that's why the Division V. BUT, we're equally proud of him even though Division V golds don't get to go to state. 
Okay! Enough bragging on my kids. Let's get back to that sweater! I took it with me to S&E so I could work on it during down time between performances. I was able to pick up the sleeve stitches and get a few more rows in. This is what it looked like when we got home just before noon:
Saturday afternoon was a little crazy. We had a few errands to run and Tori had a birthday party to attend in the evening. So, I wasn't able to just sit and knit all day. I still managed to get quite a bit done. I was far enough on the sleeve caps that I could fold the front over the back. 
Sunday was also a little crazy. I always do laundry and get groceries for the week on Sunday. This Sunday, I also made a lasagna and a giant batch of chicken and noodles. Over the past few months, I've found it's just easier to cook all of the food for the week on Sunday afternoons, then eat "leftovers" every night for dinner. It's worked well so far.  But, yesterday, it kind of cut into my knitting time. I was still able to reach my goal of getting to the underarms by the end of the weekend, though! 
I also want to take a moment to talk about hand painted yarn. I *love* hand painted yarn. But (there's always a but), it's not the easiest yarn in the world to work with. If you're doing a small project that only needs one skein (like a hat), you're fine. But, as soon as you introduce a second or third skein (or even more!), you have to deal with variations. As is the nature of anything made by hand, these yarns are not perfect. They do not have dye lots and they are never identical. Here are the skeins I'm using for my sweater. The yarn (as I've said before) is Malabrigo Rios in the Arco Iris colorway.
Right away, it's pretty obvious that these skeins are each unique. The one on the top right is decidedly lighter than the one in the center bottom. The one on the bottom right has more green in it than most of the others. There's no denying each skein is different even though they all contain basically the same colors. And, sometimes, once they are wound, the difference become even more obvious.
Look at that bottom skein! It doesn't even look like the same colorway anymore, and there are definite differences between the other three. But, I assure you, they are all Arco Iris.

So, what's a knitter to do? We don't want our projects to look like this when we change skeins:
That's my River in Summer shawl/wrap/vest thing, which I am wearing today.  Because of the lighting in my office, the difference looks much more drastic than it really is (I hope!). See where it goes from dark purple to more green? That's where I switched to a new skein. (The yarn is Briar Rose Wistful, which I love so much there aren't even words.) This drastic line could have been avoided if I'd just taken a few extra precautions.

I know you've heard it before. When knitting with hand painted yarns, alternate between skeins to even out any color differences.

What does that really mean? It does NOT mean choosing two skeins and alternating every two rows between them until you have used them up and then switching to two more skeins. It means alternating between all of your skeins more or less equally. If you are using something that is feltable, you can spit splice every time you join a new skein to avoid an abundance of ends. However, if you are using a machine-washable yarn, this probably means you will have a lot of ends to weave in. It's a small price to pay for a finished garment that looks amazing. Here's how I'm doing it: I use two skeins to work 6 or 8 rows, alternating between them every two rows. Then I switch out at least one of the skeins, but sometimes both. I also make sure the skeins I'm alternating between are significantly different. Like I'd use a more green skein with a more red skein. This also helps avoid any pooling of colors that can sometimes happen with hand painted yarns.

The only real drawback I can think of with this method (other than the potential of many more ends to weave in) is making sure you reserve enough yarn for sleeves and front bands/collars. With a garment using industrially dyed yarn that is all the same dye lot, it's easy to set aside three skeins for the sleeves and not touch them until you are ready to do the sleeves. But, with this method, you want a little bit of each skein in all parts of the sweater. I'm planning to work around that by knitting the sleeves once the body is about 2-3" beyond the underarm. Remember, I'm knitting this sweater top-down, so I'll pick up the sleeve stitches and knit both sleeves before completing the body. Then, I'll just have to make sure I have enough yarn for the bands of ribbing around the fronts and neckline. We'll save that math for another day, though.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Ravellenics Sweater: Final Preparations and Day 1

Today (Feb 7) is the beginning of the Ravellenics, formerly known as Knitting Olympics. The idea is that you choose a project that will be a challenge to you and knit it during the Olympics. The swatch featured in yesterday's post is for my Ravellenics sweater. Over the next couple of weeks, I'll walk you through my process of a) redesigning a sweater and b) participating in Ravellenics. 

Last night, my dining table looked like this:
Then, a little while later, it looked like this:
That's the "why are you sitting here instead of on the couch where I can snuggle with you" look.

For me, this is what designing--or redesigning--a sweater looks like. I knit a swatch (as I described yesterday), and then I get down to business.

In this case, I'm not really designing a sweater from scratch. I'm starting with the schematic from the Autumnal Cardigan by Hannah Fettig. This is a really lovely sweater, but I wanted to make a few changes. First, the pattern calls for sport weight yarn, but I'm using worsted weight. Specifically, I'm using Malabrigo Rios. The original pattern is also knit from the bottom up and seamed. Of course, I want to knit mine seamlessly from the top. I'm making enough very significant changes to the design that I could (if I really wanted to) call it my own. But, I'm a give-credit-where-credit-is-due kind of girl. So, this is my own personalized version of the Autumnal Cardigan.

So, once the swatch is knit and the gauge determined, what's next?

First, I gather up my resources. I have the Fall 2010 issue of Knitscene where the Autumnal Cardigan first appeared (as the Carrot Cardigan), so I got that out to consult the schematic. I also got out my copy of Knitting from the Top by Barbara Walker, several sheets of paper, a couple of pencils, my iPad and my laptop. (The iPad is for viewing the PDF of Knitscene; the laptop is for charting and typing up instructions.)

I start by redrawing the schematic with the measurements I want to use. I try to keep the proportions similar to what was in the original sweater, but I make changes based on my own measurements. For example, I know that I'm a smaller size in the bust than at the hips. And, since this is a long-ish sweater, I will want to account for that by increasing more after the waist shaping. Once I have my schematic drawn up with measurements, I start converting those measurements to stitch counts. These are still sort of rough estimates because I haven't plugged in any actual construction techniques yet. But, it gives me a good idea what I'm shooting for.

Now it's time to consult Ms. Walker about construction and start actually writing down what I'm going to do.  I know I want a top-down sweater with set-in sleeves, and I know I want to knit the sleeve caps along with the body (rather than picking up and knitting the sleeves later). So, I plug in the numbers and start doing the math.
Why don't I use a calculator? I don't know. I get some kind of odd pleasure out of doing it longhand, I guess. I mean, it's not like it's complicated. It's addition, subtraction,multiplication, and division. Plus, it's just faster. It takes longer to open the calculator app on my phone than it does to just do the math. And, yes, I realize that some of those things are so simple that I should be able to do them in my head. And I could. It just helps me to be able to see it.

Next step: make the math work with the schematic. This is where it can get tricky and require a little finagling. In most cases, I'm perfectly happy and willing to fudge an inch worth of stitches here or there to make it all work. I frequently use Excel to help me with this. I set the row height to 9.75 and the column width to 1.29 and use that to chart stuff. It is fabulous for creating color work and lace charts, but it works well for getting a general visual representation of things too. When I can't quite wrap my head around how something is going to go together, I use Excel to chart it. For example, here are the short rows for the shoulder shaping:
And here's one sleeve and the back of the sweater to help me get an idea of how the sleeve cap increases and the body will fit together.
That last one required quite a bit of finagling to get the final stitch counts where I wanted them. But, finagle I did, and now it works! I should end up with a nice, slightly oversized sweater that looks mostly like the Autumnal Cardigan.

My next step is to write rough instructions that make sense to me.
So, that was last night. Today is the big cast on day!! I wasn't able to cast on right at 11am with many of the Ravellenics knitters because I was at work. However, I did take a short break in the afternoon to cast on and knit a couple of rows.
I can't wait to see how much I can accomplish tonight during opening ceremonies!

Thursday, February 6, 2014

On Gauge: Swatches and why they are big fat lying liars and why you should knit them anyway

Every knitter knows you are supposed to knit a gauge swatch before you start a new project. No matter what. Seriously. It doesn't matter if you are using a yarn and stitch pattern you are familiar with, you are supposed to knit a gauge swatch. Why? To make sure you are using the right size needles, resulting in the right tension, and ultimately resulting in the right size garment.

How do you knit a gauge swatch? Most knitters (and at one point in my knitting life, I was guilty of this too), cast on 10 or 15 stitches, work in pattern (usually stockinette) until they have an inch or so of knitting, then get out a ruler or tape measure and count how many stitches they have in one inch. They leave the stitches on the needle while they are doing this and sometimes even count the selvage stitches.

This is wrong.

I know I always say, "There's no wrong way in knitting," and usually that's true. But when it comes to swatching, the method described above is 100% wrong. Don't waste your time. You'd do just as well to not swatch at all. Seriously.

Leaving the stitches on the needle instead of binding off distorts the gauge. It allows you to squish or stretch the knitting to match what you want it to be, and it will look right because the needle forces the stitches to stay put. Measuring over just one inch does you no good at all. It's very easy to ignore that fraction of a stitch over one inch, but over 4 inches, 1/4 of a stitch per inch (that you didn't notice over one inch) becomes a whole stitch, which is significant to the size of your finished garment. As for including selvage stitches in that measurement, just don't do it! Because they are at the selvage, they are shaped funny and not a good indicator of what size the majority of your stitches will be.

So, now let's talk about how you are supposed to knit a gauge swatch. When I swatch (and I'll openly admit I don't always do it!), I cast on at least 6 inches worth of stitches (or what I think will be 6 inches worth of stitches) and work in pattern to at least 4-6 inches long. If there is more than one stitch pattern in the garment, I will try all of them on my swatch. I'll knit one stitch pattern for a few inches, then switch to the next one. So, my swatch might end up longer than 6 inches, but it's always about 6 inches wide.

I know what you're thinking: Seriously, Amanda?! Why would you do that?! If the pattern says, "X stitches and x rows over 4 inches in stockinette stitch, why bother knitting the other stitch patterns?" I have a few reasons. First, it gives me a chance to see if I like knitting those stitch patterns. There are a lot of stitch patterns out there that look great but are a giant pain to actually knit. Better to discover that now rather than later. Another reason is to see if the stitch pattern and my yarn work well together. I enjoy knitting with hand painted yarns, and sometimes the pattern that I'm working so hard to create is lost in the riot of colors in the yarn. Again, better to discover that now. Finally, it gives me a chance to become familiar with all of the stitch patterns used in the garment and ask any questions or look up any unfamiliar techniques before actually starting the garment. That way, there are no surprises.

As you can see in the swatch below, I worked 2x2 ribbing, then stockinette, then 1x1 ribbing. I wasn't sure which ribbing I would prefer, so I tried both. I even picked up stitches along the edge and knit a bit of 1x1 ribbing, the same way the band of the cardigan will be worked. I prefer the way the 2x2 looks, but it pulls in too much. So, for the bottom band, I'll probably use 1x1. I'll decide for sure after it's blocked, but we have a few things to do before we get to that point.

Okay, so you've knit your 6" x 6" swatch. Now what? Lay it flat and measure it. Note it's dimensions as well as your stitch and row gauge. Write it down.


In these pictures, it might look like the right side is stretched a bit. It's not. I just unrolled the stockinette portion to get an accurate measurement. It is not stretched. My swatch measures 5 3/8" long X 7" wide.

Let's pause for a minute and talk about how to measure gauge. There are tons of tools out there that you can buy to help you measure your gauge. Don't waste your money. A ruler or tape measure (which I'm sure you already have) works just fine. Some folks just lay a ruler or tape measure on their knitting and count. That's kind of a quick and dirty way to do it. However, because you are holding the measuring device on the knitting, you are altering the gauge and will end up with an inaccurate measurement. But, I will admit that this is just being picky. That said, here's how I recommend measuring your gauge. I can't remember where I learned this; if I did, I would give credit where it's due because I think it's brilliant.

Lay your knitting flat (really flat; not on the arm of the couch or over your thigh; really flat, like on a table on the floor) and place a pin through a column of stitches. Make sure this is not in the selvedge. See how my pin below is several stitches in from the edge? That's what you want.

Gently, without squishing or stretching the fabric, measure 4 inches (or more, if you can) from that pin and place another pin.
Remove the ruler or tape and count your stitches. Include any fraction of a stitch and divide by the number of inches. Now you have your gauge. I got 20 1/2 stitches over 4". That's 5 1/8 sts/inch. Yes, that 1/8 stitch is important, but we'll get to that in a minute.

Now measure the row gauge the same way.
Count the Vs. I got 13 rows over 2". (Yeah, only 2"....the ribbing sections are each a little over an inch. I will admit to scrimping here a bit. I really should have done at least a full 4" of stockinette.)

Moving on: So you have your swatch, you've measured and noted its actual dimensions, and you've checked the gauge. And now you think you are done, don't you? Not so fast, grasshopper! It's time to give your swatch a bath. Treat the swatch the same way you will treat your finished garment. If you will machine wash and dry the garment, do the same to the swatch. If you will hand wash the garment, do the same to the swatch. I just soaked my swatch briefly in a little bowl of water. I didn't use any soap or detergent. This is superwash wool (Malabrigo Rios; colorway: Arco Iris), so I will machine wash and dry my swatch just to see how it behaves, but I don't actually plan on doing that to my final sweater, so I'm not doing it to my swatch for the sake of measurements.

After the bath, I rolled the swatch in a towel to remove as much water as possible and patted it out flat to dry.

Once your swatch is dry, measure it again. Note any shrinkage or stretching. This means re-measuring everything! My swatch grew a little bit. My new stitch gauge was 19 1/4 stitches/4" (which is 4 13/16 sts/inch), but my row gauge stayed the same. This is important because you'll need to account for this when knitting your garment. Are you happy with how the swatch looks and how it feels? Did the color bleed? What else can you learn from this?

Now your swatch is done!! Aren't you glad you went to all that trouble? Look at how much you learned! You know if you like knitting with that yarn or not. You know if you like the stitch pattern or not. You are a well-informed, educated knitter!

That swatch that you just spent so much time on? Well....I hate to say it, but in some ways, it's a liar. It's a good starting point, but there are so many things that affect your gauge. Your mood, the weight of the garment as it grows on your needles, even the type of needle you use. Wood, plastic, bamboo, metal....even if they are all the same size, changing the material of the needle can result in a different gauge.

Let me tell you a story: Once upon a time (October 2013), there was a girl (me) who had some gorgeous yarn and a plan. Her plan was well-thought-out. Pictures had been drawn, swatches (okay, just one) knit, and maths computed. So, she got out her needles and cast on for a sweater. She was instantly in love with the sweater. The stitch pattern was perfect and showed off the hand painted yarn to great advantage. The yarn was soft and lofty and beautiful. She would stop every few rows and just admire her work. One of the times she stopped to admire, she thought, "Wow, this looks big," but she ignored her thought and continued working. The next time she stopped to admire (just a few rows later), she thought, "Yep. This is definitely too big. I wonder what my gauge is." 4.5 stitches per inch. All of her numbers were based on her swatch, which measured 5 stitches per inch. After much mental wrestling with herself, she realized that she would not be happy with her final garment if she continued on her present course. A measly half stitch per inch doesn't sound like much, but it would have been the difference between a 44" sweater and a 49" sweater. That's significant. (Remember that 1/8 of a stitch we talked about before. Even that small of a number can affect the finished size of a garment.)


So, our heroine undid her work and started over. She took this crummy picture before she ripped everything out:

After reworking the numbers for 4.5 stitch/inch (though she could have just as easily dropped down a needle size), she started over. She wasn't sad because she loves the yarn and the stitch pattern, and she wasn't really *that* far along yet. It didn't take her long to catch up to where she was when she ripped out, and life is good. Now, several months later, the sweater is done and is one of her very favorite things ever. It will also be the star of it's own blog post soon.

It would seem that the moral of this story is that swatches lie. And while that's true--in this instance, the swatch did, in fact, lie--the real moral of the story is that as knitters, we have to be flexible. We have to remember that, no matter what, it's just sticks and string. Most yarns don't mind being ripped out and reknit, And if we loved knitting it the first time, we'll love it just as much the second time. AND, the swatch wasn't a total waste of time because look at how much you learned about the yarn and stitch pattern. You also know if the finished garment will grow or shrink. As for the gauge, chalk it up as a learning experience and move on!