Wednesday 8 April 2015

How I got converted to being a gauge swatch knitter

My original swatch for the Maeve pattern.
We're still battling illness (I know whinge's unending) so I'm skipping 'What to knit Wednesday' again, but I don't want to give up on this blog so I'm writing about some of my current thoughts on gauge instead.

For the uninitiated a gauge swatch or tension square is what knitters are meant to knit before beginning a project. The swatch is a way for the knitter to test that their knitting tension will match the suggested tension or gauge of the pattern. Every pattern will list how many stitches and rows will make up a certain area of knitted fabric. Sometimes patterns give a 1" gauge, sometimes they list 4" and for metric it'll be 10 cm of fabric. If gauge is followed accurately the end project will theoretically be the exact size measurements that the pattern designed it to be and that is the main reason people say it is important to check gauge when knitting.

I generally have been a naughty knitter/ lazy knitter and avoided knitting gauge swatches in the past. I restarted my knitting life knitting a blanket for my baby girl and then clothes for the kids. I personally didn't feel too concerned by what size these items ended up being as long as they were generous enough to get a good amount of wear by the growing little bods. Whenever I buy kids clothes I always go big because my motto is, "kids grow." I didn't even measure the kids before I knit and just went by the suggested age size; which is really bad of me because my kids have very slight builds for their ages. 

Other reasons I avoided swatching was because I usually tried to knit with the yarns that the pattern suggested. This sometimes ended up with me sourcing yarns from the US and paying the hefty international postage rates. When I didn't knit with the suggested yarn I would still stick to the same yarn weight and just hoped that it would come out the same. I would also check up on Ravelry other knitters who had substituted with the same yarn I was using and just work off their suggestions and modifications, so if they went down a needle size I followed suit. 

For my recent personal items I also chose not to swatch because I knit things where gauge wasn't really that important. When knitting a shawl, having a different gauge doesn't impact the fit of the garment because it's just something to drape over the shoulders. Even my recently finished Moto Vest didn't really have strict gauge requirements because it was a drapey open vest design.

In my mind checking gauge was only something important if I was making something that I needed to fit in a particular way and since I didn't really do projects like that I was going to keep skipping that step.

Here are my pins mark out the 4" square.
However, in my last post I mentioned that I was allowing myself a little 'hit' of the gorgeous The Fibre Company's Canopy Worsted yarn by knitting a gauge swatch for the Maeve shrug. I love handling the yarn while I was knitting my little square of stockinette but when I took out the ruler to check my gauge I was off and even after blocking the square I was still off. What I got was 19 sts and 27 rows = 4" rather than the 18 sts and 26 rows that the pattern listed. What this means is now I need to knit a new gauge swatch with larger needles and then block it and check gauge again, before I can allow myself to get started on this project.

So, why the change of heart on gauge swatching?

1) I really love this pattern and yarn and I want to make it perfectly. To do justice to this pattern and the yarn I really need to respect it and treat it properly.

2) Knitting the little swatch gave me a little taster of this soft yarn and I couldn't resist going to it and patting it while I had laid it out to block. I recently listened to the Clara Parkes (The Yarn Whisperer) interview on the Pom Pom Magazine podcast and she mentioned that she has a little swatch of some of her favourite yarn that she carries around in her handbag and she will touch it every now and then when she's grabbing stuff out of her bag. I can see myself doing that with this yarn; I just love it so much.* 

3) I also recently listened to an old podcast episode where Pam Allen and Hannah Fettig discussed gauge**. They carefully explained why knitting gauge swatches cannot be skimped on and I learned some really interesting things from them. I learnt that every knitter's gauge is different and that gauge is affected not only by the knitter's style and tension but also the needles you knit with and the most obvious one, the yarn being used. Pam even stressed that the same yarns but of a different batch could still yield a different gauge to one another. Now that really surprised me and has given me a much deeper understanding of the complexities of gauge.

Cast on for another 6" square
I'm off to knit another swatch for the Maeve Shrug on 5mm needles. What are your thoughts on gauge? Have you struggled with getting the gauge right on your projects? What tips do you have for swatching and preparing to knit a cherished pattern?

*Ok, I'm totally disregarding the fact that I am starting to sound like a crazy yarn lady.

**This podcast episode is well worth listening to:

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