Swatches Never Lie (except when they do)

This is going to get a little technical, so I apologize to my non-knitting friends.

Last night, I started swatching for the February Lady Sweater (hereinafter, “FLS”). First, I almost never swatch, but I almost never knit anything fitted enough to matter. Anyway, recognizing the importance of fit and the importance that I only have 770 yards of yarn, I have endeavored to be extra careful with my FLS. For my non-knitters, a swatch is a test square of knitting to make sure that the size garment I want to achieve is the size I am actually knitting.

FLS needs 18 stitches per 4 inches. For the non-knitters who actually read beyond the first sentence, here is the deal with gauge. Gauge is the number of stitches in an inch and the number of rows per inch. When you knit, you get a certain number of stitches per inch based on the size of the needles, the thickness of the yarn, and the tightness of your knitting. If the gauge you knit at does not match that required by the pattern, you will either knit a garment too big or too small. Who wants to spend tens to hundreds of hours knitting something that doesn’t fit, or they run out of yarn for because they are knitting it bigger than they planned to?

So, I swatched. I know I tend to knit very tightly and typically go up a needle size on any given project to get gauge, but I started with the pattern’s recommended US 8 size. Sure enough, I was fitting 20 stitches into 4 inches of knitting. I needed a bigger needle to make fewer (larger) stitches per inch.

I worked a second swatch on US 9 needles. When I measured my stitches, I was stunned to find I was still getting 20 stitches per 4 inches. How is that even possible? I flipped it over, counted, recounted, counted again, measured different rows, stretched it, squeezed it. Same result. 20 stitches/4 inches.

That made absolutely no sense, so I poured a glass of Moscato (I needed the wine equivalent of cool-aid to wrap my brain around this, you understand), and pulled out a set of US 10 needles. Cast on, knit my swatch. Measured my stitches.

Wait for it.

20 stitches per 4 inches.

Seriously. How does that even happen? How can you get the exact same gauge with three different needle sizes? It shouldn’t be possible. It still doesn’t make sense to me half a day later.

So, what did I do? I ate a little square of bracingly dark chocolate, poured more wine, and cast on FLS on size 9 needles, splitting the difference, and knit the 3 rows for the collar. I went to sleep knowing it was entirely possible that I would either have to rip back my efforts and start over, probably on size 10 needles.

This morning, I just kept knitting. And you’ll never guess…I am making my 18 stitches per 4 inches. If I squint. It’s more like 18.5, but that is close enough for my purposes.
February Lady

In completely unrelated, non-knitting news, you have probably never heard of Geraldine Doyle, but you have certainly seen her before.
This is Geraldine. She is the factory worker who inspired this iconic Rosie the Riveter WWII poster. Rosie is one of my heroes. I have a bobble head, an action figure, a magazine cover, a sticker, a mug, and a key chain all bearing her image just in my near vicinity. I am something of a Rosie fan. So, I salute Ms. Doyle for her war efforts, her long life, and her beautiful and strong image that has helped redefine the role of women in the workforce in the intervening 60 years.

Finally, I have completed the second half of my Self-Created Sock Club for 2011, which I have shortened to SCSC2011.

July – Clandestine in Knit Picks Stroll – Wonderland Heather.

August – Skew in Knit Picks Chroma – Prism

September – Nutkins in Knit Picks Stroll – Butternut (I had contemplated adding this one, and then Kitty’s suggestion confirmed it.)

October – Little Pumpkins – Yarn is undecided for sure until I get the two options in the mail. I have a Socks that Rock yarn and a Knit Picks yarn in mind.

November – Cable Net in Knit Picks Stroll Agate Heather (Super intricate cables the month before Christmas should be good for my mental health, right?)

December – Noran turkkilaissukat in KP Stroll Aurora Heather and Mustard. Yes, I have knit these before, but they were not very good and I gave them away. Now I want my own pair and I really want to improve over the first set; I think the colorwork is just stunning. No, there is no English pattern. I am going with my generic toe up socks and working the charts in. It worked out the first time and should again.

So what are you knitting in the new year?


2 responses to this post.

  1. Oh my gosh, I was both laughing and (almost) crying when I read your story about the gauge swatch — I could feel your pain yet couldn’t help but laugh in the knowing that the same has happened to me.

    You taught something, for which I thank you. From now on, I’m drinking wine and eating chocolate after I begin finish swatching and the project itself . . . and I am going to leave a little of each out on the table before I go to bed.

    That way, yarn elfs have something to snack on as they correct my gauge.

    Loved this blog post. Great job.


  2. ugh . . . make that “after I finish swatching and before I begin . . .”

    Gee, it looks like I’ve gotten into the wine already!


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