Friday, August 21, 2009

Tips on Gauge

Let's face it. We can all use some extra help when it comes to the subject of "gauge" in regards to our knitting. It remains an illusive pursuit for many of us. Even when we think we've got it, it can turn on us and stab us in the back. I've read interviews and blogs of veteran knitters who lament on the subject.

There are many factors that effect gauge. Needle size. Yarn choice. Pattern (ribbing, cables or colorwork vs. stockinette). Flat vs. circular. Whether you're at the beginning of a project or in the middle. Knitting in the waiting room of your dentist's office right before you get a root canal versus knitting under a cabana with a tropical ocean view and a pretty drink with an umbrella in it sitting next to you. I could go on and on. You get the picture.

Swatching is an essential part of our knitting. Without it we're knitting blind. We don't know how things will turn out. Heh. We don't know how things will turn out when we do swatch sometimes, but we stand a better chance of getting results that we'll be happy with. I know of knitters who never swatch, those who swatch depending on the project and a few who swatch religiously. Me? I'm a half-assed swatcher. I rarely knit up an entire 4" swatch. Usually, I'll knit half of it and then measure my stitches per inch. It works. Sometimes.

A few months ago I heard two interesting tips on gauge on podcasts that I listen to.

The first one was on the KnitPicks Podcast. It was an interview with a designer. Sorry to say that I can't remember who. I went back and listened to a couple of episodes that I thought it might have been in, but I couldn't find it. Have you ever tried to get gauge and one needle size was too big and then you go down a needle size and it was too small? You feel like Goldilocks. Well. This designer suggested trying one of each size on interchangeable needles. So you would have a size 7 on one end and a size 6 on the other. Brilliant! The gauge should be in the middle of the two. I haven't tried it yet. I could have with Bella's top, but I think I was in such a hurry to get it done that it didn't even cross my mind.

The second tip was on the Knitmore Girls Podcast. They were interviewig designer Cheryl Oberle (episode 51). Cheryl talked anout the "30 stitch gauge swatch" which was developed in a knitting group she belonged to.. She always casts on at least 30 stitches. She then measures the entire width of the swatch. If you cast on more than 30 stitches, you wa,t to measure the width of only 30 stitches. If you change one needle size, the width will change exactly 1/2". This works for all yarn weights from chunky to lace and all stitch patters. She taught this in a class at a yarn store and one of the employees was skeptical, so she tested it in every weight of yarn and reported that it worked. Interesting, no?

Swatching to get gauge will only enhance our knitting by producing more better fitting garments. I'm looking forward to trying out these tips on my next project. And I plan to work on being a better swatcher. I love that I've been knitting for 20 (!) years now and there are still plenty of techniques for me to learn or improve.

How about you? Do you have any special gauge tips to share?

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