Well lookee here... it's just two days before the Zoey Cardigan KAL starts up and I know you're all anxious to get started and cast on. Well fear not - you CAN cast on. Cast on for a GAUGE swatch!
I know, I know, no one really likes doing gauge swatches. We all just want to get to the project. Like now! But trust me, when you're making a garment, and investing in yarn financially the way we do for a sweater, it's worth it to have the sweater fit after all tens of thousands of stitches later.
So let's get down to it!
The best way, IMO, to knit a swatch, is to have a couple stitches worked in garter along the edges so it doesn't curl up on me when I'm trying to measure but make sure that those garter sts aren't going to be counted in the overall size of the garment (i.e.: knit it wider than the number of sts you're going to need to count for your 4" gauge).
So, for example, we know that gauge is 17 sts and 25 rows on US 8's. I would make sure that the stockinette stitch area inside the garter border is AT LEAST 20 sts and 30 rows, if not more.
In addition, when I knit a gauge swatch, especially for a sweater, I like to make sure I've got a nice large sample to work with. For this sweater I knit up a swatch that was equivalent to one ball of yarn. I know that seems like a lot of knitting up front but there's a reason.
Sweaters are heavy. It's not like when you knit a pair of socks... the weight of a sock, or a mitt, or a hat, isn't going to change the shape of the item with wear. Sure, our feet and hands and head stretch them out but those items are designed to have some stretch. With a sweater, we don't want the weight of the garment, when worn, to change over the course of a day. Or rather, we want to be prepared for the fact that the weight of the sweater will impact the final fit of the sweater. Long and the short of it, make a decent sized swatch.
Ok, enough about that. Let's talk about how to treat the swatch once it's knit up.
Once the swatch is knit up and bound off (no need to trim the ends unless they make you crazy), we want to block the swatch. And this is where a lot of folks get hung up. We've all seen the teeny tiny 3" square swatches pinned to death on a blocking mat, right?
WRONG! Please, for the love of a sweater that will fit, don't do this with your gauge swatch. We want to treat the swatch the same way we're going to treat the sweater when it gets blocked.
In my case, and because Ewe Ewe is designed for it, I toss that sucker in the washing machine with some Soak (you can use whatever wool wash you prefer... or none - it's not a requirement but it sure smells good... but just make sure it's how you treat the final sweater when done).
I wash the swatch on a delicate cycle, usually without any other items since I likely wouldn't ever wash the sweater itself with anything else since I want to avoid pulls, and when the cycle is done, I lay that baby out on a blocking mat. LAY it out. I don't pin it out. I don't try to make it larger or smaller. I just pull it top to bottom a couple times, and then side to side, and plop that sucker down to dry.
WAIT! Don't measure just yet!
When the swatch is dry, hang it up. No, for serious, hang it up. Drape it over a hanger and let it sit in your closet overnight. Or, as I do, grab some dog clips and a ledge of some sort and hang it.
Why yes, that IS my stash behind my swatch.
We're hanging it because we want to get a sense of what the vertical weight of the sweater will do to our gauge. You'll definitely get some lengthening out of it.
OK, NOW you can measure the gauge!
Pull the swatch off of whatever you have it hanging on and let it sit for 15 minutes or so. The fibers will relax to their preferred state and you can get your ruler, some straitght pins (I'll explain why), a calculator a glass of wine ('cuz who doesn't love to knit and wine?).
Lay the swatch on a non-stick surface, the slippery the better. I find bathroom counters are often the best since they're nice and slippery.
Why? Cuz a slippery counter-top/surface will provide the least chance of distorting the gauge. A surface that your swatch tends to stick to, like the surface of a sofa, can alter the gauge. Marginally, I realize, but we're working on getting a good fit, right?
I prefer to use a ruler over a tape measure since it lays flat for me but that is up to you and your preference. I also prefer to count from the 1" mark instead of the 0.
I simply count the number of "V"'s between the 1" and the 5" markers... it's 17. I'm going to do this at the top, bottom and middle of my swatch since gauge is an average thing. Average out your 3 measurements and consider that your Stitch Gauge.
IF!!!! If your gauge swatch is NOT larger than 4", fear not. You can still get a relatively decent gauge from a smaller swatch (it's just not as ideal). If your swatch, for example, is 3" across, measure how many full stitches you have over the dimension you have. Here's a breakdown of the math assuming that you have a 3" wide swatch (NOT including the garter edge) that is 13 "V"'s wide:
Step 1: Divide 13 sts by 3 = 4.33333333.... <- this is now your stitch count per inch.
Step 2: Multiply 4.33 by 4 = 17.32 sts / 4" <- this is your stitch count over 4".
Repeat steps 1 and 2, two more times at the middle and bottom of your work to get an average.
Did you get 17sts/4"? If not, go up or down a needle size to get gauge (note: a larger needle will give you less sts/inch... ask me how I learned THAT the hard way).
IF!!!! If you like the fabric you're getting on your US 8 needle but you're NOT getting the stitch gauge, you can come back on Thursday for the first blog post to learn how to adjust the pattern to YOUR gauge. Keep in mind, that if your gauge is much tighter than 17 sts/4" you'll use more yarn.
Here's where the straight pins come in to play. The pins are used as a marker to show you where you're measuring when counting row gauge. You could definitely use it for stitch gauge but it's rarely necessary since we can all count the "V"'s fairly easily.
You're going to put the straight pin into the "middle" of your "V". Where there's a hole. Then, along the same vertical row of sts, place another pin at roughly 4" from the first pin. Now measure the actual distance and count the sts (count the first st the first pin is in, but not the last as those two are both kind of "half" sts).
Much like with the stitch gauge, repeat this about 1" from each edge of the swatch, and in the middle so you have 3 measurements. Take the average and consider that your Row Gauge.
Stitch Gauge vs Row Gauge
When it comes to your gauge vs what a pattern says, the odds that you're going to match the designers gauge on both ROW and STITCH count is ridiculously low. The more important of the two gauges (gauge's?... I'm bad at grammar sometimes) is the stitch count. That's the gauge of the two you want to match. On Thursday, I'll show you how to adjust the pattern for row gauge.
I hope you're all geared up to start your sweater on Thursday. I know I am... seems like the perfect time to start a sweater, with all the snow we're getting across the country (except, well, where I live).
If you haven't yet downloaded your pattern for the KAL, you can get it directly from Ewe Ewe Yarns on Ravelry.
And by all means, if you have questions, email me at email@example.com or message me on Rav (http://www.ravelry.com/people/SoCalMeaghan), leave a comment here, or leave questions in the Discussion board.
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