Knitting

Your Gauge Can Change

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I’ve been knitting for almost 15 years. And for the last 4 years or so I’ve been working with someone I met in my very first knitting class, Melissa Leapman, to knit things for the books she’s written, for magazines she’s been published in and I also knit up one thing this summer for one of her classes at Stitches Midwest. That was a little tough working on a double knitted THICK scarf in the middle of the summer with tweed yarn. Lovely, but tough. Whew…

I hope it doesn’t sound like I am bragging by referring to Melissa in my blog post, that’s really not my intent though the reason I bring her up will become important shortly. And before I talk about the gauge issue I want to state that I’m so very flattered that she finds my knitting good enough to be used in her work and publications. She’s fussy, let me tell you, so if she appreciates my work then I must be doing okay. <insert me blushing>

So, back to the title of this post. Your Gauge Can Change.

Truth there.

The first half of the year my right bicep was bothering me. Sometimes when knitting, sometimes when reaching, sometimes when swiping (like wiping off a table) or lifting. It was a very sharp pain, like a long blade pressing in along the bicep vertically. In addition, my right shoulder was stiffening up. Then my back near the shoulder blades was tensing up. Well, I went to the chiropractor and began treatment in September.

Around that same time Melissa needed two pieces knit up. We’ll call them A and B.

I knit up piece A and it was pretty darn close to the specs she provided in the schematic. And I had used my usual needle size with this particular project (we’d been working on this for some time, same kind of yarn, similar pieces). Even so, I had knit up a gauge swatch before I started and it was fine.

Then I started on piece B with the same needles and yarn. It was at least 3 weeks into my chiropractic treatment by then.

I finished and blocked it and remember thinking maybe her math was wrong while knowing that was an impossibility – I KNOW her, it wouldn’t be wrong. Then why did it seem larger? Well, there’s a certain technique we used so maybe my dimensions are fine because I don’t include that part when I measure. After all,  I had checked my stitches per inch throughout and was satisfied I was still on gauge. I sent A & B to her thinking they’re both fine. But in the back of my head for the first time I was doubting my skills.

While pieces A & B were en route to her I decided to knit piece B a second time and we’ll call that C. I still had enough of the yarn so I started knitting C with a needle one size smaller. Dang if that didn’t still come out a little bigger, too! Yet I was still checking stitches per inch every so often while I knit. Maybe that one will suffice and she’ll like that one. Nope, still too much off.

What’s going on?

At this point I was about 4 1/2 weeks into treatment. A little light had gone off in my head when I sent C to her and I told her in the note I included that maybe having less pain and discomfort has changed my gauge. At the same time though, I thought nah, that’s kind of silly.

Turns out not so silly. I’ve since done some Googling and reading up on the fact that when pain is reduced, you relax (of course) so therefore, in my logic minded brain I thought, why wouldn’t gauge change?

You do see where this is going, right? Yes, I’m going to knit B a third time which I’ll call D once I get the yarn. But I’m going to knit up two swatches to check gauge. One at the time of day I try to sneak in some knitting – on the bus, the train, and over lunch. And one in the evening after work when I’m sitting down for the night. And I am going to be darn sure that I am SPOT on with gauge – and know when it’s better for me to knit to get more precise gauge – before I begin working up D.  Because I really don’t want to knit it E!

I’m now into week 6 1/2 for my treatment and I’m about to phase from two appointments a week to one. And I have special exercises I do that are helping immensely. My pain level when I started treatment was about a 7.5 out of 10, 10 being the worst (sometimes I was an 8, that included spasms in my arm). Now? Maybe 2 if I’ve pushed it too hard for a day. That’s a huge accomplishment.

So my advice is pay attention not only to your gauge but to how you feel when you’re knitting. Are you stressing because you’ve had a rough day? Knit something where gauge doesn’t matter. Are you totally in the mood for knitting and it will be soothing to you? Probably a great time to knit something where gauge is important and you’re able to pay attention to detail.

Knitting up swatches, not being in pain or stressed out, knitting at the right time of day, all of these things I’m finding will make a huge positive impact on my knitting. Maybe it will on yours, too?

P.S. I would like to add that I’ve learned so much from Melissa; she’s challenged me over the years with different projects and complicated stitches and for that I’m incredibly grateful to her. I wouldn’t be knitting the things I am these days and challenging myself if it weren’t for her having faith in me that I can produce what she needs. And I wouldn’t have found such a delightful friend.

Knitting

Watch Me Swatch

I got back into knitting about 10 years ago. I liked learning and making things back in junior high school but I detested the needles. Those straight, awkward pointy objects were always such a pain the arse. So I turned to sewing instead. But then my best friend, CP, was knitting one time while we were camping and I asked her to show me.

Since then I’ve attended quite a number of knitting courses, oodles of them, in fact. And one of my very first instructors was a woman named Melissa Leapman. She’s patient, she’s funny, she’s knowledgeable and she’s become a friend. Melissa is currently writing another book on knitting (how she keeps coming up with new ideas is beyond me, but that obviously speaks to her talent), and she needs people to help make sample garments / items for it as well as to make swatches that will be used to show close ups of the stitch patterns she’s using.

Now, I must admit I’m not a loyal swatch maker. What’s that, you ask? Well, when you’re beginning  a new pattern it’s a really good idea to make sure you have the proper gauge (measurement) in order to ensure proper fit of your final knitted item. Some things really don’t need it like perhaps a scarf. But a sweater surely does if you don’t want to be wasting your time knitting it – because that’s what you’d be doing if you knit it up and it doesn’t fit – wasting your time.

Well, most of what I’ve made are scarves, mittens, socks and baby items, though I have made a number of sweaters, hats and a really cool coat for my mom, and so right or wrong I didn’t knit gauge swatches for all of those items or big ones when I did. Oh, baby stuff? Awesome for not really worrying about a swatch, well, maybe err on the larger size than small that way the baby can eventually wear it. But I digress.

Because of what I’ve typically knit over the years, I don’t do much swatching. But let me tell you here and now, it is truly important for two reasons, gauge and drape (well, perhaps three – to see the stitch itself knit up if you’re one who designed it but only have it on graph paper). We already know that gauge is important to measurement based on what I’ve said above, but what’s drape?

Think about a fluid-like fabric, perhaps silk and a heavy one, like corduroy. They hang differently, don’t they? So will your knitting depending on the stitch and yarn you use, a stitch could make it really bulky when that wasn’t your intention or perhaps curl where you don’t want it to or simply look unappealing. Or you could be lucky and it looks fabulous!

I’m finding after doing just two swatches for Melissa, it’s clear how hugely important to the finished product a swatch for drape purposes would be. Without a swatch, and a large one at that (8″ x 8″), you may find the stitch doesn’t look as nice as you imagined it would so you have an opportunity to change it now, without having spent tons of time knitting it up and being disappointed.

One more thing I’ve realized and must acknowledge about knitting swatches. I know you’ll be shocked but I like it. I really, really do. I know, right?? What a shocker.

Thank you to Melissa for allowing me to help her and realize that I do like doing something far better than I thought I ever would. 🙂