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2008.04.28 part 2

April 28, 2008

So, first things first: I finished the baby blanket yesterday, and it has gone off to its rightful owner.

With that out of the way I can talk about my new project, and gauge, and how the two relate.

Gauge is the way of measuring how big your knitting is going to get; it’s a calculation based on the diameter of your needles, the diameter of your yarn, and the way you knit. You figure things out by knitting a little square of fabric called a gauge swatch, then you measure how many stitches fit into a few inches worth of the square. And then you know have a sense of whether the thing you’re making will be the same size as the pattern indicates, or whether it’ll be way bigger and you’ll need more yarn, or whether it’ll be way too small and won’t fit the intended person.

Does it matter? Well, yeah. For instance, here is the baby blanket I just finished, alongside the same blanket I made for the Peep way back when. The pink one is in sport weight, and the grey one is worsted. Same needle size, same number of stitches.

As you can see, the grey one is way bigger – about a foot wider, and probably 18 inches longer.  And the stitches are bigger, so the blocks are bigger.

Gauge matters.

(by the way, I took these photos on Saturday, before the pink one was actually finished, because I wanted to take advantage of the beautiful sunny afternoon. Otherwise I would have overlaid the pink blanket on the grey one so you could see the size difference in all its glory.)

For a long time I couldn’t be bothered to care about gauge. I knit merrily along, and then was quite surprised when sweaters wouldn’t fit over my nephew’s head, or when baby blankets turned out big enough to fit a full-sized bed. And so forth.

But for my new project, I only have just enough yarn to get me through the largest size. I bought it last summer, 100 miles away, from the mill where it’s produced, so there’s no going back to get another skein if I need to.

It’s also a fairly fitted sweater, and I want it to fit properly.

Before I started swatching I measured a couple of the sweaters in my closet, and they’re all 40 inches around.  So the pattern size that I think will suit me best is the one that’s 41 inches in diameter.

And then I swatched.

The pattern calls for 18.5 stitches over 4 inches using size 7 needles. With size 7’s, I got 19 stitches. So I went down to size 6 needles. And swatched again.  And got 17.5 stitches. Ugh!

So it was time for the dreaded math.

Using the stated number of stitches, the bigger needles would make a sweater that’s 43.5 inches around.  The smaller ones, 39 inches around.

The question is, do I want a sweater that may turn out to be rather fitted, or one that’s sure to be a little looser?

Ordinarily I’d say looser, to allow for a heavier shirt underneath.  But as I was wrestling with the numbers last night, Larry and I measured the baggy zip-up sweatshirt I was wearing.  It was 45 inches around, and was an absolute sack.

Besides, this wool is dense, and heavy, and I don’t think I’m ever going to want anything beyond a tee shirt underneath.  And, the fronts of the sweater are designed to overlap, which buys me an inch here or there if I need it.  Plus I figure I can stretch it out a bit finesse the fit in blocking.

So I’m going with the smaller needles.

Here’s hoping this doesn’t come back to bite me in the arse…

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