Nov 272008

Some of you might ask, “What’s a gauge swatch?”, well, I wrote about this particular gauge swatch way back in March. (A gauge swatch, by the way, and for those of you who really don’t know, is when you knit a small piece of about 10 x 10 cm or 4 x 4 inches to determine what size needles to use, and how many stitches you will need for the thing you intend to make.) The swatching for this particular sweater was the most extensive I have ever done. I knit a long piece of fabric with three different sizes of needles, measured all the parts to determine how many stitches and rows gave me 10 cm, then I washed and blocked it, let it dry and measured again. And I had something of a revelation because after washing everything was much bigger than before.

With the needles that I used I had 16 stitches and 23 rows on 4 inches pre-washing, and 15 stitches and 20 rows after washing. You’d think that isn’t much, won’t you? What’s a measly stitch? Let’s see: for this particular sweater I cast on 141 stitches. 141 divided by 16 is 8.8 that is 88 cm. And trust me, that is not enough to fit me. But after washing it’s 141 divided by 15, and that is 9.4 which is 94 cm, much better. So just by washing the sweater and blocking it it would become 6 cm (or 2.3″) wider. That’s how much difference the measly stitch makes.

So, back to the actual sweater. I did everything right, I swatched, and measured, and washed, and measured, and chose a size that would hopefully fit me, and then I knit the whole thing in one piece instead of making a lot of weirdly shaped pieces that have to be sewn together. The sweater is quite fitted, and the designer obviously isn’t afraid of sewing everything on, including the buttonbands. (It’s the L’il Red Riding Hoodie by Jennifer Stafford, by the way.) And while I do love the design, and while I’m certainly not afraid of seaming, I don’t like it much, it always looks wonky, and I stubbornly refuse to sew together a raglan. Raglan yokes are meant to be knit in one piece.

The knitting experience was quite interesting. I was knitting something that looked about two sizes too small. I had to put together the instructions for the fronts, buttonbands, back, and sleeves in one place at one point, and these weren’t of the “now decrease two stitches every fourth row” kind. Even though the whole thing is in plain, boring stockinette, it was more challenging than knitting lace. Also I don’t really like the yarn. I wanted something plain, not too expensive and hard-wearing, and that’s what I got. In a color that goes with everything I own, so the color isn’t particularly exciting too. It’s no wonder that I actually started two more sweaters before finishing this one. (Actually, upon further thinking I recall that I started three more sweaters before finishing this one.)

But at last, and through sheer stubbornness, I finished it. There wasn’t much seaming, of course, and I even managed to graft everything that needed seaming nicely together (a first for me). But then there was the zipper. I had to put a zipper into a knitted garment. Argh. Here are pictures of the unwashed hoodie, pre-blocking and pre-zipper:

Of course it took more than a month before I even bought a zipper. I managed to wash and block the sweater, and, alas, finally it matched the intended dimensions. For months I had been sure it was all a mistake, and I’d end up with a hoodie fit only for my son. I even worried about what to do about the waist shaping and bust darts, something he really has no need for.

I carefully measured the hoodie, went to the store with my huge gauge swatch for color-reference and bought a zipper. When I came home I immediately was sure that the zipper was too long. Also too heavy. And I didn’t know how to put a zipper into a sweater. I’d certainly not use a sewing machine but what to do? Thanks to ravelry and the internet I found two excellent tutorials, one by Grumperina and one by Claudia. I mostly followed the latter because of the, as Grumperina put it, “absolute quality in every shortcut”. I’m very keen on shortcuts when sewing (come to think of it, I like them in knitting as well, only you can’t use any in music). And I actually basted my zipper in! I never baste anything in, but finally I have been convinced to make exceptions for zippers. Some shortcuts aren’t shortcuts but time-wasters. It’s a good thing to know the difference.

So, after about nine months I finally have a nice everyday hoodie that I made all by myself. It’s thick wool which will help me to stay warm through winter, and I love the fit. It will surely get a bit longer since I have knitted it all in one piece and there are no seams to prevent it from sagging but that suits me fine, it’s a bit short now anyway. Here are the pictures of the hoodie after washing and blocking:

Also I seem to be in sweater knitting mode. I think it has something to do with several things: a) it’s becoming quite cold, b) I am a bit sick of my two winter sweaters, the red one and the terracotta one that I have been wearing all winter long for the past four years (and both of them have sleeves that are too short), c) I realized that knitting a lace stole or shawl doesn’t take more time and work than knitting a sweater but while I clearly don’t need more than four, or let’s say five, lace stoles and shawls I can easily need more than four winter sweaters.

And now that I have experienced the wonders of knitting gauge swatches, and measuring them, and even of such extreme steps as looking up the measurements of the finished sweater in the pattern, and – instead of just assuming that I need something in size M – actually measuring me, and some sweater that fits, and choosing the size accordingly, well, they might even look good on me.

Which is why I set out to knit a sweater in November. It’s red. I love it so far but since it’s not been washed yet it’s still too small for me. I started on November 8th, and completed it two days ago. Happy NaKniSweMo!

  2 Responses to “Hail the gauge swatch!”

  1. I’ve never before considered knitting a hooding and now (despite it being HOT ouside) it suddenly seems like such a good idea.

    And I love the curve of that plant in the background and the way the sun is falling across the floor.

  2. Hi,

    You’ve been tagged 🙂 I’d love to see you play the game along with us.


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