Have you ever found yourself a little sore in the hands, neck, shoulders or arms, after a long session of knitting or crocheting? I usually feel it in my hands, and have often wished that I had access to a hand massage therapist. (Is there such a thing? But truthfully, I don’t want to go anywhere. I just want the therapist to be right there in my living room when I need him/her.) When Loopy Groupie Barbara from TX emailed and suggested a blog post on hand care exercises, I thought it was a great idea. Upon doing a little research, I found several great posts and articles already out there! So here are some of my top picks for you to check out:
I’ve started a board on our Pinterest page that links to these and other sites with exercises to help keep hands and wrists limber and healthy. I have many years of projects and beautiful yarn to get to, don’t you?
Does gauge matter? Last week, I shared a post with 12 different sized swatches, knit with the same needles and yarn, but with 12 different pairs of hands. It’s amazing how much gauge can differ from one person to the next, just based on tension and the way they knit! This week, I wanted to talk about how to do a gauge swatch. It’s easy.
1. Use the same yarnthat you will be using for the actual project. Not just the same weight. (Don’t think: “It calls for worsted, so I’ll swatch with Dream in Color Classy even though I’m knitting my sweater out of Lorna’s Laces Shepherd Worsted. I don’t want to waste any of my new sweater yarn on a swatch.”)
2. Use the same needlesthat you will be using for the actual project. Not just the same size. (Don’t think: “I will use my ChiaoGoo #7’s for the actual sweater knitting, but they’re stuck in another project right now so I’ll swatch with my Addi Turbo #7’s instead.”)
3. Use the same knitting method (Circular knitting? Flat knitting?) and same stitch pattern (Stockinette? Garter? Seed Stitch?) that the pattern calls for.
4. Generally, it’s good to measure stitches and rows over 4 inches. You want to make your swatch a little bigger than that, so you can accurately measure 4 inches worth of stitches well within the borders, so I usually make my swatches about 5″ x 5″.
5. How many stitches do you cast on? I think the listed gauge on the yarn is a good place to start. If the yarn tag says it knits up 4 stitches to the inch on #7 needles, I multiply that by how many stitches wide I want my swatch.
– 4 stitches per inch x 5 inch wide swatch equals 20 stitches. Then I bump up the number by about 10 to give me a little extra.
– If you were working with, say, fingering weight yarn that calls for 8 stitches to the inch, you will cast on many more stitches. (Because 8 stitches per inch x 5 inch wide swatch equals 40 stitches, which I’d bump to 56.)
6. Cast on your stitches and work until your swatch is about 5 inches long, then bind off loosely.
7. Soak your swatch in water and wool wash (Soak, Eucalan, etc.). Let it sit in the water for 30 minutes, so the yarn has a chance to relax and take on the new stitch shape. When done, roll it up in a towel and squeeze gently to remove excess water.
8. Pin your damp swatch out on a blocking mat, towel, or cushion and let it dry completely. Then you’ll be ready to measure gauge.
9. Stitch gauge: with a ruler, mark out a 4″ horizontal section of your swatch with straight pins. Remove the ruler and count the number of stitches between the two pins. Don’t round up or down. If it’s 19.5, mark it as 19.5, not 20.
10. Row gauge: with a ruler, mark out a 4″ vertical section of your swatch with straight pins. Remove the ruler and count the number of rows between the two pins.
Now that you have your numbers, you can go back to the pattern to see what it calls for, and how that compares with your personal gauge. What if your numbers don’t match? If you are close – like within a half stitch per inch – is that good enough? Pop over to our original gauge post for why that does matter, and suggestions on how to adjust.
Swatching can be tedious and boring, when what you really want to do is jump into the new pattern and start knitting it up right away. But taking a little time to swatch ahead and make adjustments means that you’ll end up with a garment that fits the way you were expecting it to. That’s totally worth the little bit of time it takes to swatch ahead.
People joke about gauge swatches (in fact, I’ve seen a button that says “Swatching is for sissies!”), but let’s talk about it. Does gauge really matter? Do you need to do a gauge swatch with each new project? The answer is yes. And no. Yes it really does matter. No, you don’t necessarily need to do one for each new project, depending on what you’re knitting.
I had 12 people around here do a swatch using the same instructions, the same ball of yarn, and the same pair of needles. I washed and blocked the squares and here they are. Twelve people, twelve different results:
And here is the largest next to the smallest:
No one had the same sized swatch in both stitches plus rows per 4″. Here are the stats:
We used Cascade 220 Superwash in the recommended needle size (size 7). They say the gauge will be 20-22 stitches per 4″. Our gauge ranged from 17 – 22. Our row gauge ranged from 26 – 32. Those few stitches and few rows can make the difference between a sweater fitting or not.
How? Let’s say you’re getting a gauge of 20 stitches per 4 inches (which is 5 per 1 inch), and the pattern calls for 18 stitches per 4 inches (4.5 per 1 inch). You think, “Half a stitch difference – that’s good enough.” But you have to remember that it’s half a stitch for each inch. If you are making a 30″ sweater and your pattern tells you to cast on 135 stitches, that will give you 30″ at the 4.5 st/inch gauge that the pattern calls for. If you are knitting at a 5 st/in gauge and cast on 135 stitches (as the pattern calls for), that will give you 27″. Your sweater will be 3″ smaller than you were expecting.
How do you adjust your stitch gauge? Generally, if you’re getting more stitches per inch than the pattern calls for, then your stitches are too small. Try going up a needle size. Bigger needles equal bigger stitches equal less stitches per inch.
If you’re getting less stitches per inch than the pattern calls for, then your stitches are too big. Try going down a needle size. Smaller needles equal smaller stitches equal more stitches per inch.
Sometimes you might have to go up or down more than one size. And remember, the same size needle but from a different company (or out of a different material) can also affect the gauge. You may find that using Addi Turbo’s instead of ChiaoGoo’s in the same size, will change your gauge. Or using bamboo needles instead of metal needles. For our Elf Test, we all used the exact same set of needles so our differences come just from tension and the way we all knit.
What if you match on stitch gauge but not row gauge? Generally, matching stitch gauge is more important. Many sweater patterns will tell you to knit x-amount of inches (or centimeters), and that’s easy to measure. It can become more of an issue if you’re knitting a very fitted sweater, or raglan sleeves, or doing a lot of increasing or decreasing and the directions are given row by row. Many times the pattern will come with schematics (a diagram with measurements of the different sections) so you can adjust accordingly. You can also do the math – see what the length would be at their row gauge, and translate the into your row gauge.
Which projects don’t need a gauge swatch? I don’t usually swatch for socks. I swatched the first few times, and now I know that when I use most regular fingering weight yarns, I will need to do 64 stitches on a size 1 needle. If it’s a little thinner fingering weight, I’ll do 68-72 stitches. I try to knit at a gauge of 8 stitches to the inch for socks in fingering weight yarn.
I also don’t swatch for scarves, shawls, mitts, mittens and gloves. Most mitten and glove patterns have enough “give” in the pattern, that using the recommended size needle and yarn ends up being about right for me. Scarves and shawls are wrap-ables and don’t have to fit specifically. If you know you’re a tight knitter, you might just plan to go up a needle size or two on these projects. If you know you’re a loose knitter, you might just plan to go down a needle size or two on these projects. (If you find it hard to go with the “good enough” philosophy, you might just need to swatch it all!) The more you knit, the more you’ll get to know your own tension, and the easier it will work with and adjust the results.
So – how often to you swatch?
Coming next week – how to correctly knit and measure a gauge swatch.