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What to do when you can’t get gauge

I’ve talked about how to knit a gauge swatch and why it’s important. But that post assumes that you are able to get the gauge specified in your pattern. And while you can do a lot by changing the needle size you’re using I’ve never really talked about the instances where you can’t get the gauge specified in the pattern. So what do you do?

First, what gauge are you getting? If the pattern specifies 27 stitches per 4″ but you can only hit 26 stitches or 28 stitches you’re probably close enough. A lot of patterns incorporate positive ease into the pattern if this is the case than you can pretty safely knit at almost gauge and end up with a well fitting garment.

Deciding if you want to go with the 26 stitch gauge or the 28 stitch gauge is going to depend on the characteristics of the garment and how your measurements compare to the pattern measurements. If the closest avaliable size is a little larger than you would normally wear than knitting the pattern at a slightly tighter gauge may be result in a better fit.

If the garment you are trying to knit is knit at a loser gauge of say 16 stitches per 4″ and you can only hit 15 or 17 stitches than you are probably going to want to either do some math and alter the stitch count of the pattern or knit a different size.

Figuring out which size you should knit based on the gauge you are getting is actually pretty easy. If you divide your stitch count by 4 this will give you the stitches per inch. Take that number and multiply it by your bust measurement plus the whatever postive ease you want in the finished garment and this will give you the stitch count for the bust. Now take a look at the pattern and find the size that has the stitch count closes to this and follow the dierections for that size.

Have you every had trouble hitting the gauge specified in the pattern? What was your solution? Let me know in the comments below!

Are indie dyed yarns better than commercial yarns?

I was not introduced to the world of indie dyed yarns until I started watching knitting podcasts on Youtube. And while the the beautiful speckles and rich tonal yarns crafted by indie dyers are certainly alluring their price tag can be a bit daunting. We often associated a higer price with higer quality and while that is often true I am not convinenced that indie dyed yarns are inherently better than more budget firendly commerciallyed dyed yarns.

But let me be clear as much as I love indie dyed yarn and as much as I want to and try to support other creaters I simply don’t have the budget to knit exclusively in hand dyed yarn. And I certainly don’t want to imply that there is anything wrong with indie dyed yarn or that I feel indie yarn is over priced. Indie dyers are often one person dying skeins of yarn in small batches and the cost of the yarn reflects this. However, when compared to commercially dyed yarns there is no question as to which is the more affordable option.

That being said I want to make a case for yarns sold by companies like KnitPicks becasue you can get high quality fibers at an affordable price from these companies and I don’t want anyone to think they are not a Knitter with a capital K becasue commercially dyed yarns are all the can afford.

So to answer my question — are indie dyed yarns better than commercial yarns– I would say that depends on what you are looking for. While companies like KnitPicks do offer animal fibers and a limited number of luxary fibers if you are looking for a speckled Merino/Cashmere blend you probably won’t find that from anyone but an indie dyer. If you are looking for a solid or tonal wool/nylon blend there are plenty of options avaliable from both commercial dyers and indie dyers.

When it comes to my own knitting I use a mix of indie dyed and commercially dyed yarns. When I knit socks I primarilly use indie dyed yarns for a few reasons. The first being that I have not found a commerically dyed sock yarn that I really like or that knits up well for my feet. Additionaly, since you only need one skein for a pair of socks this isn’t a budget killer.

But when it comes to sweaters I tend to gravitate towards commercially dyed yarns, with a few exceptions for special projects and special yarns. I don’t have the budget to knit all of my sweaters out of indie dyed yarn and I absolutely hate alternating skeins, which is a must when knitting with multiple skeins of indie dyed yarn.

What kind of yarn do you use for your porjects? Let me know in the comments below.

How and When to Rip Out a Sweater

The knitter in me is cringing as I write this post. While I hate to admit it (almost as much as I hate to rip back sweaters) this is a necessary post. No matter how careful you are at some point you will probably have to rip back a sweater.

How and When to Rip Back a Sweater

Before we talk about how, let’s talk about why you might want to rip back a sweater. Please note that this is not an exhaustive list.

First,  you might rip out a sweater because your gauge is off. If you are knitting at the wrong gauge your garment will end up bigger or smaller than you intended. This might not be a huge problem if your gauge is only a little off or the garment your knitting has a bit of ease you can play with. But you might end up with a garment that will not fit and needs to be ripped out.

I recently knit a gauge swatch and I was a little lazy about it.  I only counted gauge over one inch areas instead of counting my gauge over a four inch area and calculating my stitches per inch from the four inch stitch count. This a problem is because I thought my gauge was 5 stitches per inch when in reality it was 4.75 stitches per inch. Had I counted the number of stitches in a four inch area and divide that number by four I would have known my actual gauge.

Second, you might just not like the garment you are knitting. It can be difficult to picture how a particular yarn will knit up until you actually do it. It is such a shame to put hours and hours into a project that you don’t absolutely love or isn’t your style. I’m not sure who said it first but,” If you don’t like it now you’re not going to like it 14 rows from now.” So do yourself a favor and rip it back.

Now lets get into the how. For this I am going to assume that you are planning on re-knitting the sweater or at the very least you are planning on using the yarn again.

First, you are going to need to figure out how much of the sweater you are going to rip back. Are you going to rip out all of your knitting or is there a portion that is salvageable? If you are ripping back to a specific point go ahead and insert a lifeline this way there are no live stitches to pick up.

Next, it’s time to take your knitting apart. If you’ve got a lot of ripping to do you are probably going to want some entertainment. So pour yourself a glass of wine and queue up your favorite show or a knitting podcast and grab your project.

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Now you are going to start ripping back your project winding the yarn into balls as you go. You want to be careful not to end up with a tangled mess.

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Once you have your yarn wound into balls it is time to soak the yarn and get all the crinkles out. This step is important because crinkled yarn is going to knit up differently than smooth yarn. For this I wind my yarn into hanks using my swift.

Once, my yarn is back in hank form I make sure they are tied securely and I put them in the tub for a soak. Then I squeeze out the excess water and hang them to dry.

I’m not going to lie, after I rip out a project the yarn typically has to sit in timeout for several months before I can knit with it again. Have you had to rip back a sweater? Tell me about it in the comments below!

Sock Heels: Short Rows or Heel Flaps

Creating your perfect sock recipee is a time consuming process that takes a lot of trial and error. And honestly, even after five years of sock knitting my perfect sock recipee is something I am still working on. While gauge and stitch count definetly matter in the world of sock knitting I’ve found that these variables were a lot easier to lock down than my perfect sock heel.

You see there are two basic sock heel constructions: short row heels and heel flaps and gussets. I have tried them both and I have come to the following delema; heel flap and gussets create too much space in the heel/instep area and short row heels don’t provide enough.

I heard about Mina’s Mini Heel Flap Adjustment a few years ago but  I had never gotten around to trying it out until recently. I  started knitting a pair of vanilla socks and I decied to give it a go.

Mina’s instructions are great and super straght forward and knitting the mini heel flap followed by a German Short-row heel was pleasent and uncomplicated. Since it is the middle of summer here in the the United States it will be a few months before I can take these socks for a test drive but I am excited to see how the heels fit!

Tell me about your sock recipee in the comments below!

The Seven Steps to Knitting a Perfect Gauge Swatch

Cue the collective groan. Everyone hates swatching and I know you are all thinking ‘why Myra, why do we have to swatch?’ And there are some really good answers to that question.

First, if you are knitting a garment I am sure you want it to fit it’s intended recipient. In order to ensure a good fit you need to know how many stiches and rows it takes to knit and inch. Most patterns will give gauge specifications for 4 inch/ 10 cm areas and that is becasue you’re not a machine and your gauge is going to vary a little bit no matter how consistant of a knitter you are. Additionally, your gauge might end up being something like 4.75 stitched per inch. It’s pretty hard to measure three quarters of a stitch but 20 stitch/ 4 inches is a much easier measurment.

Second, you will need to wash your garment at some point and washing hand knit garments takes some care. Felting your finished garment would be heart breaking but felting your swatch is a minor inconvience. Knitting a swatch gives you the opportunity to give your yarn a washing test drive.

Third, you get to see what your yarn will look like once it is knit up. Knitting an entire sweater just to find out that you don’t like the fabric would be very dissapointing. Yarn often looks differnt in a skein then is does once it’s knit up and knitting a gauge swatch will allow you to sample your yarn.

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But what is gauge?

Simply put, knitting gauge is the number of stitches and number of rows in an inch of knitted fabric. In order to measure your gauge you are going to need to knit a gauge swatch, which can be torture. Knitting a sweater is so exciting and since I buy most of my yarn online I have to wait for it to arrive. Once I do get my yarn and pick out my pattern I don’t want to sit around knitting a swatch that I have to wash and block. But I  know that knitting a swatch will ensure a good fit so I suffer through, most of the time….

Step 1: Pick Out your Yarn

While swatching with left overs of the same yarn weight might sound like a good idea this can actually get you into trouble. Just becaues two yarns are both considered worsted weight does not mean they will knit up at the same gauge. There is a fair degree of variation within yarn weights so make sure you swatch with the yarn you will be using for your project.

Step 2: Pick Out your Needles

The type of needles you use can have a significant impact on your gauge. I know that bamboo needles gove me a looser gauge than metal and shorter needle tips give me a tighter gauge than long ones. So picking out the needles I am going to use for my project and using those to knit my swatch is super important.

Step 3: Pick your Stitch Pattern

Your pattern will most likely tell you what stitch pattern you should knit your swatch in. Make sure if your pattern says gauge is measured over a particular texture stitch that is the stitch you use to knit your swatch. If your pattern does not specify the stitch your should use, knit your gauge swatch in stockinette stitch (knit on the right side, purl on the wrong side).

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Step 4: Knit your swatch

You want your swatch to be bigger than four inches so that you can measure the stitches in a contigeous four inch area. I like to knit garter stitch borders on my swatches so that they lie flat. So if the gauge I am trying to hit is 20 stitches = 4 inches I will cast on about  30 – 32sitches. That way I can knit the first 3 stitches on either side in garter stitch and still have an area larger than 4 inches to measure.

Note: Knitting in the Round

If the garment you are knitting is knit in the round it is important that you knit your swatch it the round because your purl gauge is most likely different than your knit gauge. But don’t worry you don’t have to knit a swatch that is double the size. You can carry your working yarn along the back of your swatch like you would a colorwork yarn float. When it comes time to wash and block your swatch cut the floats down the middles so you can lie the swatch flat.

 

 

Step 5: Washing and Blocking

 

Once you’ve knit your swatch it’s time for washing and blocking. It is important that you wash your swatch the same way you will be washing your sweater. If you plan to machine wash your sweater don’t hand wash your swatch. Remember this is a washing test drive you want to make sure that this finished product will stand up to whatever washing routine your plan to use.

I am not a huge fan of superwash yarns, which means most of my garments require hand washing (or careful machine washing but that’s a post for another day). I use Eucalan lavender scented no rinse wool wash. I recieved this bottle as a gift a few years ago and I have used it on all of my hand knits with great results. I havn’t tried any other wool washes and probably won’t anytime soon because it is what my LYS carries. I cannot speak to the quality of other wool washes but there are other popular brands out there.

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For something this size I fill a glass mixing bowl with room temperture water and put a few drops of Eucalan in it. I let my swach soak for about 20 minutes beacause it does not take long for the water to permeate something that size.

Once the swatch is finished soaking I gently squeez out any excess water. You never want to ring out anything hand knit. Once I’ve squeezed out all of the water I can I put small projects into my salad spinner and give them a spin, this removes a lot of excess water that you wouldn’t be able to get out otherwise.

*I don’t use this salad spinner for food. I am not a medical professional but I don’t think there is anything in the wool wash that would be dangerous, particularly if the salad spinner was washesd thouroughly, but there is often excess dye that comes off the yarn when is is washed and consuming yarn dye would most certainly not be good for you.

After the salad spinner I pin my swatch to the blocking my blocking mats. I use children’s play mats for blocking because they are made of the same material as blocking mats but are significantly less expensive. An individual child’s play mat will be smaller than a blocking mat but when I purchased these I found the difference in price to be substantial enough that I could purchase enough childern’s play mats to cover the same amount of surface area as a set of block mats and still save money.

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If you don’t own blocking mats don’t worry. You can lay your knits out on a towel. However, if you knit a lot of lace projects I would recommend purchasing the necessary block materials because a good blocking is vital in achieving well defined lace.

Once you have set your swatch to block let it dry over night. If you live in a particularly humid climate or it is the middle of winter your swatch may require additional drying time.

Step 6: Mearsuring your Gauge

Now that your swatch is dry it is time to measure your gauge. All you will need for this is a ruler or tape measure and your swatch. Lay your swatch flat and make sure that you are not stretching it out. Place your ruler or measuring tape on top of your swatch and count the number of stitches in a 4 inch section. Make sure you count your gauge over multiple areas to get an accurate count. Repeat the process counting your rows.

Step 7: Write it Down

This is the most important step in measuring gauge. You need to write everything down. Your needle size and type, the yarn used, how you washed it, and your gauge. You WILL NOT REMEMBER IT IF YOU DON’T WRITE IT DOWN. I don’t care how good your memory is write it down.

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Yarn Love: Bluefaced Leicester

I actually ended up with a skein of Bluefaced Leicester (BFL) sock yarn by chance. Molly from a Homespun House was doing a Christmas at Hogwarts sock yarn club and of course I needed to sign up. The club was dyed up on several of her bases and so I ended up with a skein of her BFL sock yarn.

At first I was a little disappointed that I ended up with BFL instead of merino. I was worried my socks wouldn’t be soft and cozy and that they would not work up the way I wanted. But I was so wrong.

YARN LOVE

It’s safe to say that I am a BFL convert. BFL / Nylon is by far my favorite yarn base for my socks. It holds up much better than my merino sock (much less pilling) and I didn’t have to sacrifice softness to get a sturdier sock. Plus in my experience, your mileage may vary, my BFL socks retain their shape and don’t stretch out the way my merino socks do.

 

Knitting your First Sweater: Choosing a Pattern

Knitting a sweater can seem like a really daunting task, especially if it is something you’ve never done. But here’s the thing: following a sweater pattern is no harder than following a sock or mitten pattern sweaters are just bigger. There are a ton of great resources online that will help you knit your first sweater but sifting through  all of these resources can be a challenge. I thought I would create a series on knitting sweaters for this first time because sweaters were something that I put off knitting for a long time simply because I thought it would be really hard and I didn’t know where to begin.

Today I want to focus on picking a pattern because while there are a lot of great resources out there to guide you through the process of improvising a sweater I think most people want someone else to do the math for them. So let’s talk about Ravelry.

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There are a ton of great patterns available on Ravelry but unfortunately the search feature on their website is pretty bad. Whenever I need to find something on a website with a poor search engine I use Google. If I am looking for a top down raglan pattern I will type ‘top down raglan ravelry’ into the search bar and that provides me with a number of options.

Whether you are looking to buy a physical pattern book or you want a digital download Ravelry is a good place to start because you can find information on patterns in both of these formats. But finding a great pattern is not as simple as finding a pretty finished object pictures on Ravelry. There are some things you should pay attention to when choosing a pattern.

Classic Oak Cardigan

A) Will it fit you?

Make sure that this sweater comes in your size. While this information is usually on the Ravelry pattern page it is important to pay attention to what measurements are actually given. If the designer lists the measurements of person intended to wear each size then this is easy but that is not always how sizing information is presented. If the designer lists the final garment measurement you will need to find out how the sweater is supposed to fit in order to determine your size. If the final bust measurement of the garment is 32′ this could be intended to fit someone with a 30′, 32′, or 34′ bust depending on how much ease there is in the pattern.

B) How is the sweater constructed?

Just like with any other knitting project there are numerous ways to knit a sweater. A sweater can be knit in pieces and seamed together or it can be knit in the round all in one piece. Choosing the best way to construct your sweater is all about personal preference. If you hate purling I would not recommend choosing a pattern that is knit flat an seamed together since you will most likely be doing a lot of purling.

Another thing you have to pay attention to is weather the sweater is knit from the bottom up or the top down. I find that I like to knit sweaters from the top down because I feel it gives me a better idea of whether or not the sweater will fit a lot sooner in the process. When you knit a sweater from the bottom up you have to knit the entire body and both sleeves before you get to the yoke, which is when most of the important sizing happens. If you fall in between two sizes and knit your sweater from the bottom up you might not realize you chose the wrong size until you put it all together at the yoke. It’s a pretty big time commitment for a sweater that is not going to fit right.

Myra's Pull-Over

C) Are the instructions easy to follow?

It can be a bit tricky to figure this out without buying the pattern and reading through it but I think Ravelry is a great resource for this. When someone knits a project from a pattern on Ravelry they can create a project page and link it to the pattern. On these project pages the knitter can make notes about their yarn and needle choice and also about the pattern itself. You will often see something along the lines of ‘great beginner pattern’ or ‘the instructions were difficult to follow’ or ‘great pattern but I wouldn’t recommend it for beginners’ written on people’s project pages. These comments can give you an idea of the clarity of the pattern instructions.

Ravelry also has a comments tab for patterns where people can post comments about the pattern. Sometimes these will all be praise but in my experience If a pattern is hard to follow there will be a fair number of questions posted here.

D) Will you like the finished product?

When you are trying to pick pattern you should take a good look at your wardrobe and your favorite sweaters. Most of us have a style that we are most comfortable with. If your entire wardrobe is straight out the LL Bean or Land’s End catalog (like mine) then you probably not going to get much wear out of a flashy Steven West pattern. There is nothing wrong with wanting to change up your style by all means if you want to knit something different go for it. It would just be a shame to pour time and effort into a hand knit sweater that you will never wear because it is outside of your comfort zone.

Knitting your first sweater

Have you knit a sweater before? How did you choose a pattern? Let me know in the comments below!