Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Criminally En-Gauged

Sarah C. wrote in with some Guayabera related questions. She wanted to make it for her husband by Christmas but...

“I found out that I just can not get the recommended gauge. I went up to a size 9 needle and I am still coming up too short and the gauge is way too loose. Can you tell me what could I be doing wrong... I was hoping to make this shirt for X-mas."

Sarah found that her swatch was too goo-ey and with large spaces bewteen stitches and rows and she was still getting more stitches per inch. She started to doubt her skill as a knitter, oh, it's always me, sigh. The importance of a correct gauge is paramount but getting it correctly may sometimes seem like recreating a crime scene. I wrote the gauge as such: 16 st by 21 rows over a 4” X 4” on #7 SPN using worsted weight linen yarn (Louet-Sales Geneva). Sarah was getting 21 st over 4" on #9, a good five sts too many. Being a multi-tasking mother of two, it sounded like she was just knitting tightly at first, but that might not have been the only factor. Did the yarn play a role? Was Sarah C. in fact guilty as charged? Louet-Sales Geneva, don't we all hate the Swiss?

breakin' the law, breakin' the law... dun dun

A False Report! I made six swatches on a few needle sizes. To get the 4" gauge made I swatches that were roughly 7" square. Before wahing and blocking I averaged 17 to 19 sts over a 4" X 4" area. After blocking, the linen yarn "bloomed". From three of the swatches I averaged 16 to 17 over 4" on #7 SPN. Long story short, my swatch expanded after a proper wash-n-block.

Resisting Arrest? Hardness factor and resistance play a role in how we hold our needles and yarn. On the Mohs Scale of Hardness wood, bamboo and plastic are closer to 3, refined steel is 7+. When I use metal I tend to grip harder to keep everything on the needle, it makes me knit tighter. Wood and plastic on the other hand tend to resist yarn slippage. I recommend using wooden needles for the linen yarn. The yarn itself is also a bit slick. This sly fiber slipped easily from my hands. For this project I used the Enlgish style of holding for more control.

The Discovery. People often wax poetically about their favorite brands of yarn, but it's all about substance and character. Fibers reveal their true characteristic after blocking or fulling. I found that the linen yarn bloomed handsomely, taking on a soft sheen and heavy drape. The fibers opened up and became much softer especially after being ironed and steamed. The true character of a yarn becomes more obvious over time, so be careful of poly-blends that feel soft at first. Your gloves might end up as scouring pads next year.

Released on Recognizance. Use your experienced judgement, but never jump blindly into a project wether it's a hat or sweater. I tend to buy the same brands but also have noticed that the quality may vary from year to year. Comparable yarns vary by tightness of spin and density, so I swatch everything before hand. I also put projects in progress into zip-bags with dated notes. I might want to return to the scene of the crime later.
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