Gauge issues

Gauge, the thing knitters love to hate, or hate to love. The gauge swatch…that small piece of test fabric that so often seems to be an obstacle to really getting started on a new project…it’s so easy just to measure your stitches on the needle to have an idea if you’re on the right track stitch-size-wise, isn’t it?

And then there are the times where you do swatch properly, taking the time to test out how the fabric will behave, giving it a good wash & pinning it out to dry…such preparation ensures that the new project will come out correctly, right? Uh….right?

Not so much, not all the time. Enter Exhibit A, my recently completed (yes, in time for Italy!), but slightly disappointing Hourglass Sweater.

I did swatch. I even did it properly (I think) for circular knitting.

Maybe not the 4″ long that most swatchers like, but I wasn’t concerned about row gauge since I knew I was going to mess with the length of the sweater (not being the tall, willowy sort). But the swatch was definitely wide enough so I could check the gauge, which, according to the pattern was 19 st. to 4″. I had to use 8’s to get this gauge, so off I went.

Everything went swimmingly until I started the arms. I was in the airport on my way to Boston back at the beginning of March, using size 8 Addi circs to cast on the arms. And they looked terrible! The stitches were loose and just not at all like the fabric I was getting with the knitpicks options circs I was using for the body. Of course, I didn’t have the body with me (efficiency of packing and all that), but I then assumed that I had been mistaken about the 8’s and was actually using 7’s. So when I got home, I rustled up a 7 Addi circ that was long enough to do the Magic Loop (gosh I love that technique), and re-started the sleeves. Ahhh. much better. The fabric was lovely! And I think to myself, I’m such a great knitter! what a wonderful world!

I merrily went on my way, doing both sleeves and joining for the yoke, finishing in time to do the hems and block it before I left for my Florentine adventure. I tried it on, afraid that it would be a bit snug (I did the xs size, but was unsure of how the easing would turn out). It seemed fine for the 3 minutes I had it on. Yay! My first sweater completed! I was going to wear it all week in Italy!!

Turns out, it was plenty roomy. So much so that I could grab a bunch of the back and have it still look fine in the front. And the neckline was decidedly 80’s with it sliding off one shoulder. Ack!! And it didn’t really work with the layering options I had packed in my suitcase, so it only came out once (see my last post…it’s behind the gelato and under the scarf…the scarf being there so the off-the-shoulder look wasn’t quite as obvious). What happened?

The answer began to present itself as I swatched for my current project, the Frock Camisole from Interweave Knits’ Spring 08 issue. I began swatching (swatching again! go me!) on what I thought were 7’s from the Hourglass sweater. My gauge was waaaaaay off…so I finally checked what size needle I was using. They were 8’s! I had been doing the body of the Hourglass on 8’s all that time. I went back to the offending sweater and checked the gauge on the body vs the sleeves. Here’s the kicker. For the body, it was 20 st to 4″. So my gauge had been off there, accounting somewhat for the roominess of the sweater. BUT, the sleeves, knit on 7’s, were 16 st to 4″. That’s a hefty difference for one needle size change. And neither would have been right for the recommended gauge of the sweater. Was this project doomed to fail from the beginning???

So, the sweater is done. And all sorts of lessons learned. Don’t always trust the gauge swatch. Maybe the weight of the sweater stretched out the 19st/4in gauge of the swatch as it hung. But should I have used 7’s? Then my gauge would have been way too tight. It’s a bit confusing! I love the pattern (so easy!) and the fabric, for being two different gauges, looks pretty good. I will make it again (I’m thinking in red. or maybe a nice green? navy?), but do I choose different yarn? Knit it on 7’s and recalculate stitches upwards, or on 8’s and downsize it a bit? I could always do some extra decreases in the back to make it more fitted there (let’s face it…the sweater is the same, front and back, and I most definitely am not). The sleeves, even at the tighter gauge, were still too long (darn my short arms!). I’m glad I went with the Knitpicks Andean Silk as opposed to the Noro…it was a much better price point for all the things I learned (or at least discovered) from knitting this sweater.

Anyway, I can wear the sweater…I hear the 80’s are back, right? Or my pretty shawl from the San Lorenzo market in Florence can hide the offending bra strap. Or I can layer it (I tried that, and the extra fabric works with the bulk of an oxford below it). It’s not a total loss…just not the sweater I was expecting to get.

PS…I was going to post this with all sorts of explanatory pictures, but the sky is as dark as the sweater, and it is not a good day for picture taking.

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