Gauging Success

A few weeks back, I volunteered at Vogue Knitting Live Seattle and spent two days at this yarn extravaganza.

I decided to volunteer so that I wouldn’t be able to talk myself out of going. I knew if something came up for BG or the MR or I was invited to something with friends, I’d be tempted to blow it off–even though I really wanted to go. Volunteering forced me to commit, and I had a great time putting together gift bags, checking badges, dressing models, and winding yarn into balls for a random bunch of wonderful ladies who just happened to stop by.

As a thank you for giving of my time, I received $25 off the class of my choice, free entrance, plus some gift cards that should be arriving soon. Well, I’ve been knitting for over 30 years and crocheting for over 40 years; I figured I pretty much had this thing down. Then I saw a class entitled “The Secrets to Solving Mistakes, Mishaps, and the Disappointing Project.” OK, maybe I could use a little help after all, so I signed up.

Leslye Solomon of Woolstock Yarn Shop, just 20 miles outside Baltimore and 2,700 miles from my house, dropped pearls of wisdom throughout the class, and I do believe my knitting will never be the same. I guess it goes to show you that you can always learn something new.

Here’s just a few gems for you:

  • Your stitches should fit the shape of the needle. You don’t want to be all loosey-goosey or so tight you have to fight to get the stitch off.
  • Make sure you cast on and bind off loose enough to match your knitting. If it’s curling, it’s too tight, and you’re going to have to take it out.
    (The lady next to me had a lovely shawl with a curling point that just needed a looser bind off.)
  • As a rule of thumb, use a two-needle cast-on for a lengthwise scarf or a blanket.
  • Use Dawn to wash your sweaters
    Isn’t that harsh? Why would I use that? That’s what the the spinners use to get the oil out of the wool–hhm I’ll think about it.
  • Put knots in your yarn tail to mark the needle size. That way you won’t have to remember if you used size 7 or size 8 needles for the front of that sweater that you got sick of and put away for the last six months. I totally loved that idea. It spoke to my unorganized heart.
  • The needles you use for ribbing should always be smaller than the needles you use for the main body. If the pattern calls for the same size; it’s wrong. Be brave and do the right thing–it’s going to look better I promise.
  • When you’re knitting lace, add a “life line” after a row where everything matches up perfectly–the purl return row if you’re lucky enough to have one.
    (Simply run a tapestry needle with contrasting thread through all the loops. That way when you have too many yarn overs and something’s gone horribly wrong with your count, you’ve got a do-over without dropping any stitches.)
  • If your sweater is too big and you never wear it after all that work, pull out your serger or sewing machine. An overlock stitch or a zig-zag can give you a new edge, be brave, cut it up, and stitch it all back together. You won’t win a prize at the county fair, but at least you’ll get to wear it.

Finally, the biggest “Ah-ha!” moment came when we started talking about swatches and gauge. When you’re starting a sweater, you’re supposed to make a small swatch to check your gauge, so you can make sure that the sweater will end up the same size as the pattern. When our trusty teacher asked us how many stitches to cast on for this, the answers ran the gamut from the exact amount of the gauge plus a couple for a border, the exact amount called for, round the gauge amount up to the nearest round number, cast on the amount needed for the sleeve and start on that, cast on and use a garter stitch along the edge to keep it flat. Basically, no one new the “right” answer. Leslye suggested casting on the exact amount called for; otherwise how are you going to keep the stitch count with some of the bulky and fuzzy yarns out there. She uses blocking wires to keep the swatch flat.This all seemed to make sense.

Then she asked the craziest question ever, “Do you wash your swatch?” Well, I’ve already gone to the bother of checking the gauge, why would I do that? If you’re going to wash your sweater, you need to see what happens when you wash your gauge swatch. Maybe the yarn will loosen up and flatten out, or maybe it will shrink–you just don’t know. Perhaps that’s why Baby Girl’s Christmas sweater has rather long sleeves. Our teacher was kind enough to show us samples and share stories of past mistakes. As she pulled out a beautiful red and white striped swatch, the room let out an audible “aww”. When the two vibrant yarns were washed the stripes bled together. So much better to learn that lesson on a small sample rather than on the finished sweater.

Another light bulb moment was when she asked the class how we block our knits. A volunteer began laying a sweater piece out flat–just like we all would have done. Unfortunately, this doesn’t take into account gravity, so Leslye recommends giving your swatch a little stretch to see how it’s really going to hang and then counting the rows (on the purl side). Then if the gauge is supposed to be 10 rows to four inches but your is only 8 rows to four inches, you use that ratio to figure out number of rows rather than by measuring. It requires a little math and a little thinking, but at least your sleeves will both be the same length.

So has this really made a difference in my knitting? Yes, I came home and unraveled a sweater that seemed way too big before it was even blocked. I’ve washed my swatches and checked my gauge. Now let’s hope my math is right and it turns out beautiful–or at least wearable.

Gauge Collage

Now if you get a chance to go to Vogue Knitting Live, I’d say grab it. It was wonderful to be surrounded by other people all passionate about something you love. Leslye Solomon was an amazing teacher; I highly recommend one of her classes. I’m sure it would be much more organized than my ramblings. I do hope you’ve picked up a few tips and trick to try.

What are you knitting or crocheting? Any hobby have you hooked?






3 thoughts on “Gauging Success

  1. Oh thank you so much for the instructions. It was just like my mother teaching me all over again……as a matter of fact, she visited me last night in a dream. She was sitting in their home knitting. It was so real, and I was so surprised to see her and get to talk to her again. And then she said she was surprised that I was so surprised. Hmmmm.

    • I dreamt that that the girls and I turned down a dirt road that got narrower and narrower. Soon the banks on the side of the road were scratching the sides of the car, and the girls kept telling me to turn around. I like your dream better.

  2. Pingback: March in Review | bigwhitehouseonthehill

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