Saturday, April 28, 2007

Gauge? Pah!

I am a mere mortal, and therefore never manage to get gauge on published patterns. We all know everyone knits differently, depending on all sorts of factors: yarn, type and size of needle, knitting flat or in the round, using magic loop or dpn's, English or continental, etc., etc. Basically, the chances that two people would get the same garment using the same pattern, even with identical yarn and needles, are close to nil. (Not one in a million, because as we've all learned from Terry Pratchett, one in a million odds comes up in your favour nine times out of ten.)

A while ago, I read of a strategy wherein one knits to a tighter gauge, and then simply blocks to required measurements. (As a scientist, I like to cite my sources, so I'm slightly embarrassed that I can't remember where I read this.) As soon as I read it, my brain went, "Duh." I've tried this with a couple of sweaters (since frogged, of course, although for reasons other than gauge/size), and it works for me. I knit really loosely, so I always do my gauge swatches with needles a couple of millimeters smaller than recommended. I never get 24 stitches over 10 cm, or whatever. I get 25, or 24-1/2. Like I said, mere mortal. And, should I, by some miracle, get stitch gauge, my row gauge is of course way way off. Instead of worrying over it, though, I wash and block my swatch to whatever size it should be. If I like the resulting fabric, then I'm ready to go.

This works best on something springy and amenable to blocking, obviously. Although I did it for a sweater knit from alpaca (famous for not having much memory) and it worked wonderfully. It also makes it much easier to substitute yarns. I like this method because it means I don't have to beat myself up over getting exact gauge. More importantly, it's an active way of getting correct tension. With this method, perfect gauge isn't something that I have little control over and can only hope to passively luck into. If I knit to a close enough gauge, I can make the knitting conform to whatever the desired dimensions are. Then my only issue is whether I like that particular yarn at that particular gauge, i.e., if I like the fabric I got. And that makes it my decision- I'm not abandoning a yarn and fabric I like because the vague, mysterious gauge fairies have decided I should be a half stitch off per inch. This is especially important when I remember that tension may change as I knit! I like that this method gives me an extra measure of control over the knitting.

Not that I'm a control freak.

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