Friday, August 10, 2012

Gauge Swatching Hell

So now the younger son wants a sweater. A v-necked cardigan, to be exact. With buttons.

We shopped for yarn and he decided on something from Beaverslide Dry Goods, which I think is cool because this is "local" yarn - grown, dyed, and spun in the western US and Canada. I like that idea. The yarn's nice, too - very soft, tweedy, and with a large range of muted colours.

Younger Son picked "sage", a greyish-green colour that reminds me of my childhood summers on the Alberta prairie.

Now for the pattern. He's not too specific about what he wants, so I'm going to have to run a bunch of swatches by him. He has indicated "cables" and "all-over"; not an aran in other words. Hm...

I first tried a swatch of one of Melissa Leapman's designs, but it didn't look good. The yarn knit up too big and the tweedy nature of the wool hid the cables. Nixed.

Next up: Kathy Zimmerman's Anniversary pullover.

I've knit up a swatch, it's looking promising. A quick "steam blocking" (pin the thing down on the ironing board and zap it with a blast of steam) gives me a provisional gauge of 5.6st/inch, so I will be trying a 100-st hat next. I want to confirm my gauge in the round (I knit the swatch flat, back-and-forth). Before blocking, the piece is quite stretchy (it's a rib-based design after all), while after the steam blocking you loose some of this. I'm assuming washing it for wet-blocking will have a similar effect...

[swatch of Anniversary Pullover stitch pattern. Yarn = Beaverslide Dry Goods 90/10 merino/mohair, colourway sage heather)

Armed with the swatch, I've set up for a larger swatch - a hat - 100sts and knit in the round. After washing it gently and laying it out to dry, it turns out that this yarn relaxes a lot. I now find that the gauge is closer to 5sts/in! It has totally changed its texture and is soft and fluffy. Very nice...but not as "ribby" and it has lost a lot of the stitch definition.

But, the Son likes the hat and is wearing it around. After a day or so I grab it off his head and measure it again. The hat (which was not particularly tight fitting) has now grown to 4.5 sts/in. Yikes!!

Now I am confused. Which gauge should I use to start knitting the sweater? 5.6 st/in?  5 st/in? 4.5 st/in?? This is a huge difference!

I've decided to use the 5 st/in, because:
1. the sweater will be washed at some point,
2. the sweater will not be worn on someone's head, and so the "stretching stress" is likely to be smaller than for a hat.

So, the next step is to start on a sleeve (something SMALL so I won't go over the edge if I have to frog!) and to knit up to the elbow, wash it, and see what I get:

[partial sleeve, washed and dried without stretching]

This is looking good. It fits well, Young Son is still happy with the look (although I find it disappointingly unlike the pattern picture). So I'm good to go for the 2 sleeves.


  1. Great post! I'm certain it only seems like hell in comparison to what might have been involved in making a pair of socks. However, your meticulous approach and time spent seems entirely appropriate to the investment in yarn you must have made as well as the effort that will be required to complete a successful sweater. And now I remember why I switched from sweaters to socks!

  2. I'm only just getting back into sweaters, after being burned on my last one for "going swatchless". Lesson learned!! I'm being completely anal about this one...