Friday, April 23, 2010

The S word (and it's not what you think)

Let's get all nasty and talk about swatches. You know what I mean--that thing you're supposed to do before you cast on for your actual knitted item. Yes, I know a lot of people consider swatches to be a waste of time, sort of like shaving your legs when you know you're going to be wearing pants. What difference does it make? Who's going to know? But is NOT doing a swatch really worth the agony of knitting for hours and hours, only to find that the sweater/sock/hat you're knitting will fit a two year old but not you?

I'm about to release a sock pattern and a few nights ago, a clever person on Ravelry suggested it might be nice done in a cotton yarn. I've fiddled with a couple of different cotton and cotton-blend yarns, only one of which is not making me want to rip my hair out. It's Cascade Cotton Rich DK. Yes, DK. The original pattern is written for worsted weight yarn, but I had a strange feeling the Cascade just might work. I have spent a couple of hours on a swatch, using the same size needles I did with the Cascade 220 Superwash, and danged if I'm not getting gauge.

I suspected the DK might work because of a something I know about me and cotton yarns--my gauge changes when I knit with cotton. I'm thinking the fact that most cotton and cotton-blend yarns don't have the  same kind of "bounce" that wool has causes me to knit differently. Here are a few other things I know about my own personal gauge:

  1. It differs when I knit in the round vs. flat knitting.
  2. If I'm feeling tense, my gauge gets smaller. (I avoid knitting for several hours after I've taken DD driving, sort of like when you don't swim for two hours after eating.)
  3. A glass of wine negates #2.
  4. If I pick up a UFO that's been marinating for a few months, my gauge will be different, but only if it's not something that I really, really like. Never fails.
  5. I have a theory that the lack of humidity here in Colorado affects the gauge of certain yarns, but I could just be full of that other S word.

Yes, in most instances gauge, like size, matters. Here's a linky with some great information about gauge: what it is, why it's important, and how to understand what it's telling you. Well done, Mary Smith. Now get busy swatching!


  1. Yep. Swatching with cotton is a whole different experience.
    I try to remind myself it's still knitting, but it just doesn't feel like it since it won't result in anything.
    I was trying to follow #3, but Samson knocked the wine glass over with his giant tail. Red wine at that. Stupid puppy. At least the glass didn't break!

  2. I did a pair of cotton socks once with a Cherry Tree Hill Summer sock (do they even make this any more?) and the gauge was DEFINITELY different vs. wool sock yarn. Nice socks and they're holding up nicely but knitting with cotton, for me, is the pits. lol

  3. True confession - I NEVER swatch for scarves, socks or baby clothes. I DO swatch for sweaters - although the stupid swatches sometimes lie. Grrrrr


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