Getting Gauge

ImageYou know how I love to swatch? I know I’m weird like that. However, in developing my exciting new cowl patterns I ran into a little problem with more swatches than even I could handle knitting.

I want my new patterns to be knittable in any gauge – real stash busters, a chance to use up favourite yarns or precious mini-skeins. Or an excuse to buy the yarn you really love.

But that meant making swatches in, um, every  gauge so that I could do the yarn calculations. I love my patterns to be accurate and detailed enough to be easy to follow. So, I ambitiously planned that I would do a pile of swatches and work out actual yarn quantities for lots of gauges. Or so I thought.

First I wrote a list and realised that this meant making about 20 totally plain swatches. In garter stitch. Much as I love working in simple garter stitch, frankly, I just don’t watch that much TV.

A clever friend suggested I make a competition out of it at our knitting group. So I arrived with a pile of yarn and bundle of needles and a plan involving chocolate. Lots of chocolate. Everyone who cast on would get a chocolate crispy cake immediately and all swatches completed that morning would go into a draw for a bar of posh chocolate. I seem to have roped my kids into helping with my knitting again; they helped me make the chocolate crispy cakes.

So far so good. Everyone was happy knitting and chewing. I got a lovely pile of swatches and my son drew a winning swatch out of the bag (more child labour). The lucky knitter generously passed her winnings around the group so I even got a square of chocolate.

I knew I had an evening of arithmetic ahead of me. I got my scales, calculator and tape measure all ready to calculate how much yarn would be needed for each yarn/gauge combination. Here’s where it got really weird.

What I actually discovered was that two knitters can knit completely different yarns on completely different needle sizes and still get the same gauge and yarn consumption, give or take about 3m for the whole cowl.

In theory, you need more metres of skinny yarn to cover the same area. But I also discovered that one knitter can produced a swatch in skinny yarn that would need about 100m less yarn for the cowl than another knitter in slightly thicker yarn and looser tension. Yes, I did quadruple check the maths on that. Yes, both tensions were perfectly reasonable for the yarns in question and they were both very ordinary plain wool yarns.

So, at that point I realised there is no such thing as an average knitter with average yarn. Yes, I’ve been told this a thousand times but there it was in black and white. In actual numbers. In an actual pattern headache.

I went back to the drawing board (calculator) and looked at yarn estimating for a handful of different kinds of yarn, so I could give knitters a rough guide. And then wrote a worksheet for accurately calculating how much yarn you’ll need for my new cowls – based on your own personal choice of yarn and gauge. So although I can’t knit everyone’s swatches for them, even though I tried, you do get to use the gauge you actually like to knit to rather than trying to conform to someone else’s weird knitting style. And that sounds good to me.

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