Sunday, May 27, 2012

Sometimes I may seem unsympathetic and unforgiving...

I've had a couple of conversations about gauge in classes in the last few days, and it seemed pretty clear from the reactions of my students that they felt that I was being strict and unsympathetic.

The truth?

I am. On the topic of gauge, I am unyielding.

I'm entirely sympathetic to those who don't understand what it's all about. I'm very sympathetic to those to who don't understand why it's important. And I'm happy to spend as much as needed addressing questions on how to do it.

I took me years to wrap my head around the issue of gauge and how it related to why my hats were too small. And then a bit longer than that to figure out how to use that knowledge to ensure that my hats were no longer too small.

But I am entirely unsympathetic to those who do know what's what - and then tell me that they find it too much work to swatch. I have to tell you, I don't find it particularly cute or funny when a knitter tells me that they don't bother swatching. (More often than not, this 'confession' is delivered with a giggle, like it's a cheeky and harmless transgression.) Why? Because I know that next year I'm going to hear a story about a garment that took months to knit but didn't fit, and how unhappy it made the knitter. Often I have these two conversations in the same class - (different knitters, obviously).

The longer I teach knitting, the sharper my reply: "Do you care how it fits?".

Because it's as simple as that. If you don't swatch for a garment you simply cannot know if it's going to be the right size. 

Now: the corollary to this is that if it's not a garment - or not an item where a particular size matters, for example a scarf or a shawl - gauge doesn't matter.  I don't mind if my scarf is an inch wider than the pattern says it should be. (It doesn't mean I don't still knit a test piece to assess the fabric, to make sure I like how it looks; and sometimes that test piece is just the first few inches of the scarf. But I don't swatch for gauge. But that's a topic for another day.)

I had a related conversation this weekend with knitters about working a project from a kit. The kit is for a certain size baby garment. One of the two knitters, S., had already made this garment from the same brand of kit, and remarked that she had a fair bit of yarn left over. Indeed, according to threads on Rav, this particular kit in this particular size had enough left over to make one size larger.  Excellent news!  B. and I joked a little about her needing to swatch - of course, I said. We were in a group, and there were several conversations going on. A few minutes later, S. and B. were chatting and S. told B. she really didn't need to swatch - it's only a baby sweater, after all, and it doesn't matter if it's the wrong size... if it's too big then all the better, and if it's too small it would be ok because she was making the larger size anyway.  (I general, I would agree - there's a bit of room for fudge with sizing a baby sweater.)

I think they were both a bit shocked when I stopped my conversation, interrupted theirs and very firmly said no. B. had to swatch. No question.

Here's the other thing about not knitting to gauge: knitting looser uses up more yarn.  Since B. was already pushing the limits of her kit by working the larger size, if she wasn't on gauge (or smaller), she was risking running out of yarn. To me, the equation is simple: spend less than an hour swatching to make sure you're on gauge, or spend 10 or 15 hours (or more) knitting a sweater you can't finish because you've run out of yarn.

So yes, if my delivery was sharp or harsh, I apologize. If I came across as unyielding - I'm not sorry one bit.


Marilyn said...

Kate, I agree with you. I never used to swatch until I met you (sounds like a line for a song). The fit of my garments is 100% better. I now preach the benefit of swatching.

Unknown said...

Preach it sista! I learned the hard way and now swatch faithfully. :)

Natural fibre girl said...

Thanks again for stressing the importance of swatching.. I am guilty of not swatching everything I make.. I'd better practise what I preach

Kirsten said...

The problem with the "it's okay if it's bigger" argument is that you're not making it bigger - you're only making it wider. Most patterns tell you to knit to a certain length, not a number of rows, so you will end up with a baby jacket, say, that's cropped, with sleeves too short. Depending on how far off your gauge is, it will either look totally ridiculous, or just slightly off.

You can get around this by measuring carefully to see what size your width is going to match with, then follow the length instructions for the larger size... but if you're going to go to all that trouble, it's a lot easier to just swatch in the first place!

(I still hate swatching, I have to say. But before I embarked on a fair isle baby sweater that I knew would take hundreds of hours, I did at least four swatches, I remember.)

Oh! I just realized! Depending on the situation, you could also add "Do you want it to fit? And do you intend to ever wash it?" We all know how things change in the wash!

SewIknit2 said...

I would absolutely love to understand tension swatch knitting more in the practical sense of what to do in certain situations eg where the needle sizes have you off by a bit in rows more than stitches - I liked your post thanks x

lyndagrace said...

So that's my problem. I am not experienced enough, I guess to understand how to count the stitches and rows. And can you ever get the swatch to be exact. How do you count 1/2 of a stitch. I'm so confused with swatching. Any recommendations for a beginner swatcher?