Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Knitting With Tears

There are a few things in life that are inevitable-- death and taxes, of course, but if you're a knitter, you can add gauge to that list. Gauge, and crying over gauge. Gauge is kind of like Karma, only worse. When gauge and Karma gang up on you, you're totally fucked.

I can count the number of readers of this blog on one hand, and I know some of you don't knit. So for the record, gauge is the number of stitches in one inch of knitting. Gauge changes when you change your yarn, needle size, needle type, the color of your underwear, or how you brush your teeth. If you have a glass of delicious and refreshing red wine, your gauge can change. If you are knitting while watching a suspenseful movie, your gauge can change. Sometimes, for no apparent reason whatsoever, your gauge can and will change.

You can thumb your nose at gauge, for years even, blithely knitting up scarves, hats, blankets, Christmas stockings, and all manner of wonderful things. Some may turn out bigger than expected, some smaller, but none of that really matters and you're having a delightful time. Thing is, gauge is critical for a garment that actually needs to fit.

Let's take, for example, my husband's sweater. Just for example. I basically want to knit a 44" circumference tube. I have diligently made my gauge swatch-- a little piece of test knitting-- using my yarn and multiple needle sizes. I have even washed and blocked this adorable little strip of knitting to get a feeling for how much the fabric will stretch out. I decide I like the fabric best at a gauge of 5.5 stitches/inch after blocking. 44 X 5.5 = 242 stitches that I need to cast on. Tra la la.

I am expecting that before I wash the sweater, my gauge will be 6 stitches per inch. 242/6 = roughly 4o. So I know that when I measure the tube, as I will diligently do every few inches or so, it should be 40" around.

Yeah, and monkeys might also fly out of my butt.

This is what happened Monday. I woke up, knit a few rows of the tube, and then slipped all 242 stitches onto a piece of white cotton thread. That way, I can stretch out the tube to it's full dimensions. And measure it. It should be 40", I know this at the very core of my being.

Gauge and Karma. They don't like me. That six inch long tube, which has taken me quite a few hours-- mindless, pleasurable hours, but still, many-- to create, and into which so much thought and homework has gone, measures 44" around.

I know you're following me closely, so you remember that I want a 44" circumference tube. What on earth could be wrong, then? Well, remember the yarn I'm using contains 50% soft, fuzzy, delicious Alpaca fibers, which have all the resilience of a wet noodle. There's only so much the 50% sturdy, elastic wool can do here. It's going to stretch out like gangbusters. My 44" tube (which I knew in the deepest part of my soul should measure 40") is going to end up fitting like those "before" pants in a Jenny Craig commercial.

Sometimes words can't capture a moment:

I briefly flirted with the idea that I could very delicately cut the tube and seam it back together with fewer stitches, then continue on my merry way. I think EZ would approve of this strategy-- remember EZ? Then I came to my senses-- the whole point of making a seamless sweater is to not have to sew, right? There is a time and a place for cutting a hole in your knitting, and this is not it.

The only compensation I had for unravelling 6 inches of sweater was getting to use my favorite new toy, the ball winder. Now I have a cute pile of yarn cakes awaiting my renewed efforts:

I'm sitting down now trying to come up with the reasons my gauge sample betrayed me. Karma and hubris come to mind. It also dawns on me that I knit my gauge sample flat, rather than in the round. I thought of that while I was knitting the flat gauge sample, but I decided that my gauge would probably not change much-- famous last words, as they say.

The good people on Ravelry had many helpful suggestions. My favorite: "Ultimately, your finished work will be your most accurate gauge swatch." Does that mean I have to knit two sweaters for every one that fits? Fuck.

I think I'll start by making some gauge swatches in the round. As soon as I finish crying.

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