Gauge and other matters

I’m a pretty arrogant knitter. I generally assume that if there’s something wrong with a knit then it’s the pattern’s fault. So if a sweater fabric is stiff and unresponsive, then it is Not Because Of Anything I Have Done. However… after knitting the Julien sweater twice (because the first time its recipient was essentially unable to breathe), I did do myself the favour of reading Kate Davies’s excellent disquisition on the subject of gauge. I don’t do gauge swatches. The only time I ever did it was for a sweater that I hated (though that was more to do with the colour, the yarn, the pattern and the fact that I hate wearing sweaters I’ve knitted than the gauge). But after reading Kate on the subject it did, belatedly, occur to me that it was just possible that I ought to do a swatch before knitting.  (The Julien turned out ok in the end)

Boy wearing a sweater-vest
Julien sweater

So on the latest sweater for Oldest Child (who is growing so fast that sweaters now have a shelf-life of approximately six months) I actually did the swatch thing. And it was worth it because the recommended needle size for the yarn gave me something far too stiff.

This was always going to be a super-basic, throw-on sweater. Debbie Bliss cotton dk print that I got (very) cheap on eBay, but a really pretty turquoise. I eked it a bit with some other balls that came bundled with it, which make quite a nice yoke (though if I was doing it again I’d start the yoke higher) and she’s immediately snatched it, refusing to even let me sew in the yarn ends (fine by me).

Girl wearing sweater
Top-down plain sweater

So, how’s it going?

It’s going well, since you ask, actually. Having recently battled through my hopeless inability to follow instructions in Ann Budd’s Handy Book of Top-Down Sweaters I haven’t really broken a sweat doing it a second time in quick succession. Though this time, As God Is My Witness, I did discover a mistake in the book. As  you’ll know, when you knit a top-down raglan sweater you start off knitting flat and then eventually join up to work in the round. With a v-neck like this one you join up after a rather longer period of knitting.


I’d been knitting for quite some time when it occurred to me to wonder exactly when I was supposed to be joining up to make it a sweater (rather than a cardigan). Reading, re-reading and re-re-reading the book, it became clear to me that At No Point did Ann instruct me to join for knitting in the round. So I asked her on her blog, and because she’s a lovely and helpful person she answered me almost immediately. I’ve written it in by hand in the book as I will inevitably have forgotten by the next time I want to do this. *


So anyway, this is where I am. I’ve left the bottom ‘live’ for now because I want to be sure I’ve got enough yarn for sleeves and neck before I make it any longer. I don’t especially want yarn leftovers so when I’ve done the sleeves and the neck I’m just going to keep going until it’s a bit more tunic-length. If I have to do some increases to allow for the fact of having hips then so be it. I initially kept the twisted stitch pattern going, cabling it under and over the sleeves, but it looked a bit odd as the rest of the sweater is quite plain, so I ripped back the sleeve I’d done and started again. Definitely something to ponder for another time, though, perhaps on a patterned aran.


  • In case this ever happens to you, you join up as soon as you have the same number of stitches for the front as you have for the back. My neckline is slightly heart-shaped because I did it one row after.

Ladies and gentlemen, for the first time ever…

This marks something of a milestone. I’ve been knitting for about 38 years now, and never, ever, ever have I done what you’re supposed to do before commencing a project and knitted a swatch. But the truth is I had some yarn that I wasn’t quite sure about, and I didn’t yet know what I was going to knit with it, so it seemed like knitting a sample and seeing how it behaved when it was knitted and washed would be helpful.


It’s mixed Corriedale and Hebridean from Blacker Yarns, overdyed turquoise. I knitted myself a sample using the needles suggested and got quite a stiff fabric. It softened up a bit when it was washed, so I thought I’d forge ahead and cast on. Then it occurred to me that maybe – just maybe – given the number of sweaters I’d knitted myself that I never wore (because they don’t fit), perhaps I should measure my gauge.

Glad I did. Because this yarn, which brazenly calls itself a DK, knits up at nothing like the nearly-six stitches to the inch that DK normally gets you. It’s five (and a tiny, tiny fraction of a stitch). Which scaled up to the 37 inches of the chest of this sweater adds up to at least an extra 30-odd stitches that I don’t need, which in turn is going to translate to an extra SIX INCHES of chest. So. Glad I made with the tape measure. (While I was being The Perfect Knitter I thought I might as well go the whole hog and knit myself another swatch on .5mm bigger needles, to see if I preferred that fabric. And that most definitely gets me five stitches to the inch.)


Anyway, after all the ruminations I’ve decided to knit myself a v-neck top-down sweater because I had such an awesome experience the last time I used The Knitter’s Handy Book of Top Down Sweaters and I am a glutton for punishment. That one did turn out ok in the end. I was trying to use up various bits of yarn and so getting exactly the same length of colour section in each bit of the sweater was a bit fiddly (had to knit all three sections simultaneously, which makes for a lot of needles). But at least it fits now…



(Or will do when he finally grows a bit – at the moment he’s pulling some sort of Tin Drum act and still wearing clothes he should have outgrown months ago.)

The real problem here is that the yarn is cursed

Every now and then I drift into the delusion that I am a reasonably competent knitter. I know at least three methods of casting on, two methods of casting off, three kinds of increase and I can remember how to do Kitchener Stitch without having to look it up. (This is a barefaced lie.) That’s usually when I get my arse handed to me in comprehensive fashion. Would you like to know how many times I have restarted this sweater? There was the time I didn’t increase on both sides of the fabric. There was the time I (repeatedly) tried to increase twice out of the same stitch (though I do blame the pattern for that one). There was the time I didn’t slip the raglan stitches (that was on me). That was all before the “At The Same Time…” debacle. Then there was the time I knitted all the way down a sleeve and realised that it was too narrow and I’d need to frog it and do fewer decreases. There was the time… but you get the idea. This has been a catalogue of knitterly error.

Anyway. I got to this point:


Body, sleeves, neck – just the final casting off to do. I thought as one final check before I cast off I’d slip it off the needles and pop it over the recipient’s head to check that all was well. And here’s the thing. When I had it laid out on the table it looked like a sweater. It does look like a sweater, doesn’t it?

Well, you should have seen it on him.

It looked as though I’d knitted it for a very skinny orang-utan with a conical head. I checked my gauge, I checked the instructions. And there was the kicker. All those times I had to frog back to the beginning? Not one of those times did I think to check that I was following the correct set of instructions for my yarn.

So. Here we are. Again.


“At the same time…”

Four little words that mean so much… This is one of those moments they have in films where some terrible situation unspools in the first few minutes and then a caption comes up: “One Day Earlier…”

So – one day earlier (ie yesterday afternoon), after the Great Fair Isle Rip Back, I decided I had to make friends with the yarn again. I’d gone right off all of it, even colours like the baby blue that I usually find very appealing. So obviously the only thing to do was plan a new project and I thought I’d go with something simple and classic, a basic raglan-sleeve colour-block sweater. It’s going to be a colour-block sweater because I’m just planning to knit each section until I run out of that colour and then switch to another. I have four different blues so that shouldn’t be a problem.

Anyway, all was going swimmingly and by yesterday evening I had a whole yoke knitted, neatly divided into stitches for the front, sleeves and back. I was about to move on to the bit where you join up for knitting in the round to complete the body, having followed the fantastically simple instructions in Ann Budd’s great build-your-own pattern book The Knitters Handy Book of Top-Down Sweaters. Then, looking back, I saw the stomach-sinking instruction “Read all the way through the following section before proceeding.” Dear Reader, I had not so done. Which meant that the next instruction I was looking at said “At the same time…” So yes, there was a whole bunch of stuff that I should have been doing while I was doing all the other stuff I’d been doing, and I hadn’t done it, and it was totally my fault because THE BOOK SAID READ EVERYTHING BEFORE DOING ANYTHING. Sometimes you just have to kick yourself firmly and begin again…


Rookie error

So, I recently got the last bit of yarn (Rowan pure wool dk) I needed for the Bear’s winter sweater and duly cast on. It’s a GarnStudio pattern but it didn’t seem to have any particularly mad instructions – a straightforward top-down sweater with a Nordic-patterned yoke. It has a charted pattern (of course) for the yoke part, and I got to that part and started knitting it. So far so good.

Then I noticed that the increases seemed to be in odd places – some of them were going to be followed on the next row by a colour change or a way in which it would be awkward to hide the increase. I huffed, put it down to the occasional madness of Garnstudio patterns and carried on. While mentally composing a sarcastic email to the nice folk at Garnstudio who’d made such rudimentary errors in the charting, of course.

All the while, a little part of my brain had its hand patiently raised to speak. Didn’t I think it was a little peculiar that although I was increasing my total of stitches the number of stitches in each repeat of the patterns seemed to be decreasing, rather than growing? Wasn’t it a tiny bit odd just how madly placed the increases were? Eventually that part of my brain got tired of being patient and yelled STOP KNITTING YOU FOOL. And it was entirely correct so to do.

Because you see, when you knit a chart, you knit it in the direction you are knitting. Upwards. Away from you. Always. This is set in stone, iron, or other substance not prone to flexibility. I had been following the chart from the top down. Which was why the increases were in odd places and there weren’t enough of them. There was quite a substantial facepalm moment, and then muttering and ripping out (not all that simple with stranded colourwork, which likes to stay where it’s been put). Then some reknitting. Still. Now we are here.SONY DSC


Oh, and the tactic of blogging about a sweater in order to generate enough guilt for me to go back to it? Total failure. Still in its bag. I looked at it, shrugged and cast on another sweater. It’ll get there.

Ha! Nailed a quickie.

The sweater-I-shouldn’t-have-been-knitting is Done.SONY DSC

Several firsts here – the first time I’ve knitted top-down and probably also the first time I’ve measured my gauge, ever. I was using the Knitters Handy Book of Top-down Sweaters by Ann Budd. The way it works is that you find your gauge for the needles and yarn you’re using, then decide on your measurements and then just read off all your stitch numbers from the charts. It was super-simple. I used Alice Starmore’s Fair Isle book to pick some patterns and just inserted them into the sections between the increases.

The only part that gave me serious grief was the neck. For some unknown reason, despite the fact I was going to knit it on 5mm needles, I cast it on with 4.5mms. I think I had some vague idea that otherwise it would be too loose. That was emphatically not the case. In fact it was so tight that pretty much anything I tried to do, neckwise, made it completely untenable in terms of being able to get it over the future wearer’s head. I started out by knitting the same bi-coloured rib that I’d finished the bottom and sleeves with but that was too tight. I assumed it was my cast-off, and re-cast-it-off using a different bindoff technique. But that was still too tight. So then I re-knitted the rib in as loose a gauge as I could manage. That was too tight. Then I re-knitted it in the rib but using fewer rows. That was still too tight. At this point I lost the will to carry on and simply knitted two rows of garter stitch and bound off using Elizabeth Zimmerman’s sewn bindoff. Done. And it was a useful learning exercise in terms of exactly how stretchy a bi-coloured rib is (the answer, for the curious, is Not Stretchy At All). And next time I do this I will cast on using the needle size I plan to continue with. Lesson learned.SONY DSC

Anyway, the recipient is grateful and wore it to school the next day, bringing it home with ‘alien slime’ all over it (hence the reddened sleeves). Good thing I’m not too precious about my knits! It’s in Debbie Bliss’s cashmerino aran, which has frogged and reknitted very nicely indeed.

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