Monday, March 25, 2013

The Adventures of Bob's Blue Gansey Part 2 (Or, The Dreaded Gauge Swatch)

This spring Cedar Falls sweater instructor Andrew Barden will be blogging about his sweater designing adventures as he creates a sweater for his father, Bob.  Read Part 1 here.

After deciding that I wanted to knit a gansey using Imperial Tracie Too, it was time to begin designing. The first step in that process is to knit a gauge swatch. Most of us abhor the idea of knitting a gauge swatch. It seems, on the surface, to be a useless waste of time. When I have a cool design in my head I want to get it on the needles right away! However, knitting a gauge swatch is a truly critical step. This sweater will have over 100,000 stitches (literally – I did the arithmetic). I absolutely do not want to finish knitting all those stitches and then discover that the garment doesn’t fit, or the patterns don’t meet the shoulder strap correctly, or the neckline is shaped poorly, or I really don’t like one of the knit/purl patterns, or … well, you get the idea. In short, I want to make my poor choices and knit my mistakes on the gauge swatch, not the sweater.

For this sweater, there was actually a pre-gauge swatch step. Because of all the things wanted to test or try, I needed to be able to “keep my bearings” while knitting the gauge swatch. So I charted it first. There is a blurry photo of the chart in Part 1 of this series. Charting the swatch is another thing that seems like a useless waste of time. However, it was very helpful in this case.

Many times, a knitter’s gauge is different when knitting flat vs. in the round. Because this sweater will be knit primarily in the round, I wanted my gauge swatch to be knit in the round as well. By using two circulars to knit it in the round, I could also test two different needle sizes at the same time.

I added a few stitches for a steek (more on that below). I cast on about 100 stitches (following my chart), half on a US1 and half on a US2 needle. I used two cast-ons. My “go-to” cast-on is German Twisted Long-tail, so I used it on one half. For the second half I used a very traditional Gansey technique, the Channel Island cast-on. Then I knit my chart. My plan was to increase one needle size after completing the ribbing – therefore, I charted the numbers “2” and “3” in seed stitch on the respective sides to indicate which needle size was used. However, after completing the ribbing, I forgot to change needle sizes! Therefore, the half labeled “2” was actually knit with a US1, and the half labeled  “3” was knit with a US2. These things happen!

Completed, the swatch was a tube about 14 inches in circumference and about 7 inches long. Because a flat piece is much easier to accurately measure and evaluate, I cut it open using a steek. I sewed along both sides of one column of knit stitches and then cut that column in half, leaving the sewing thread intact. Below is a labeled photo of the swatch after cutting and blocking.

The next steps are to evaluate the fabric, choose the best needle size and determine gauge with the chosen needle size. Then there are decisions about which cast-on/ribbing/patterns to choose, how to shape the neckline, where to place the cables, etc. We will talk about all that next time, in Part 3.