February 24, 2009

Gauging success

There are already so many blogs about knitting, I hesitate to bring up the subject.

But while working on the Washington Square Vest from the Winter 2008 issue of Intervweave Knits, I ran into some difficulty with the lace edging. Googling brought me no solution, so I had to puzzle it out myself.

Comparing the lace pattern with some of those in Barbara G. Walker's A Treasury of Knitting Patterns helped a bit. Other than that, it was a matter of experimentation to figure out in what way I was misreading the chart.

It was this: Row 4 calls for binding off 2 stitches and then knitting 4 stitches. But binding off 2 stitches is a three-stitch process. Knit two, slip the first stich over the second, knit another, slip the second stitch over the third. So I did this, then knit the four stitches, continued across the pattern, and wound up with a mess.

You see, the third stitch of the bind-off--the one that remains after you slip the second stitch over--counts as the first of the four knitted stitches.

Well, as we used to say in the old country, duh. Once I figured this out--by experimenting on my swatch--the lace fell neatly into shape.

So this reinforces what the knitting teachers and magazines and books always tell us. Don't skip the swatch.* In addition to ensuring you get proper gauge, it gives you an opportunity to practice the pattern stitch on something other than your garment. Had I leapt blindly into the garment without going through this learning and practicing stage first, I would have ripped out and started over again several times.

As it is, I used an entire ball of yarn just working the swatch, which is now almost long enough for a scarf, if it weren't so messy. But instead of ripping out, I can keep this mostly messy but partly correct sample in view while I work the vest. Now that I know what I am doing.

For the non-knitters, a swatch is a small sample of knitted fabric that helps knitters ensure they are getting the correct number of stitches and rows to the inch called for in the pattern. For those knitters (and I once was one) who resist swatching because it seems a waste of time and yarn: swatching not only prevents the ripping and reworking alluded to above, but it also helps prevent the phenomena of the sweater coming out too big or too small, despite your using the same needle and yarn as called for in the pattern.

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