I think it’s time to give up any hope of a sensible chronology on this blog… so, embracing the non-linear, I’m skipping over all the other knitting related stuff I’ve been doing lately to bring you the story of The Swatch.
Now, understand that I have never made a fitted sweater. I make socks; I make hats; I make gloves of different lengths and with varying numbers of fingers. But the only sweater I’ve made for myself is an oversized Elspeth Lavold coat that fits like an extremely expensive sack of potatoes. Fitting a sweater to my figure has always seemed like it will be a nightmare because finding clothes that fit is always a nightmare. Being short-waisted is worse than being fat, y’all. I can always buy a bigger size, but there’s no way to fix a shoulder-to-bust measurement that’s too long.
Still, I’d like a sweater. It’s the kind of challenge for me that socks are for other knitters. And of course I couldn’t be sensible and make a February Lady Sweater that’s worked top down, that I could try on as I go, to put the bust and the armholes and the waist where they ought to be. Instead, I’m making a Leaving sweater. Things it has going for it: it’s A-line, which means if the bust is big enough, the waist should be big enough. I’m doing the cardigan version, so I can just do up a few buttons at the top or across the chest if the fully-buttoned fit is unflattering. It’s an Anne Hanson pattern, which means it comes with detailed instructions, including schematics and measurements for blocking. And according to Trinny and Susannah and Clinton and Kelly, garments with seaming provide a structured shape if your own shape isn’t exactly statuesque.
So to make a long story short (“Too late!”), I Swatched. I’m a fan of swatching in general, because I’m anal retentive and want to know what my knitted fabric is going to look and feel like. I made the swatch back before the holidays, but just got around to washing (in a bra bag, in the delicate cycle with a load of clothes) and blocking The Swatch this weekend.
My measurements showed that I was getting a bit over 5 stitches to the inch, and the pattern calls for 21 stitches per 4″, so that was right on the money. I noted that the swatch was very stretchy when wet, but leaving it alone it dried to the same dimensions it had pre-blocking.
Now it’s time for a bit of knitter math. (I promise, we’re not even getting into algebra here, just simple division.) My swatch was 5 and a fraction stitches per inch. My garment is 6 stitches per inch. This may sound close enough, but it is NOT. And here’s how I know this:
More stitches per inch = a smaller garment. Our non-mathy minds want to trip over the more = less thing, but it’s true. You’re fitting more stitches into each inch, so if you cast on the same number of stitches, they take up less space.
Gauge is 5.25 spi. Mine is 6 spi. The cast-on is 149 stitches.
149 divided by 5.25 is roughly 28. (Good, math still works. This is the measurement given in the blocking diagram.)
149 divided by 6, on the other hand, is 24.8.
I have a bit over 3 inches variance between my knitting and what’s called for by the pattern. On a stockinette garment, it might be possible to block that out across the back of a larger-person-sized sweater. But this pattern has a lace panel in the middle (yay texture! stockinette is boring!) which constrains the blocking to an amount that will show off the lace without distorting it. Plus, my actual sample is less than 22″, which means either the bottom ribbing is still drawing it in, or I’m not taking gauge measurement samples in the right places. I can’t hand block this sucker to 28″ without it looking laughably bad.
The needles I used to knit were stolen from a half-finished Inamorata tank that I started last summer and then lost interest in once I got to the boring part. Did I steal those needles when I made The Swatch? And come to think of it, my yarn (the recently dearly departed Mission Falls 136 merino superwash) is slightly thicker than the recommended yarn, and the needle the yarn calls for is one size up from what I’m using…
I’ve been playing WoW lately, in a desert-and-pyramids zone that has a big questline mimicking Raiders of the Lost Ark. I recently did a quest called “They’re Digging In The Wrong Place!”. Cue my realization, “I’m Knitting With The Wrong Needles!”. I swatched, and The Swatch came out great, but since I didn’t start a project for it on Ravelry or in my KnitBuddy app, I lost track of the proper needle size to get the same results. I used US 5s when I should’ve used US 6s.
Even though I’ve always been on the Swatching Is Good And Useful And Not A Waste Of Your Yarn bandwagon, I’ve learned the valuable lesson that I need to write down EVERYTHING. Don’t trust that the needles will stay with the swatch — I’m bound to steal them for something else. Don’t trust that I’m really eager to make this sweater so of course I’ll wash and block the swatch and cast on before I’ve had time to forget what I was doing — it’s Christmas, and what I’ll actually be doing is visiting with family and baking All The Things.
I don’t mind frogging the sweater and starting over again properly. I’d much rather redo ribbing and half a lace chart than wind up with a sweater that won’t fit, in a self-fulfilling prophecy that of course I won’t be able to make a knitted sweater that flatters my figure. I’m not looking forward to doing all that twisted ribbing again — for the first time, I understand why people complain about twisted stitches hurting their wrists — but I’ve got yarn I like, and a pattern I trust, and in the end, The Swatch helped to keep me on track. If it happens to wind up skewered to my dart board when all this is over, well, that’s between me and The Swatch.