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The Bane of my Knitzistence

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Dear Ann,
You can’t teach an old dog new tricks, and in my case, the old dog? She is not so into the old tricks either.
Case in point: gauge. I’ve been knitting for a long time now. I see all these warnings everywhere: “Take time to save time!” “Knit a swatch!” “Measure your gauge” I don’t doubt that they are right. But as the buzz of Cast-On Hormones washes over me, I tell myself things like, “I always get gauge with my Number 5s–spot-on! No worries!” As I continue knitting up a big honking major piece of my new cardigan, I think, ‘Hey this gauge looks JUST FINE. I can totally tell that it is 21 stitches over 4 inches, just like Miss Louisa Harding wanted. It just has a good look to it. It’s a wonderful gauge I’m getting. Just great.’ Sometimes I even hum to myself (to the tune of Ding Dong the Witch is Dead, if you must know) ‘Gauge, gauge, I’m getting gauge! The mean old gauge, the wicked gauge!’
Then, inevitably, I hit the wall. This happens right about the time when, say, the first front of the cardi is getting to the shoulder shaping. I look at it, and I look at me, and I think, well, maybe my gauge is a LITTLE off. Let me just….oh I don’t know…measure it? Count the stitches?
And I count the stitches, and there are 2 stitches less than there should be, over 4 inches. Which means that the sweater is going to be sloppy and big and the armholes are going to hit me at my waist and people are going to whisper behind my back, “There goes the BLANKET KNITTER.”
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This happened with Ingrid, a cardi from Louisa Harding’s book Winter’s Muse Classics. In an effort to teach myself a lesson, I didn’t rip out the Bad, Bad Gauge front until I had knitted another front in the correct gauge. (Which as it turns out, required Size 3s instead of Size 5s. Who knew?)
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Then I took a compare & contrast picture. On the right, the correct gauge is perky and toned and has a boyfriend named Ted. The gauge on the left has low self-esteem. It wishes it could crawl into a hole and read knitting blogs all day.
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In terms of the finished size of the piece, see what a difference those 2 stitches make? (I’m talking to myself here. See, ya big dope?)
After deep contemplation of Gauge and Its Relation To Me, I ripped and re-knit the front, slogged through the back (couldn’t bear to leave it plain, I’ll show you later what I did), and now I’ve even finished the sleeves. Time to sew up!
It’s not going to fit, though. I think I knit the wrong size. Stupid, stupid, stupid! I hate measuring myself and scrutinizing those schematic drawings. I always say to myself, ‘Today I’m feeling like the second size from the largest size,’ or something like that, and then I cast on.
Those who ignore history are so totally doomed to repeat it, ya know?
But the Knit the Right Size Lesson is for the next cardi.
Love, Kay

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45 Comments

45 Comments

  1. But think how good you’ve made everyone else feel by admitting to this slight…..oversight!

  2. But think how good you’ve made everyone else feel by admitting to this slight…..oversight!

  3. oh. dear. erm, too small? Send it over here for me, unless it’s green in which case it will make me look ill. (can’t tell if green or grey on my monitor. grey good, green bad). I’ll swap it for something….
    You see why I always bang on about row tension, too. Hey ho. Live and learn. But then I never learn things won’t make me look 5’8″ either! x x x

  4. It’s worse when you do that with other people. “Oh, I think my sister is one size bigger than me, but I haven’t seen her in two years…” That’s why hats and scarves (and blankets) are so appealing!

  5. “On the right, the correct gauge is perky and toned and has a boyfriend named Ted. The gauge on the left has low self-esteem. It wishes it could crawl into a hole and read knitting blogs all day.”
    That has to be one of the best lines I’ve ever read! So Funny, and yet so true.
    Hope the next cardi turns out better. Carry On!

  6. NOBODY knows what size they are. Nobody. Big, little, old, young…nobody. I took a fitting class one time and we were told to measure ourselves, standing there in our bras: Bust, chest, and waist. Measured with measuring tape, wrote it down.
    Then we were told to measure each other…and no measurement was even close. Some bigger, some smaller, all way waaaaaaaaaay different.
    And THEN we were told to take cotton string and use that to measure, making marks on where the string met, and then we measured the string. EVERY SINGLE PERSON IN THE ROOM got a larger measurement than either of the original tests. Now, I claimed it was water weight (and listened to no arguments about it having been only about ten minutes since we started!), but what happens is that when you’re looking at the measuring tape, you want to come up with a round number…so if it said 36 and 3/8 when you measured yourself you’d put 36.” But when someone else measured it would be unconsciously rounded up to 36.5. But the actual string, with no subconscious stuff going on, was accurate.
    So, lady, you’re not alone.
    (And when I got home from the class? Threw away the string, and the measurements. Turned out I didn’t even WANT TO KNOW!)

  7. I’m no paragon of gauge virtue, but I pass on what someone once told me: knit the sleeves first. Then you don’t have so much time invested if your gauge starts betraying you. However, I don’t know if that was going to help you here if your two sides came out in different gauges.
    Maybe always keep a couple of friends of slightly larger and smaller sizes handy.

  8. it is amazing to me how I used to think “oh I’m only off by a half stitch per inch” — that adds up!!
    However my current goal is “Knit the Right Size!” I seem to have a problem with that… but I think I am getting better. :)

  9. My son, at boarding school, asked for fingerless gloves for Christmas. He even sent me a tracing of his hand. I found a pattern and yarn and set about knitting. As I knit I thought, “These look kinda big. Nah, they are OK. The tracing is upstairs and I am downstairs.” I kept knitting. I finished knitting and washed and blocked. They still looked big. I was still in denial. Finally, I checked. Miles too big. Oh well, knit a new pair. Smaller size, smaller needles. Finished on Christmas afternoon. And, oh yes, too small! My offer to knit a third pair was gently declined.

  10. I have resorted to knitting for kids… knit big, it will fit someday!

  11. I have resorted to knitting for kids… knit big, it will fit someday!

  12. Ouch.
    That’s really all I can stand to muster up.
    OUCH.

  13. I HEAR ya, sister.
    I especially like the boyfriend Ted line.

  14. I think you’re way cuter than that model with the creepy frosted lipstick, no offense against frosted lipstick-wearing models but really. Do we have to revisit 1967 in this particular manner?
    I think I’m noticing a continuing problem–whenever you make a sweater which includes diagonal design features, it causes a fair amount of pain. Remember Deco? There must be some feng shui problem with diagonal lines of yarnovers. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that you are drawn to squares. The slants/slopes/diagonals? Fraught with danger!
    It’s going to be real purty when you finish it.
    One final observation: I think your unpopular, low-self esteem side may suffer in part because PSSO or SSK decreases (for me, anyways) are never quite as tidy as a delicious, firm k2tog. It can’t help it!

  15. I identify with the swatch on the left. But there’s a swatch on the right just dying to get out.

  16. I always check gauge on sweaters, and I somehow still get a completely different gauge with the finished product. ANd I measure myself incorrectly too and end up with a humongo slouchy sweater that I won’t wear. Blankets are nice. They always fit. So does lipstick. Can’t go wrong with blankets and lipstick.

  17. Oh Kay – you *are* an encourager! Post office issues now admitting to gauge neglect. While I greatly sympathize with your pain, you have saved this knitter from crawling into a hole and blogging all day!

  18. I love that measuring with a string idea. My problem is the gauge changes as I’m knitting!

  19. I really think those of us in denial about gauge should get our our t-shirts and a secret decoder ring and make our own little secret club.

  20. A boyfriend named Ted? Lucky girl! There is a reason I don’t knit clothing. I am too lazy to do it right. Give me the blanket anyday!!! (Maybe some day I will introduce discipline into my life… nah! I’m too old to try now!)

  21. sigh
    this is the topic at my house right now.
    see my blog today for more.
    So glad you did the other side and then ripped out.
    However MEASURING – ugh.
    I am ordering a dress form – i give up.

  22. I.AM.NOT.ALONE!!!! ??? yipeeeeeee! Your post, these comments… I stand not alone in gauge hit and miss! Thankyouthankyouthankyou!!

  23. Wow, your needle gauge thingy really confuses me. I have been having some confusion about the English to metric conversion, and there isn’t a consensus it seems. I thought I had it relatively figured out other than the Dale of Norway pattern that called a 3.0mm a Size 3 – OK, Crystal Palace calls a 3.0mm a Size 2.5, but your gauge says it’s a Size 2. So how many mm is my 2? So confused…

  24. This is why I NEVER intend to knit something that actually fits and why I love your Mason Dixon Knitting book…..most items don’t need guage. And behind my back they’ll be whispering
    “there goes the dishcloth knitter”. or scarf or blanket or any small square or rectangle that doesn’t need to FIT!

  25. the one with the wrong gauge even looks sloppier (sorry, gauge). i never go by “sizes”. i always use measurements. i learned that lesson long ago.

  26. My swatches/knits always have low self esteem, despite the called-for gauge. No Teds in their future.

  27. *sigh* the Gauge war is being waged at my house too.
    I am knitting my DH his first ever handknit sweater from me, and swatched and swatch and found myself (just like you!) having to go down 2 needle sizes!
    Looks like you’re on track now, I bet the finished cardi will look wonderful :D

  28. Belinda and I must have the same colouring. This is why I always knit “loose fitting” sweaters, less problem with bad swatching–or figuring out the extra 1/2 stitch thing.

  29. Little does Ms. Correct Gauge know that Ted is “dating” Miss Wet Blocker on the side. Meticulousness can attract some real creeps, Kay. Keep it real.

  30. LMAO at Ted the boyfriend of the correctly knitted cardigan front. My personal theory re: gauge is usually “oh well, it will fit somebody”, although I have managed to disprove this a time or two. For example, nobody really fits in sleeves with 35″ circumferences. Take comfort that you caught it after only one front was done, my denial is usually stronger than that.

  31. Take comfort in knowing that even when you swatch, the gauge gods may still spit in your eye. The first sleeve of my WIP is spot on in terms of size but the back is looking a tad, uh, narrow and I swear my tension hasn’t changed…. I guess there’s no escaping sweater disappointment.

  32. There ya go – it’s not gauge so much as knitting the right size. I have done the same (complete) thing, sigh: didn’t swatch and knit the wrong size because I guestimated how big it should be. Except the gansey is languishing in the closet without the second sleeve instead of being corrected. I’m waiting to meet someone who can wear it. Or I thought about selling it on eBay.

  33. I have knit 2 sweaters in my life, one for my daughter that I could not get over her head, one for myself in which (a) I was dillusional about the size of my hips, and (b) I believed the yarn store owner when she said “this patterns knits very big”. The sweater is in my closet now awaiting being ripped out and reknit into something I can actually wear. perhaps I should just stick to knitting socks.

  34. Hi, Kay! I hate to pose this question after your amazingly funny and soul-baring comments about the quest for gauge, but . . . as it turns out, would the piece knit initially, at the wrong gauge, have fit you better than the “correctly” knitted pieces? As a yarn store owner, I constantly see people saved from incorrect gauges by the fact that they’d chosen to knit the wrong size anyway!

  35. I’m 2 sizes smaller than the x-large!!!!!

  36. the ole bod isn’t symmetrical, either, babe….so i’d say, wear that puppy in style!

  37. That’s why I love Japanese pattern books, the patterns come in 1 size only (well, occasionally 2), no decision need to be taken, I just blindly assume that the 1 size would fit me :)

  38. Rather brilliant, not to rip out, but to compare the two gauges side by side. Awfully compelling, the comparison of perky and toned to sad and saggy. If one had ripped back, one might not have had the jolt of seeing the xtreme difference. One photo…worth a thousand stitches. I think I have seen the light (at last) on the subject. Thanks, Kay.

  39. I was going to ask if you have a problem with diagonals too because I too remember the Deco Dramas. It was a rude awakening when I learned that getting the right gauge can make a world of difference. But know it and actually trudging to another room to get the tape measure are 2 different things.
    the cardi is really pretty and you’ll look fab in it.
    Polly x

  40. wait just one minute, are you saying there is something wrong with laying in bed and reading blogs all day? that if I continue to do so, I will never get a boyfriend named Ted?

  41. Gauge? Gauge? Ohhhhhhhhh, that thingy! The only way I could do the swatch and check for gauge is if someone were to hold the rest of the yarn hostage.

  42. Yes, another reason to keep knitting things where gauge doesn’t matter!! Another excuse to avoid my sweater! Thank You!

  43. and who said Gauge doesn’t matter? ;o) I’ve been bitten by the almost gauge bug more than once. I just find someone else that it fits. My New Year’s resolution is to make a sweater for myself. If I have to make it in the largest size, that’s going to be okay. I just want it to fit.

  44. Oh wow, wouldja look at that? The needle sizer thingie has a little notch right across the top for checking your gauge. I’ve had that thing for years now and never managed to notice that…

  45. You wrote this just to make me feel better didn’t you? Thank you so much.
    One of the Sadder but Wiser