I am about to release my latest pattern, Just Plain Mittens, and am right in the middle of final edits. (Yes, I am now procrastinating on eleventh-hour edits by typing this blog post.)
Seriously, I have had so many headaches on the math for this pattern, I began to wonder if being a designer was really for me. How could such a simple design be causing me such stress?
It was only during this past week as I have done final tweaking that I realized all of my problems stemmed from the gauges for my swatch (which I had knit flat) and my mitten (which is knit in the round) being different.
Like most knitters, my gauge for knit and purl stitches is different. This means that a swatch knit flat (alternating knit and purl rows) will have a different gauge than one knit in the round (knit every row.)
Given the number of in-the-round projects I have designed, I am surprised this hasn't been an issue before--but it is probably because of the snug fit of mittens and gloves, and that I have only done one mitten design in Bulky yarn before and it was more forgiving because of ribs and cables and such.
So, now I have learned--when the project is knit in the round, swatch in the round. And I want to make sure you don't make the same mistake.
How does one go about this?
Okay, since swatching is already the least favourite part of the process for most of us, do we really want to double it up by creating a tube that is at least twice as many stitches as a flat swatch would require?
No. No, we do not.
Here's what to do instead:
Use double-pointed or circular needles in the required size. Cast on and knit your first row with enough stitches to make your gauge measurement plus about 6 extra stitches. I like to do a few rows of garter stitch (knit every row) at the beginning and end of swatches to make them lie flatter. If you do, too, go ahead and do that.
Ready to Stockinette? Instead of flipping the needle over and purling back, scoot those stitches back down to the other end of your needle and carry the yarn loosely along the back, then knit the next row. Make sure to leave lots of room on that carried yarn so it doesn't pull the swatch in towards the back.
Continue this way, knitting every row, until your swatch is large enough. Don't worry about those loosey-goosey stitches on the end. That's why we made sure there were extra.
Finish it off with some more garter stitch and bind off.
Count your gauge (and if you are not sure how to do that, see my tutorial about Reading Knit and Purl Stitches).
Ta-da! A much more accurate gauge swatch for in-the-round projects.