A small word on gauge

March 27, 2010

I am a loose knitter. I didn’t know how bad it was until I saw a knitted up sock in Opal in a yarn shop, and realised that the fabric in that sock was very, very far from my own results in the same yarn. My battle with sock yarn will be continued in my next post, but for now let’ just agree that my knitting is very loose. Elizabeth Zimmermann praises loose knitting, saying that it causes fewer back and shoulder problems and that it’s easier to remedy than tight knitting (?) and so far I’ve been consoled by that. Until I just couldn’t get gauge on two sweater projects in a row.

My Olympic knitting project (which turned ut to be an Olympic failure, but it’s still on the needles and hopefully not all that far away from the finish line) was an Icelandic cardigan, in a yarn and pattern I’d bought when I visited Iceland in 2007. The yarn is Létt-Lopi, a worsted weight (I think?) one-ply yarn which is incredibly scratchy (I’ve made the mistake of knitting hats in that yarn) but very authentic (and has some beautiful colours). The recommended needle size is 4.5-5 mm. My breakdown came when I couldn’t get gauge at 18 st/10 cm on 3 mm needles. And I thought, there’s no way I’m knitting this on 2.5 mm needles. I just won’t. I’ll knit a smaller size and that will be it. Normally, I knit on Knitpicks (or KnitPro? I’ve lost track) Harmony wood needles. I love them. They’re smooth but not too smooth, pointy, and the wire is flexible enough for magic loop, which lets me use the same pair of circular needles on nearly all my projects. However, pointy needles are terrible for loose, one-ply yarns like Létt-lopi – they split the yarn – so I switched to an old pair of blunt bamboo needles instead. And lo and behold, when I measured my piece of knitting (second cast-on, no swatching), I had gauge. And had to frog my knitting again and cast on for the right size. But I had gauge! And suddenly realised that the increased friction in the cheap bamboo needles was slowing up the yarn and making my knitting tighter. I knitted forth on the bamboos and managed to knit most of the body until I realised I would be much happier if I knitted the Peasy cardigan instead. So I bought some yarn and knitted a swatch. And damnations, I couldn’t get gauge. Until I switched to bamboo – same needle size (3mm), different material. Look at my swatch – the bottom part is knitpicks wood, the top is bamboo:

This concludes my gauge wisdom and is hereby passed on. It must work the same way the other way round, too – which means that tight knitters should probably avoid bamboo like the plague. And it dawns on me why so many kniters out there love Addi turbo needles, which I felt were so slippery they practically made me seasick. This knowledge is good – on the other hand, I’m stuck with my crappy bamboo needles.

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