Friday, December 26, 2008

Take the time to do a gauge swatch

Skipping the gauge swatch is a bad idea for most projects.

I was in a rush to knit the Baby Hat by Leigh Radford. It had been sitting in my mental queue for a long time. For months I would flip through the One Skein book just before falling asleep, picking out all of the patterns that I was most anxious to try. The Baby Hat was high on that list. And I promised myself I would start it as soon as I finished some other projects (daugher's Christmas stocking, husband's hat, the list seemed Oh so long).
Finally it was time to start the hat (not that I'd finished those other projects, but hey, who cares?). I picked the same yarn listed in the pattern but in a beautiful blue to enhance my daughter's eyes. When I measured my baby's head her's measured one inch larger than the largest hat's size. Back to the yarn shop to ask their advice. Would this hat fit my baby's head if the finished product was an inch smaller than her head? Yes, they said go ahead and start knitting.
I figured that I wouldn't bother myself about the gauge swatch since I'm a loose knitter and the largest size of the hat might already be a little too tight for my daughter right? So I'd might as well not worry about it. That's how I justified my "just get started right away" attitude. And that was my downfall!
I knit and re-knit the lace section many times. (More on that in another post, but for now see previous post about small projects not always being equivalent to easy projects.) And then I made it to the end. I pulled the yarn through the last stitch and quickly put it on my babe's head. The color was lovely, but the hat sat low on her neck and covered her eyebrows. When I showed my husband he said "Can you just fold up the brim?". It now has a permanent home in my drawer of mis-matched socks and other odds and ends.
I still have plans to knit this hat, version II. I even have the yarn stashed in my drawer. I'll be sure to update here when I've started it.

Research your project

Small projects are not necessarily easy projects. This seems obvious but I've caught myself on numerous occassions equating small projects with beginner level skills. And I've gotten into a few sticky situations from this mistaken thinking.

The project on which I learned this lesson was Leigh Radford's Petal Bib from the One Skein book. The book's photography is luscious, the yarn and colors she uses make me want to nibble on rich sweets. I was totally smitten with the bibs and I just had to have one in every color of the rainbow.

Then there was a problem. The pattern called for short rows. I didn't know how to use short rows for shaping. I didn't even know what short rows were or that they could be used for shaping. I remember reading something about people getting through many years of knitting withough using short rows. I felt a little silly for being so unneccesarily adventurous with my pattern choice. I learned how to do them but most importantly I would like to think that I learned to research a project before I commit to it.

Find the right yarn for the project

Choose the correct yarn.

If your pattern calls for blocking to get the project to a certain size, make sure you use yarn that can be blocked.

Which yarns can be blocked?

I've been told that natural fibers can be blocked in varying degrees. Wool (at least 85%) is the fiber that provides the best results when blocked.

I learned this lesson while working on my daughter's baby blanket from the Stitch n Bitch book. It was my third knitting project and my largest. When I went to the yarn shop to buy yarn I looked at the brand called for in the pattern. It was beautiful and I wanted it very badly, but it was also very expensive and needed to have two strands of yarn worked together which doubled the price. So I asked my helpful merchant to recommend another yarn. She took me to a row of shelves with nice soft yarn that she knew many other people had used for this very project. And bonus! it came in a beautiful array of colors. I picked my color (aubergine to go with chocolate and lavendar shades my husband and I picked for our daughter's room) and was content knowing that this yarn would be perfect. After all, a professional helped me to pick it out and many other people made this very pattern with it.

Many, many months later I finished the blanket and I was so proud. I looked at the pattern for the instructions on finishing. It called for blocking the blanket to get it to the size of x by x. So I started researching blocking. I read a few of the books in my personal library and they seemed to refer to wool yarn when they discussed blocking. Hm, does it have to be wool to be blocked? I tried doing some more research but couldn't find any direct answer. So I asked my friend. Yes, the yarn needed to be at least 85% wool to be blocked. I looked at my yarn label and it was only 75% wool (approximately). Oh I was so upset. I was really counting on the blocking process to not only stretch my blanket to the correct size but also to even out the edges and make it look more polished.

I still love the blanket and most importantly my daughter loves it. And I was able to get some of the stitches evened out with washing. But had I known, I would have selected yarn that was able to be blocked.

Yarn splits

Choose yarn that won’t split.

I bought some yarn on sale at a hobby store and picked it mainly for it’s color (tangerine for my sister who was into tangerine at the time). When I started knitting the scarf with it I discovered that it would be a painfully long experience. The yarn split easily making it hard to make a stitch without missing part of the yarn. I had to spend lots of time going back to fix stitches.

How do I know if yarn will split?

In my experience (which is not very extensive) if I hold the yarn in my fingers and squeeze it and the strands separate easily, it will split easily. However some yarn that I've used didn't split in my hands, it split when I started knitting with it.

The only common attribute of the two yarns is that they didn't seem to be twisted very tightly. In other words they didn't have one yarn wrapped tightly around the other fiber. I'm sure there are plenty of experienced knitters and fiber artists out there that can explain this much better than I, so I have included a picture of two yarns I've used - one that split easily and one that didn't. I hope this helps with your next trip to the yarn shop.

My first knitting project

The Umbilical cord hat from Debbie Stoller's book Stitch n Bitch was my first knitting project. I was pregnant with my daughter and my friend gave me a few lessons on how to cast on, knit stockinette stitch and how to knit in the round. She convinced me that I could knit a hat before my daughter's birth. I was skeptical.

The hardest lesson I learned during this project was that if I make a mistake, I should strongly consider ripping out my work to start again. At that time I didn't know how to un-knit or "tink" so I ripped out and restarted the hat many times. It was frustrating and I felt more anxious as my baby got bigger. However with small projects it could be well worth it to start over.

And yes, I finished the hat before my daughter was born. Here is a picture of her in the hat.


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