Measure twice, knit once

I first picked up knitting as a hobby in the winter of 2013 — a cold, depressing DC winter. It was a moving meditation — a rhythm, a flow. It’s no surprise between the weather and the mindset that I started — and stayed in — the scarf/blanket phase of my knitting for a long time.

Beginning knitters often start off with scarf projects — a simple scarf pattern can be the easiest and most approachable thing to create. Cast on. Knit all rows. Bind off. Needles are needles and yarn is yarn. The end.

Knit enough scarves and blankets, and eventually you want more of a challenge. Thus began my complicated, on-again-off-again relationship with sock knitting. (Don’t have the bug yet? Just follow @syllogism).

A photo posted by Rachael (@syllogism) on

Socks — harmless enough, right? Armed with the Rose City Rollers pattern, a Zauber ball and DPNs of the suggested size, I dove in. Figure out how to knit a heel flap. Excellent. Royally screw up picking up stitches for the gusset. Put it away. Months later pick it up again, start a new sock, figure out the gusset. Excellent. Knit way too long of a sole. Awkward. Toss it. Put away the sock knitting for a few months. Start another ill-fated attempt with the poor Zauber ball. End up with hilariously large and shapeless sock. Sad. Eventually, and quite late, I came to the conclusion that it was finally time to learn about gauge.

Series of knitted socks, improving incrementally
Sock knitting: an evolution

Essentially, I had completely ignored the concept of gauge. My projects weren’t betraying me, I simply wasn’t doing my due diligence. Shock of all shocks, pattern designers do not list gauge for no reason. And yet, I had completely ignored it, expecting a different result every time.

I decided to end my years-long conflicted relationship with the poor, abused Zauber ball (It’s not you it’s me. No, really.) and start fresh. I set out to put my time in finally learning about and experimenting with gauge. So what is it?

Gauge refers to the number of stitches and rows a knitter or crocheter makes per inch using a certain yarn and needles or hook. (Source)

Or: Gauge = Yarn + Needles + Knitter.

Illustration of gauge (knit stitches next to a measuring ruler).
Illustration of gauge from Lion Brand.

Two people could use the exact same yarn, and the exact same needles, and create pieces of varied size. This is because each knitter’s tension differs — how tightly or loosely they work. Tighter tension will result in more stitches per inch — looser tension will result in fewer.

That’s it. So simple and easy to overlook until you end up with some outlandishly large or small project. Armed with the motivation of wanting to make the recently-released Saturday Matinee socks, and three sets of DPNs (I know, I’ll take the time to figure out Magic Loop eventually), I started my swatching experiment.

knitting swatches

Surprisingly, my gauge did not differ much between the 2.00mm and 2.25 mm needles. My guess is this has something to do with the fact that one set is metal, and one wood. The 1.75mm swatch was closest to the desired gauge. I believe that my attempts to be super conscientious and use the ‘fake in-the-round‘ swatching method resulted in much looser knitting. I was probably still too impatient, and should have done larger swatches, but was limited by the 6″ DPNs. Also despite doing the ‘fake-in-the-round’ method, I probably should have still done a garter edge. I intend to experiment further with other methods of swatching for knitting in the round.

But for now, of course, I couldn’t wait to cast on these Saturday Matinees :)

half-knitted sock
Saturday Matinee beginnings

Further reading:

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