Over and over and over

I have now knit the Burning Branch Shawl three times in a row, by which I don’t mean I’ve knit three different shawls, but the same shawl three times. If nothing else, this is a testimony to my stubborness.

As I’ve been knitting my way through one shawlette after another, I’ve been analyzing them, trying to figure out which designs are easier to wear. The triangular ones come in so many lovely patterns, but I’ve found them a bit difficult to actually wrap securely around my neck. By contrast, Burning Branch’s curving shape intrigued me because it seemed like it would wrap naturally. (More importantly, I liked the look of it.) The original was made out of a orangey-red yarn, but I went with a green yarn from my stash, so I suppose mine is more of a Burning Branch Shawl.

Burning Branch ShawlIt’s not like there was no warning. The pattern calls for a skein of BFL Fingering Hand Dyed, which is 416 yards. Unlike most patterns, this one advises, “This will use up the entire skein of BFL fingering. Yardage can vary slightly between skeins, so if yours is a little short, it’s fine to bind off a little earlier.” But I was going to use Charlemont Kettle Dye, which has 439 yards, and my skein weighed in at a perfect 100 g, so I figured I had all the yardage promised. Why worry?

Attempt #1: Cast on with a size 4 (3.5 mm) needle. Knit until there’s enough solid stockinette stitch to take gauge. Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen until I’m past the halfway point. Discover that despite the gauge swatch, I’m knitting too tightly. Frog.

Attempt #2: Cast on with a size 5 (3.75 mm) needle. Knit until 22 rows from the end, when I realize that 23 extra yards will not be nearly enough. Bind off. Stare at finished shawlette. Frog.

Attempt #3: Cast on with a size 4 (3.5 mm) needle. Knit, confident that if I am now knitting to a tighter gauge than called for and I have more yarn than called for, I will have a slightly small, but complete, shawlette.

Fun with blocking wires.
Fun with blocking wires.

But no. Knitting more tightly only got me four rows further along than my previous attempt. I remeasured the gauge, and yes, I’m still a smidgen tighter than what the pattern calls for, 25 sts/4″ where the pattern calls for 24 sts/4″. I had less than 7 feet of yarn left when I bound off. Is my row gauge completely different than the designer’s? (The row gauge wasn’t given in the pattern.) I went on Ravelry, and looked at what photos I could find of other people’s finished projects, and a lot of them weren’t able to complete the pattern either. It looks fine if you stop a bit short; it’s just frustrating that I don’t get to see mine in all its complete glory.

But enough about what I don’t have. Here’s what I do have: (almost) one Burning Branch shawl in Charlemont Kettle Dye, color Deep Sea. It spirals out from the top edge, growing by six stitches every other row. The solid stockinette parts are “leaves” and the bits with the parallel lines of knitting at the bottom are “twigs.” I’ll see how easy it is to wear, and maybe someday I’ll make another one OUT OF A REALLY BIG SKEIN OF YARN.

Wedge Pullover: the gauge swatch

2013 Knitting and Crochet Blog Week: Extra Credit (no due date)
For an extra credit, look back to the project you researched on day 2 and cast it on. Extra Kudos points for every step of the process from decision of project, to yarn, through the project in progress to finishing touches and completion that is blogged about. There is no due date, and this topic is absolutely only for those who choose to take part, but if you do it will serve as part of one of the topics next year, along with what was written about on Day Seven.

As this is one of the most ambitious projects that I’ve tried to date—not the knitting itself, but the re-designing and modification of the pattern—I figure this extra credit project will get me to take notes that I’ll appreciate later. Since I chose my project and yarn nine years ago (gah!), the story of which can be found at my Day 2 post, this is about the next step: the gauge swatch.

Wedge Pullover.
Recommended yarn: Reynolds Odyssey.
Gauge: 18 sts and 24 rows in stockinette st over 4″ (10 cm) on size 8 (5.0 mm) needles or size required to get gauge.

Thinking and decisions were needed already. First of all, if I actually managed to get both the stitch and row gauge, I’d be happy, but I wasn’t counting on it. I knit almost “squarely,” my row gauge only slightly tighter than my stitch gauge. Normally this isn’t an issue, but this project probably wants me to work those bands of short rows to a certain height, meaning the row gauge was going to have to be close to what the designer got. As that’s kind of difficult to control, I was going to need to be lucky. Secondly, Reynolds Odyssey is 100% merino wool. In my experience, merino relaxes the first time it gets wet, and the gauge loosens up. So even though I’m a tight knitter anyway, I went down a needle size and knitted the first swatch on size 7 (4.5 mm) needles.

gauge swatchSwatch gauge (before blocking): 18 sts and 24 rows to 3¾” (9.53 cm)

I used to take my measurements from dry gauge swatches and start my projects right there and then. I loved the near-instant gratification, but I had to drop this practice years ago, after a sweater that started out fitting me perfectly grew a whole size the first time I washed and dried it (it was 75% acrylic and 25% wool; the trigger was the dryer’s heat). So I soaked the swatch thoroughly, squeezed it to dampness, pinned it out to gauge, and waited for it to dry.

Swatch gauge (after blocking): 18 sts and 24 rows to 4″ (10 cm).

The next day, I unpinned the swatch, measured it, and was thrilled to see that I’d gotten both stitch and row gauge (wow!). Not that I could do anything right away, since I needed to decide on what alterations I was going to make to the pattern and start the rewrite before I could cast on. So the swatch ended up on my coffee table, where I could admire it, pet it, and just for the heck of it, pull my ruler out again and measure it.

Swatch gauge (after blocking): variable.

Okay, I get that it might have taken the swatch a few hours to relax after it had been pinned out for a day. The thing is, it didn’t shrink uniformly. Some rows are still at the desired gauge. Others have tightened up, some to 18½ stitches over 4 inches, others to 19 stitches. The row gauge is more consistent in its shrinkage, giving me a uniform 25 rows over 4 inches, but as I never really expected to get row gauge in the first place, I just can’t work up that much worry about it. Also, the weight of the sweater may pull the row gauge back to what it’s supposed to be, if not past that point (which will probably tighten the stitch gauge further, which isn’t helping after all).

I did give serious consideration to doing a second swatch on size 8 needles. After all, we’re warned repeatedly not to talk ourselves into thinking that close enough is sufficient. Horror tales abound of projects that  started off only slightly off-gauge and ended up unwearable. But for now, I’m going ahead with the 7s. This is meant to be a loose-fitting sweater, so I have a bit of ease to fudge with. Plus, this swatch is as drapey as I can tolerate. If I go up another needle size, it’s going to be downright limp.  There’s also the possibility that I’ll overshoot and have the opposite problem: a swatch that has something like 17 stitches and 23 rows over 4 inches. Since I don’t really trust my tension on gauge swatches anyway, I’m going to measure the gauge again after I’ve been knitting on the real project for a bit, and make my final decision then.

The gauge swatch lied (again)

Signs that you might be off-gauge with your current project:

  • The kit you’re making it from came with two skeins of blue yarn. You’ve used somewhat more than half of one skein.
  • Although it’s a baby blanket, the fabric has the drape of a throw rug.
  • The pattern swears that the diameter of the finished blanket is 50 inches. Remember that you have decided that there’s an error somewhere and the finished diameter will be closer to 44 inches. Still, the fact that the four remaining rounds of the blanket cannot possibly bring it up to even 44 inches should give you pause.

Looks like my 8.00 mm hook will be getting a workout after all.


So, say you’ve known how to crochet for a while, like since you were nine years old. And having an eye for the tools of your craft, over the years you’ve acquired a few crochet hooks. Like, about three sets of hooks sized for yarn, quite a few steel hooks (often used with crochet thread), and even a set of Tunisian crochet hooks before they vanished until recently. So with all those crochet hooks at hand, when you start a new crochet project, you probably think about the yarn, you think about the difficulty of the pattern, you think about the gauge, but you don’t think about the hook, other than to note what the size is and retrieve one from the inventory.

Earlier this week, fired with a passion to start some project of some sort, I pulled the Peaceful Pastels Afghan out of my stash and prepared to dive in. As this project came as a kit, it’s good for instant gratification: there’s the yarn, there’s the pattern—just add hook and begin. The afghan uses two strands of Bernat Baby Coordinates yarn held together, and although this is a sport weight yarn, the two strands together make a chunky yarn, and so the pattern calls for a K (7.00 mm) hook. Which of course, if you own enough crochet hooks to open your own crochet supply store, shouldn’t be a problem to come up with.

As it turned out, K hooks I have in abundance, but 7.00 mm hooks are non-abundant. I’m guessing that in the process of standardization—which overall has been a good thing—7.00 mm hooks became extinct, at least in the United States. K hooks measure 6.50 mm nowadays. For my knitting readers, this is the equivalent of a size 10½ needle. Indeed, I’m wondering if all this standardization was meant to bring crochet hooks more in line with knitting needles. The only company that I’m aware of that offers a 7.00 mm knitting needle (size 10¾) is Addi, which is based in Germany. While many places that sell Addi needles sell the 10¾ needles, they haven’t taken the American knitting world by storm, and I don’t recall ever seeing a pattern that calls for them.

Like I said, overall, I believe standardization was a good thing. The letter sizes of crochet hooks still aren’t as fixed to the metric measurements as knitting needle number sizes are, mostly at the ends of the size range, but there’s a lot less wiggle room than there used to be. But did crochet hooks necessarily need to be matched precisely to knitting needles in size? Perhaps it made things easier on the manufacturing end somewhere, but I’d hate to think we lost the 7.00 mm crochet hook just because there isn’t a letter between K and L (the 8.00 mm hook) the way Addi could slip a 10¾ in between 10½ and 11.

So, no concluding thoughts as to the issue itself. As for my afghan project, I started out a bit worried. I’m a tight crocheter, and I was hesitant to use a 6.50 mm hook and still hope to get gauge, but an 8.00 mm hook was probably just going to give me the opposite problem. So I was staring absently at my oldest set of crochet hooks, wondering which to choose, when it occurred to me to wonder why that set had two K hooks in it. I buy multiple sets of hooks, yes, but I don’t buy multiples of any one size in a set, since it’s much easier in crochet to slip your hook out and take it to another project than it is to move a knitting needle from one project to another. One hook clearly said “K/10½—6.50 MM” on it; the other just said “K.” In growing hope, I grabbed the needle sizer. Yes, the plain K hook, bought back in the 1970s when I was first learning to crochet, was 7.00 mm. And using it, I got gauge for the afghan.