Knitting Lab Notes #1a: Yarn, Swatching, Pattern

Last Wednesday, we had our first Knitting Lab. Many usual faces were present, as well as a few new ones: if you are thinking about joining, you are more than welcome!

I forgot to take pictures during the night, so here is some yarn instead.

While some people came extra prepared, with a project already on the needles, many of us were still uncertain about what to knit. I for one had absolutely no idea about what to cast on. The only thing I knew was the yarn: it had to be Ultra Alpaca Light. Haley has a lot of samples made with that yarn and the texture was really appealing to me. I bought a skein and started swatching without really knowing what pattern I would set my mind to.

Our lab has a very diversified array of sweaters, which I am really happy with. It is very fun to see everybody’s design preference and still being able to support each other through the process. People didn’t hesitate to ask for opinions and help to choose something up their alley. Here is what I know is getting knitted:

(We are missing a few other participants, I will make sure to list them ASAP!)

Some people decided to show up without starting a new sweater. Some socks and various other projects were knitted.

Here are the keys lessons of our first lab!

Lesson #1: Gauge is a big deal…

When it comes to a garment, where fit is important, I think doing a gauge swatch really is a good investment. While I had no choice (my chosen color wasn’t available to I had to order some), I think buying an extra skein and playing with it is well worth the investment.

I casted on approximately 6 inches worth of stitches, did a few rows of garter stitches and then started doing a speed-swatch in the round.

Speed-swatch in the round: when you knit your row, slide your stitches over and then hold the yarn loosely to fake going in the round. It allows you to get a swatch with your in-the-round gauge, without having to actually make a tube.

I strongly advise doing a few stitches over the traditional 4 inches when speed-swatching. The first few stitches will look wonky because of the big strands in the back and you really don’t want those to skew your calculation. At a 44 inches chest measurement, going from 24 stitches by 4 inches (the recommended gauge) to 23 will actually give me almost 2 extra inches of circumference. What was a fitted sweater will now look a little roomy. From 24 to 25? I’ll need to hit the gym more seriously before considering wearing it!

You can measure the sensitivity in fit for your sweater with a really simple formula:

New measurement = (Wanted measurement x Wanted Gauge) / Actual Gauge

In my example, for going from 24 stitches to 4 inches to 23 stitches to 4 inches results in

(44 x 24) / 23 = 45.913 inches. Pretty dramatic!

Row gauge is usually a second class citizen, but be careful about being way off: every sweater has some sort of shaping around the shoulders and the neck. If you are unsure about nailing that part, many experienced knitters can help you figure out the best way to proceed. We want the thing to fit on both dimensions!

Lesson #2: … but knit a fabric you’ll actually enjoy wearing.

Once your swatch is knitted, washed and blocked, look closely at the fabric. Would you wear this? Is it turning out like you expected? Did you enjoy knitting with the yarn? If the answer to any of those questions is no, discard and go back to the swatching board. A fabric that is just meh to you won’t magically turn into your new favorite sweater. You also want to finish the project, so give yourself all the assets to succeed and choose something you enjoy working with as well as the result.

Lesson #3: This isn’t a competition.

Some people were actually pretty far ahead after the first lab, while others were still playing with my swatch. It doesn’t matter.

Some people chose a pattern that was very impressive and complicated. Others chose something very classic, with a repetitive pattern and simple shaping. It doesn’t matter.

At the end, the goal is to love your new garment. This is the real prize.

Lesson #4: Knitters are funny people

Our group was made of people from all horizons. Once the needles come off, everybody implicitly bonds and conversations are flying at a rapid speed. We went from funny podcasts (apparently I absolutely need to listen to My Dad Wrote A Porno) to work problems with a few synopsis from Harlequin Novels (which are always hilarious!). It’s a very good way to wind down from the daily grind, and unlike meeting in a pub, you get something out of it!

Overall, the sweater lab was a great experience. Everybody learned something during the night and I really look forward to the next week. I think the weekly checking-in will actually keep people motivated.

Now for the hard question: what should knitting lab #2 be about?

Special thanks for Knit-o-matic for hosting the event.


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