I Hear The Frogs Call My Name

Up here in Ontario, the leaves are starting to turn, and the temperatures are dropping. This will be my third Canadian winter, and without realizing it, I've started doing actual Winter Preparations for the first time in my life. (Yes, I lived in Colorado for six years, but believe me, those Boulder/Loveland winters were nothing' compared to what goes on up here. Brrrr!) I've been going through our summer clothes, washing them and gradually storing them away–such an odd concept for someone who once lived in San Diego and wore the same "summer clothes" all year 'round!

Currently, I am checking through our supply of winter warmies: socks, hats, mittens, scarves, and sweaters to see what needs mending, what needs washing, and what we need more of. I've needed a new hat ever since I got here, and I just finished the new hat I've been working on: Connie Chang Chinchio's Blume Hat from Knitscene Fall 2010. I wore it the first day I finished it, in the pouring rain…and you can see the result in the photo. My cute well-fitting hat somehow has become a too-large floppy moptop hat. (A gorgeously hand-dyed floppy moptop hat, but floppy nonetheless.)

I Promise: I really had been a Good Girl and done The Whole Gauge Dance: A gauge swatch, washed and blocked, gauge re-checked as I knit, blah blah blah. This yarn, a lovely, firmly spun merino/cashmere/nylon blend from Indigodragonfly, isn't stretchy; it's actually got quite a memory to it. But apparently my cute wee hat remembers belonging to a giant, rather than to wee me.

I went to check the gauge swatch…and realized my mistake. RATS. How many times have I advised knitters to do a gauge swatch in-the-round if their knitting is going to be in-the-round? Over. And. Over. A. Zillion. Times. And yet, here I was, The Princess of Gauge Swatches, looking at a FLAT gauge swatch for a CIRCULAR hat.

I'd plead insanity, except that even the Martians have stopped talking to me these days.

Flat vs. Circular Knitting

I've been thinking about this quite a bit, trying to figure out why there is such a big difference between my flat swatch and my circular-knitted hat. Both were blocked, both knitted on the same needles, same yarn, same knitter, within two weeks of each other. The only difference, to my eye, is flat vs. circular–and it's the circular knitting that got bigger when worn and blocked.

The usual explanation is that flat knitting is half knit and half purl stitches, while circular knitting is all knit stitches. But I've compared my knit and purl gauges many times, and there's not a noticeable difference. Not enough to make my hat grow by an inch or more in circumference, anyway.

I got to wondering about the actual structure of the knitting itself–could that be a factor? Flat knitting, back and forth, has natural "fences" on either side of each row, in that at the end of a row, the yarn makes a tight 180-degree turn to form the first stitch of the next row. In circular knitting, the rounds are actually forming a spiral, with the last stitch of one round flowing right into the first stitch of the next round, with no breaks or turns or stops. Could it be that the tight turns at the end of each row in flat knitting slow down, or even stop, the yarn from endlessly pulling one stitch after another out of shape as the item is stretched? In circular stockinette, the stitches can just keep pulling on each other, round and round and round…which is why making a circular gauge swatch would give you more accurate information about what the knitting will do when worn, washed, and blocked.

I'm not a structural engineer, so I don't really know if the above is The Reason or not. But nevertheless: I know better than to make a flat swatch when what I'm knitting is round.

I've started the matching gloves, but methinks I will mentally convert what is on my needles right now from "a pre-glove" to a Gauge Swatch In The Round. Well…and then there is the hat. The entire HAT is now a lovely, huge Gauge Swatch In The Round, isn't it?

Excuse me, I have to run. I hear the frogs calling…

– Sandi

P.S. The hat and gloves won't take me long, even with an interlude in the frog pond…what should I knit next? Leave a comment with your suggestions!

Sandi Wiseheart is the founding editor of Knitting Daily. You can find her blogging here on Knitting Daily every Thursday. Want more? Visit Sandi's personal blog, wiseheart knits. Or, if you're on Twitter, you can follow her: sandiwiseheart.

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14 thoughts on “I Hear The Frogs Call My Name

  1. Hi Sandi…I’ve always felt that when knitting in the round we relax a bit. It’s endless knitting…no stop + turn…re-start. My theory is that the stopping + starting make our knitting a tiny bit tighter. That would explain your “flat knit” swatch having a tighter gauge. It’s more fun (+ relaxing) to just keep going + going…. Some people do have a different gauge for purl + knit, so I guess that’s another reason for all of us to do a swatch using the same method as the item. Since yours are the same….I’ll bet if you do a cowl/ hat/ swatch in purl…probably also bigger than a flat swatch.
    Purrcat’s idea of doing a cowl as a circ gauge swatch is great….must remember that. I think EZ advocated doing a hat for the same reason. Either would work. Andrea

  2. Sandi, you know what I love most about reading your blog? It’s all the mistakes that you make! I look at you as a very accomplished knitter, and it warms my heart that you too make mistakes, so… frog on!

  3. I don’t think this is a gauge error. Prasumably the hat fit you when you went out or you wouldn’t have worn it.

    It sounds to me like the rain wetting it, and then wearing it in that condition reblocked it!

    I’d block it again before frogging.

  4. I just finnished a hat made of Berroco Vintage Wool- it’s a snug beanie style with an “XOXO” cable down the center with two basic twisted cables on each side. Except…it’s just a little too baggy! I’m taking it in at the back seam (it was knit flat) then it should be perfect. Sometimes guage swatches lie. That hat would make a cute purse with a drawstring through the top…

  5. Love your inciteful articles! I would love to know the results of the following experiment: Knit one swatch in the round. Knit one swatch flat. Did you use the same yardage for each? If so, then you truly get the same gauge for each. I have the sneaking suspicion that the knit st. and the purl st. “hang up”differently on the yarn fibers as they are formed. Your theory of the 180-degree turn is a good one. It results in firm stable edges. However, the large difference between the knit hat and the wet hat might need an additional cause to explain.

  6. Sandi, I sympathize with your dilemma in regards to the poor stretched out bonnet. But all wool wil automatically stretch when wet! And I think part of the reason the gauge is more loose on circular needles could be that the ‘coil’ of the needle is always so much smaller than the needle part.
    Good luck on the re-knitting!
    Jean Morgan

  7. Hi Sandi ~ it seems like you could fix that floppy hat with elastic thread run around the crown and brim (: then pull it up just a bit to gain the right fit.

    And speaking of elastic thread, I have bunnies! Angora is so “saggy” alone, I’ll be holding elastic thread right along with my handspun grey angora to crochet “cup cozies” for my Winter Solstice/Christmas giftees. Maybe your next project is a “cup cozie” for your honey’s work cup!

    My mom invented a really cool cozie for my teapot: it has a slit the height of the handle. The slit (with the handle sticking out) lets me pour with the cozie on, AND helps hold the iffy lid in place. I just love it!

    The handle slit concept will follow to the cup cozies, and elastic thread will keep the angora snug on the cups. (: I’ll use crochet for it’s more firm texture.

    Here’s to helping ourselves enjoy winter, whether it be wet, WET Western Oregon or cold, COLD Canada!

  8. Gotta tell you how much I laugh and cry while reading your blog…. the great mystery of my grown son’s fair isle red/white expanding hat is solved…. gauge in the round…. gauge in the round, gauge in the round… my new mantra. Keep ’em coming.

  9. I love your hat and the color. I have a friend that can knit and have been reading the information in this news letter to see if I can learn again. I use to knit, but then I use to do a lot of things. I have arthritis in both hands and have taken to sewing bags and quilts, however, I love the look of a good knit sweater or hat. I do a little crochetting for about a few min.then am in a lot of pain. My daughter wants me to make her a sweater, I don’t think I can accomplish this. I’ve started it but I’m 72 and may not live long enough to finish it at the rate I’m going. Anyway, I loved your blog. Have a great day and enjoy the frogs, I love listening to them and the birds.