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...
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.