Every now and then, usually at a moment when I'm feeling a tad cocky about this knitting thing, some sassy little yarn comes along and puts me firmly in my place. I swatch and I block the swatch; I measure and I calculate and I write things down and I feel all warm and smug inside…and the yarn gets me, every time.
I'm still working on my Tattoo Tank…really I am. I've knit another couple of inches, or at least, I'm pretty sure that I've spent time moving my needles around a lot. I just now tried it on again…and although the length is definitely better, the circumference around the bust area seems…ginormous. I checked the pattern, and my numbers, and yes, this pattern is supposed to have a generous amount of positive ease at the bust–but when I try on the garment itself, well. We're talking circus tent here. Bring in the elephants, and heck, why not a few acrobats while we're at it. (No clowns, though. They make me nervous. Might have something to do with the fact that I'm listening to the (utterly awesome) audiobook version of Stephen King's It whilst knitting. Nevertheless: No clowns. Thanks.)
I laid the garment flat on the floor and measured–45", about what I expected to find. I checked my (unblocked) gauge and did the math with the stitch count, and it was all where it should be, in normal, camping-tent territory, not circus-tent territory. In disbelief, I measured myself, and I, too, was still where I expected to find myself, at about 44" at the bust. The measurements and the stitch count say I should be getting about 1" of positive ease…but when I try the thing on, trust me, there's a LOT more than 1" of ease in here.
I happened to look down while I was trying it on, and I noticed that the fabric was stretching–and stretching–and stretching. Not vertically; horizontally, around my bust.
I took off the top, laid it flat…and stretched it out with my hands. Look. At. That. LOOK AT THAT. A quick measure and I realized I had found the culprit: That darn sassy yarn.
I knew that the yarn caused my gauge swatch to stretch vertically…but the nice firm borders of my oversized gauge swatch had prevented it from giving me the whole story. This yarn, when knit up in large tubes–such as, oh, say, a little purple summer top–also causes the fabric to stretch widthwise. My (unblocked) knitting gauge, just laid flat on the floor, is about 5 sts per inch. My (unblocked) gauge, stretched out, is 3.5 sts per inch. THAT's where the extra circumference is coming from! When I wear it, this top is going to look humongous on me, not because I didn't do the math right, but because I didn't do the right math. My swatch hadn't been 20 inches wide, thus, I had no way of knowing the fabric would stretch this much.
That pesky, tricksy, sassy yarn. (O Yarn, hear me: I shake my fist at you…)
How can one plan for this sort of thing ahead of time? The answer is: Experience. There are so many different yarns out there, and each of them has its own personality. This particular yarn was a new one to me, and although I had done a very generous swatch, it's true that sometimes the swatch lies, or at the very least, it does not tell the entire truth. It's good to try new yarns, but it's also good to build up a repertoire of your own "staples"–yarns that you turn to over and over again, yarns whose behaviour you are familiar with, not just in a swatch, but in finished garments, as they are actually worn.
All right then. This top is not turning out exactly as I expected it to, because the yarn isn't behaving the way I expected it to. What am I doing about this? I'm making some modifications now on the fly (a few extra decreases on the way to the armholes); once the garment is done, I'll wash it and block it and then see what's what. I have a couple of tricks up my sleeve that I can still use, depending on how it looks post-blocking. Yes, it's a bit frustrating, because now I know that the top is not going to look the way I wanted it to. However: It's my knitting, and I am still the boss of it. Even though it may not look like the photo, in the end, I'm sure I can use my clever knitter's brain to make it obey me and look like something pretty cute after all.
There's always something new to learn. And every time I learn something new, I can add it to my toolbox of tricks for the future.
Bring it on, sassy yarn. Bring. It. On.
– Sandi, Boss of Her Knitting
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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.