The Best Plans (& Stitches) Sometimes Still Go Awry

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

P.S. Feel free to leave a comment because everyone has something to say… 🙂



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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9 thoughts on “The Best Plans (& Stitches) Sometimes Still Go Awry

  1. So not only do our gauges swatches occasionally lie, they also prevaricate and obfuscate! Not telling the whole story…not fair. Glad you have such a good attitude about it.

  2. Well, I’m glad it happens to the best. Not that I especially want it to happen to you or anyone else in this matter. But this is life. We can either trow it away or learn to deal with it like you did and at the same time teach everyone else. I’m sure you will make the best of it. I really love your blog. you’ve got a great sense of humor and can tackle anything.

  3. Shake your fist with fury! I’m so sorry that it’s a big, fat trickster. Good job on keeping (or quickly recapturing) a positive attitude about this. THAT is the real inspiration to me!

  4. I read “IT” a long time ago. I love Stephen King, but you are right about the clowns. Once you’ve “met” Pennywise, you’ll never feel the same about clowns again…

    Good luck with the fix-ups for your really pretty purple top!

  5. May we ask what kind of yarn it was? At least tell us the composition so we can be careful when we use it. Bamboo, though I love to knit it up, has done that to me.

  6. I remember a designer once said that the best swatch for a garment is the garment itself. (I wish I could remember who said that, but I can’t.) Little swatches, and even big swatches, don’t seem to behave the same way as an entire garment. I had the same experience with a 100% silk top I knit once. It was heart-breaking that my gauge was spot-on and the top was too big. I gave it away to a friend whom it fit better. I now spend a lot more time holding the fabric up as the knitting gets bigger to see if it seems to have more drape or stretch than expected. Mostly I knit with wool, but I think this is more necessary with fibers like silk, bamboo, and rayon, which all have a lot of drape.