As we settle into a chilly Easter weekend I have dragged myself away from the addictive progress on Eunice to do a bit of a stash dive and a plan for my tension/gauge experiments. ETA I have finished the body of Eunice!

Understanding yarn and the fabric it creates is pretty essential to creating a knitting project you are happy with. For me the main reason for something not fitting or sitting correctly is due to a haphazard approach to yarn and tension. The most obvious is if your tension is not the same in terms of stitch count you risk a size issue unless you get into some careful maths, but also if the pattern tension and the yarn aren’t a good mix you can end up with a garment that doesn’t look right, could stretch out of shape or pill badly. To make the topic manageable I decided to start my first experiments with pure wool double knitting/ worsted weight.

But first a little story – once upon a time when I was working in a high street yarn store (pre Holland Road) a customer came in with an issue with some double knit (DK) wool made by a reputable manufacturer. She was knitting a black man’s jersey and had completed a good two thirds of the garment. While working on it the night before she noticed the new ball she had joined in looked different both in colour and gauge. After checking in the morning light (was black after all) bought it in to us. While all the balls came from the same batch /dyelot the new ball was knitting at a tighter gauge and appeared darker. The fabric felt different as well. When we went to replace the odd ball we discovered half a packet of ten appeared thinner and darker along with one of her two unused skeins. The two possibilities my more experienced colleague came up with were either that a ply thread had broken during the spinning and the balls had been wound without anyone noticing or, alternatively and possibly a better explanation for how the yarn felt there had been something impacting the tension in the final ply so a length of the yarn had a tighter twist. It was a good lesson that before you even cast on a garment tension can be impacted by variation within your yarn so have a good look before you start!

So lets start with winding…

Whether you wind it yourself or it comes already in a ball, how yarn is wound makes a difference.

I suspect this is more of an issue with wool than most other fibres because wool has a degree of elasticity that most other fibres don’t, but how yarn is wound can impact on the tension. Especially with a larger project ideally all the yarn should be wound the same way including for your swatch. I get a noticeable difference if I knit one sock with a hand wound ball and the other with a ball winder ball. And while the idea of knitting off a cone and minimal joins seems tempting it will pull on the yarn as you knit.

My initial four yarns

I have four projects in mind at the moment that all are knit with very similar yarns – in the strictest sense the two skeins on the right are worsted weight and the two on the left are double knitting. They have all been wound slightly differently, the blue grey was wound using a plastic ball winder, the red using a knitpro ball winder, the round ball is handwound and the green was ball winder wound by a friend (came from her destash)

The recommended gauge for these yarns are:

  • Malabrigo Rios (blue toned multi): 18-22 stitches to 10 cm on 4.5-5.5 mm needles
  • MadTosh Vintage (green): 18-20 stitches to 10 cm on 4.5 – 5.5 mm needles
  • MadTosh DK (blue grey): 20 -22 stitches to 10 cm on 4.0-4.5 mm needles
  • Dark Harbour Port (red): 22 stitches to 10 cm on 3.25 -5.0 mm needles

The patterns I am swatching for respectively are:

  • Dark and Stormy (Thea Colman) 20 stitches by 28 rows on 4.5 mm needles
  • Rift (Jared Flood): 20 stitches by 30 rows to 10 cm on 4.5 needles
  • Antique Flora (Wool and Pine) : 24 stitches by 23 rows to 10 cm on 4mm needles
  • Derica Kane (Bonne Marie Burns) 20 stitches by 28 rows to 10 cm 4.5 needles.

Dark and Stormy and Darica Kane are worked flat and bottom up, Rift is worked bottom up in the round and Antique Flora is top down and in the round. I typically grit my teeth and swatch for garments as I really want them to fit and truth be told, while I would love to power away on the recommended needle size typically I need to drop a size. So this experiment will be interesting as I will likely switch needles to see how much impact that makes.

In a perfect world I will re-swatch when I go to actually knit these as my tension could have changed between now and then.

The swatch plan

For the purposes of this experiment I am going to start with around 42 stitches on the recommended needle and knit at least 15 cm. I will measure them and then do a gentle wash and block – these are going to be for garments so I don’t want to stretch them out, the blocking is to settle the stitches and judge the fabric. The swatch I am least sure about is for Rift as the pattern uses Brooklyn Tweed Shelter which while a worsted weight is a different yarn composition to the MadTosh.

(And there is an edit here as evidenced in the picture – I did a stash dive for some Brooklyn Tweed Shelter and chose some Dyestock Yarns DK to replace the Dark Harbour. Reason being that both the Darica Kane project notes highly recommended swatching the lace pattern and Antique Flora also says to measure swatch over pattern)

The focus of my first step swatch test will be simply stitch count on very similar yarn compositions with similar weights on a waxed wooden needle (Lykke and Lantern Moon – which are birch and ebony respectively – bamboo could be different) . Then stitch count after washing.

Next steps will be the Shelter and the Dyestock DK with different needle types. And a third step I will go back to pattern swatch for the lace of Derica Kane and the colourwork of Antique Flora.

Related steps will be swatching with blends – at this weight, likely wool/silk, wool/possum, and alpaca/wool plus cotton (mercerised and not). And also a couple of swatches of two yarns held together – mohair/silk plus four ply merino.

I personally don’t find much difference between my flat swatching tension and my in the round tension which is probably due to the way I purl. Normally if I am doing an in the round garment I will sleeve swatch so at this stage I am focusing on flat swatch. I am hoping to get these swatches done over the weekend so I can update next week. There were so many factors when I started to brainstorm that I decided I needed to start somewhere.

Book of the week

This week I am choosing Barbara Else’s Laughing at the Dark. It’s a memoir and I loved the way it was written. Barbara is about 10 years older than me and one of the things I found really relatable was her descriptions of choices and decisions set in the context of the times we lived in – which can be hard to understand when you look at them within the social framework we live in today. There were some amazing New Zealand books launched over the last couple of years and this was one of them. It didn’t hurt that she includes being on a cancer drug trial for bowel cancer that was successful – I read it during chemo.


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