Sunday, December 15, 2013

A few words on needle size, gauge, and all those other things

I was asked in a comment about needle size for patterns, and in particular, for the ribbed mitten pattern I posted about a month ago.

The simple answer is that for a yarn (or yarn combo) that knits up to a gauge of about 3 st/in, a needle size of 9-11 (5.5 mm to 8 mm) is the usual recommendation.

The longer answer is that it depends.

I am a very loose knitter, especially compare to the standard charts of recommended needle sizes.  So a size that works for me won't work for everyone else.  Thus I hesitate to recommend a needle size when I write out my patterns.

Also, I don't usually specify a yarn.  I might use handspun, or some ancient stuff from the leftovers bin, or something where the ball band was lost years ago.  I might strand two or more yarns together.  And so on.  I do try to give a general gauge and/or a finished item size that you might want to keep in mind.  Where possible, I try to work in measurements (knit until item is X inches long) rather than gauge (work X rows).  I also try to give a sense of how accurate your gauge needs to be.

Most of my patterns are more in the nature of concepts and methods, basic generic plans that work for a range of yarns and that can easily be customized to be larger or smaller based on gauge and personal preference.

For myself, I usually try out a chosen yarn with a likely-looking needle.  If I like the fabric, it's good to go.  I do a rough gauge check, a few simple calculations, and then cast on.

For small items, the item itself is the full gauge swatch.  Evaluate after an inch or two.  Do you still like the fabric?  Does the item fit?  If yes, keep going.  If not, you haven't lost much time, and you've learned something that will make the next attempt better.

For small items, small differences in gauge do not matter much.  For large items, they matter a lot.  For larger items, say a sweater, I might start with a sleeve instead of the body.  Or I'll go top-down.  That way, I can evaluate fairly quickly and make adjustments if necessary without always having to unravel and start over.

I don't know if that helps any.

If you are a new knitter, try the ribbed mittens (or the wristers) with a yarn or yarn combo that falls in the chunky/bulky range and a #10.5 needle.  If you don't have a #10.5 needle, try a #11 or a #9.  Evaluate after an inch or two and change needle size if you don't like how it looks or fit.  With 24 stitches per round, this goes fast.  You're not losing a lot of time if your first attempt isn't working out.

If you are a somewhat more experienced knitter, eyeball the yarn or yarn combo and pick a likely-looking needle size to start out with.

My approach to gauge and swatching is somewhat more relaxed than some people's approach.  Sometimes one really does need to be excruciatingly careful about making gauge swatches, washing them, and then evaluating before committing to the actual project. Sometimes one can be more cavalier, casting on and then seeing what happens, knowing that minor variations aren't going to change the outcome all that much.  With experience, one learns which approach is best suited to which projects and yarns.  Even then, mistakes sometimes get made.  Which, of course, is how one gains experience.  What's that old saying?  "Good judgment comes from experience.  Experience comes from bad judgment."  Live and learn.  And have fun knitting your way to wisdom.

Monday, December 2, 2013

The Very Vintage Bias Ribbed Hat

A long time ago, back before there was much in the way of the internet, let alone a rich online knitting community, I came across an interesting hat in the shop of an alpaca ranch.  The owner told me that it was an old pattern.  She graciously shared it with me.  I scribbled the directions as fast as I could while she described how the hat was made.  I ended up with a quickly drawn schematic on a torn scrap of paper, with two or three sentences to clarify small details.

Eventually, I shared the pattern in private e-mails with friends.  Somehow, my pattern description ended up on the internet, or at least on one of the knitting-related mailing lists that were in their heyday over a decade ago.

Here it is again, preserved for posterity.  Well, posterity by internet standards, whatever that might mean.

This is a vintage pattern.  I do not know its origins, only that it was considered an old pattern at least twenty years ago.  I've formalized the schematic from my quick sketch of long ago so that it looks prettier for the blog.

I re-knit it quickly to get some photos and also to make sure that the directions were adequate.  Yep.  They're adequate.  I didn't pay much attention to details and variations.  I'll discuss a few ideas after the basics.

Classic Bias Ribbed Hat

One of the nice things about this pattern is that gauge does not matter as long as you get a fabric you like.

Here is the schematic:

That's all you need, really.

Here is the pattern in words:

Cast on 3 stitches.  You'll be working in a k2p2 rib, so always stay in pattern.

Start by increasing 1 stitch at the beginning of each row.

When the sides are 12" long (the already knitted sides, not the side of active stitches on your needle), you'll be alternating increase rows with decrease rows.  On one side, you'll continue to increase one stitch at the beginning of the row.  On the other side, you'll decrease one stitch at the beginning of the row.

When the long side (the side with only increases) is 22" long, stop doing any increases.  Instead, decrease one stitch at the beginning of every row.

When you are down to 3 stitches, cast off.

Sew the short ends together.  Gather one of the long sides to close the top of the hat.  Hide the ends.  That's all there is to it.

You can wear it with the brim up or down.  If your finishing is relatively neat, it is quite reversible.

I used worsted-weight alpaca for the hat in the photos above.  It can be done in any yarn and any gauge, of course.

I didn't pay any attention to selvages or increase/decrease methods.  I increased/decreased in the first stitch of each row.  It looks OK.  I'm sure one could play around with different methods if desired.  Although I left the edges plain, I could have added a row of crocheting to the bottom of the hat, or otherwise decorated it up a bit.

If you want to make this hat seamless, the easiest way I know is to cast on the full number of stitches using a provisional cast-on.  Increase at one side and decrease at the other until the hat goes around your head (22").  Then graft the end to the beginning.  The advantage of this is that it is seamless.  The disadvantage is that you need to know your gauge and also need to know how deep you want the hat.  You also need to know how to do provisional cast-ons and grafting in pattern, both of which are quite common now, but which were considered somewhat more esoteric several decades ago.

Enjoy this vintage pattern!  If anyone knows more about its history, please feel free to add some details in the comments.