Saturday, 27 July 2013

How I do a Tenion (Gauge) Swatch

I started a new project recently. It's a pair of socks for my best friend from primary school. The first Christmas after I learned to knit, I made her a red lace scarf, the next year a red lace beanie, the next year red lace gloves, so this year for Christmas I'm making her red lace socks. Because I wanted to get the sizing right, I did a proper tension/gauge swatch, and I thought I'd share how I test my tension, and discuss a couple of other methods I've tried. To aid your understanding, please enjoy my very high quality MS Paint diagrams.

What is Tension/Gauge?
Tension (called "gauge" in the USA, and maybe Canada) refers to the amount of stitches and rows you can knit in a given area, on a given weight of yarn with a given needle size and stitch. For example, consider and 8 ply acrylic yarn, knit in stocking (stockinette) stitch on 4mm needles. Your average knitter will knit about 22 stitches and 28 rows in a 10cm X 10cm (4in X 4in) square. Of course, averages are statistical calculations, so don't necessarily represent any real person's tension. And as hand-knitters, our tension may well change day to day, row to row, or even stitch to stitch (hopefully it's not too uneven though). This is why it's important to check your tension.

I don't always check my tension before starting a project, but I do believe that they're important if you're going to do something where accurate sizing is important.

Tension for Knitting Patterns
At the start of knitting patterns, the designer will almost always include a section for tension or gauge. These things usually look something like this:

Tension: 34 sts/48 rows = 10cm X 10cm in stocking stitch

Tension guides on knitting patterns usually quote expected numbers for a 10cm square, but sometimes will quote for a 1 inch (2.5cm) square. Similarly, tension guides usually give you expected tension for stocking stitch. However, some patterns, especially those with featured stitch patterns, like lace, will give you tension for that stitch pattern.

So, What is a Tension Swatch, then?
A tension swatch is a square that you knit in the recommended needle size and the yarn you are planning to use, to see if your knitting produces the same tension as those recommended. If you find that your swatch has more stitches and rows per 10cm square, your finished object will turn out too small. You'll need to go up a needle size and knit another swatch to see if those needles are better. Conversely, if your swatch has fewer stitches and rows per square, your finished object will turn out too big, and you'll need to go for a smaller needle size.

Great. So how do you do a tension swatch?

The Method I use: 15cm X 15cm (6in X 6in) Square

When I first learned to knit, I borrowed this book from my local library. It contained information for how to do a tension swatch. I've tried other methods, but I still turn to the method described in this book for my "Gold standard" of tension. So this is how I do it.

  1. Plan a 15cm X 15cm swatch (not 10cm). Why? You're not bound to get an accurate count of your stitches and rows since edge stitches often curl round the edges, and I don't know if it's just me, but my selvedge stitch are looser than the others. Also, if your tension turns out to be tighter than that given by the pattern, your square will be smaller than 10cm squared and you won't know how far off you are.

    To calculate what is a 15cm square, multiply the stitches and rows from the pattern's tension guide by 1.5. So, if your pattern says that 20sts X 30 rows makes 10cm squared, you would cast on 30sts and work in stocking stitch for 45 rows. If your tension is dead on the guide, your square will be a 15cm square.
  2. Once you have done this swatch, it will be curly, as stocking stitch is. Since you're bothering to do a tension swatch, you're probably planning on bothering to block or steam your finished project. Therefore, you need to block or steam your swatch. You might also want to beat up the swatch a little too, to imitate everyday wear and tear, since knitted objects may stretch over time. I will usually block swatches properly, washing briefly in warm water and laundry liquid, then rinsing in warm water. However for this pattern, I couldn't be bothered going to those lengths, so instead I thoroughly washed the swatch in warm water and squeezed it out. See my diagram for how I did it: 

 After you've wet your swatch, you need to pin it out to dry. Pin it out square, but don't stretch or compress it so that it fits into a 15cm square. That defeats the purpose of the swatch. I would normally use sewing pins, the ones with the colourful heads, but I don't have any in Tasmania, sew (pun intended) I used sewing needles. I could never have done this in Adelaide. My female dog Bubbles loves metal things. Once, my mum noticed that Bubbles would yelp every time she got into her bed. Turns out she had been collecting the sewing needles I would inadvertently drop when I wove in ends etc. (I had a tin full of sewing and darning needles) Thank God she never ate any of them (she has eaten other sharp metal things before). I now keep much better track of my notions. Anyway, I digress. Here is what it looked like when I pinned out my swatch:
Once it is dry, grab your ruler or tape measure and count the number of stitches (including half stitches) and rows in a 10cm square. As I said before, if you have a greater number of stitches/rows than the tension guide, your finished object will be smaller than the design. Fewer stitches/rows than the guide, it will be larger than the design. If you're one or two stitches off, you might not want to bother adjusting the needles size and re-swatching. If you want, you can calculate, based on your own tension, how big your finished object will be, and then decide if the finished size will do the job.

Other Ways to Swatch
  • The garter stitch border method: I read once that because stocking stitch curls, it's a good idea to knit a border of garter stitch around the stocking stitch bit that you will count your tension from. I've tried this. I don't recommend it. I did a garter stitch bordered swatch, blocked it and counted, and was really surprised that my tension was much looser than the guide, when it is usually pretty much spot on, if not a little bit tight. So, I did another swatch with no stocking stitch and my tension was back to normal. Conclusion: By starting off with a few garter stitch rows, garter stitch being a looser stitch than stocking stitch, you've established a looser tension. If you want to try it, here is a picture:
  • The half-arsed method: I do this pretty often. You start knitting a swatch then can't be bothered finishing, or you don't want to break the yarn. So, you cast off, not pulling the yarn the whole way through the last cast off stitch (so you can unravel it later) and count your stitches and rows from the portion of swatch you've done (you can figure out the per-inch tension if you don't have a 10cm portion). Not as accurate as doing a proper and blocked/steamed swatch, but it does give you an idea.
I save my tension swatches and am planning to turn them into a  blanket when I have enough. I have some half-arsed ones that I might also put in the blanket, I haven't decided yet.

  • My stitch tension is ok but my row tension is wrong! Help!
    • Yeah, this happens to me. Here's a little trick: If your pattern is something which is knit sideways, then you should pay more attention to your row count over your stitch count. For other patterns, those knit top down or bottom up, stitch count is important. This is especially true for garments. If your row count is ridiculously different from the tension guide, you might want to consider adapting the pattern itself.
That's all. Here's a picture of a beetle:

Monday, 15 July 2013


I'm still sad about my rabbit. It's hard to grieve when you're away from the creature who has died. I've usually found the death of a pet to be much easier to handle than the death of a person, which is logical, and I assumed it was because I value my human relationships than those I have with animals (that's the fashion, anyway). But when I was 17 and our first dog -- my brother's -- died after 12 years on earth and a brief but tough illness, we told my brother, who was living in another state. He decided to drive the 8 hours to our place to bury her. With the time it took to organise his trip back and drive down, it was a couple of nights with Bouncer's body above ground before we buried her. I found that death as hard as losing a human family member until we buried her. Even six years later as I write this, I've got tears in my eyes. Bouncer's death reminds me that I won't fully believe Coal is dead until I see his empty hutch and the disturbed soil where my dad buried him, next to my dear dog Donny.

Sorry for the downer. I didn't even mean to write that. This was meant to be a fun post. Switching gears.

I forgot to mention that I did a fun project just before I went back to visit Adelaide. You see, one of my housemates was leaving Tasmania for her home in Canada after six months. I definitely knew I wanted to knit her something as a going away present, and I definitely knew I wanted to knit her something Australiana-y. A few weeks before leaving, she went to Sydney and came back with a kangaroo onesie, and I had my answer. By modifying this pattern, I made her a pair of kangaroo mittens! She's from Canada, you see, so your hands freeze off if you don't wear mittens. If you're a member of Ravelry, I've posted my pattern modifications on here. And here is a picture of the mittens (apologies for the mess):

Peace out,

The Knitted Kitten

Friday, 12 July 2013

Rest in Peace, Coal

My last post was about how I had made a toy rabbit out of yarn I spun from the fur of my real rabbit, Coal. In that post, I talked about how Coal was getting older and I wanted to make the rabbit as something to remember him by when he passes away. My mum has just called to tell me that Coal has died. He was fine one day, and the next day did not greet my mum when she went to feed him; he had died in the place he sleeps. I knew this day was coming. I only hope he died peacefully and painlessly. I will love you always, my bunny rabbit.

Saturday, 29 June 2013

Birth of the Meta-rabbit

I've finished the first semester of my Masters and have spent the last couple of weeks doing very little psychologing (technical term), back home in South Australia. Apart from epic DVD marathons and epic naps, I've been doing lots of spinning. This is great because I don't have any of my spinning gear in Hobart and I have HEAPS of fibre to spin and spinning is just awesome. And, it's time consuming so it takes a long time to get very far with it, so it's good I got plenty done. The most wicked and awesome bit of spinning I did was finishing spinning the yarn from my rabbit, Coal.

We've had Coal for about six years I'd reckon, and he was an adult when we got him, which means he is getting on in years. I love him. He's one of the friendliest rabbits I've ever met and he's also extremely cute. Here he is on a hot day when we put his hutch inside:
Also, funny story about that hutch. It broke (he has a bigger one now) and he was hopping around, and my Mum, Dad and brother (who is afraid of rabbits. He does have a good reason for it though, trust me) were all running around trying to get him out of some bushes. I came up and was like, "hey, what's going on?" and they were like "the rabbit got out", and then Coal hopped out of a bush and came up to us like "hey, you guys here to give me a carrot or something?". Ok, maybe you had to be there. Point is, he's cute.

Coal grows a thick Winter coat every year, which he for some reason sheds towards the end of Summer, leaving him with a pretty short coat in Autumn. Now that we're a third of the way into Winter, his coat is recognisably thick again. Anyway, for the past two years (although not as conscientiously in the second year), I've been collecting his Winter coat as he shed it in order to turn it into yarn. As you can see, he doesn't have very long fur. At first I tried carding the fibre, but it was too wispy. It wasn't matted and barely contained any vegetable matter, so I just spun it with high twist, with a worsted draw, without any fibre preparation. After spinning it and setting the twist, I knitted the yarn into...a rabbit! Now I have a meta-rabbit or a double-rabbit, whichever you prefer. It is made from a knitted square from this tutorial. It was so easy! It'd be a good first pattern for a young knitter. Although when I was sewing it up, the rabbit yarn did snap every now and then, but it was all good. After I had knitted the initial square and tail (using my sphere formula), I fulled/felted the pieces a little, because, even after setting the twist in the yarn (which felts it somewhat), it still shed a bit. Overall, I am extremely happy with the meta-rabbit. Although it'll never replace the one and only Coal, it is nice to know I'll have something special to remember him by when he leaves us. Here is my handsome bunny rabbit with his meta-rabbit:

As you can see, the meta-rabbit is significantly lighter than Coal. This is because Coal is a smoke, meaning his fur is dark on the outside but closer to the skin it is grey. Our cats are the same. I believe the term for an animal with the same colour fur down to the skin is "self-coloured".

When I've told people about the meta-rabbit, I've had reactions ranging from "cool!" to a bit of shock and weirdness combined with "cool!". I totally get the weirdness of spinning your pet's fur into a smaller version of your pet. It's less weird than this, though. Also, a fibre-producing animal is a fibre-producing animal, whether you consider him family or not. Sometimes I think people forget that wool comes from sheep. My loved ones should remember this mini-rant when I attempt to spin human hair. It'll probably happen eventually.


The Knitted Kitten

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Family is fantastic

I'm procrastinating big time on my last assignment for the semester. In doing so, I've been narcissistically (definitely a word) looking over my posts from my trip to Europe, and it occurred to me how great family is. How great is family? On my trip to the UK I met several family members who are interested in genealogy, something which I have some interest in too. Boy, is it fascinating. How strange that professions seem to run in the family. My mum was a teacher, two of her sisters were teachers,  my late paternal grandfather was a university lecturer, and my brother, with teachers on both sides of the family, is a postman. And my sister is a teacher (see what I did there? I suspect there are comedians in my family). I've noticed a similar trend with a tendency to like learning languages (my mum, my sister and me), writing (both my paternal grandparents, all their kids, my brother and me), musicality (so many of us), vegetarianism (auntie, dad, me, cousins, various other temporary ones), and armed service (great uncles on both sides, Grandma and my brother). In my family history, there are stories of convicts being sent to Australia (probably not true, but some went voluntarily later), murderers, and a potential illegitimate ancestry from a famous Scot (either that or an ancestor of mine had a beer with him in a pub. I have heard both stories), and so many other families have so many other fascinating histories.

And you're all like, stop talking about your family, Kat, it's like looking at someone else's holiday slides. Go to bed or finish that assignment. And I'm all like, quiet you, I was going somewhere with this. Give me a chance to finish, will you? And you're all like, how rude, I don't have to take this. And I'm all like, I'm sorry, I'm delusional, I need to sleep but I'm not going to. Now shut up and listen to me ramble.

What I was TRYING to get to, before you so rudely interrupted, was that knitting also runs in my family, notably on my paternal side. My great aunt, who I've mentioned in other posts, is 92 years old and still knitting! I'm so proud! Her sister, who I also met, is keen on cross stitch and used to make teddy bears. I didn't realise until after her daughter (my...first cousin once removed) found this blog, that this aunt and her daughter also love knitting! My aunt said that my great Grandma (the mother of my great aunts and my Granddad), after whom my sister is named, used to knit a lot. Having 10 children, she would knit several copies of the same garment for each child of the appropriate gender to wear. How sweet! This family is all from my Granddad's side, but my Grandma, as I've mentioned many times, was a prolific knitter. Unfortunately for me, I'm one of her youngest grandkids so my strongest memories of her were when she was frail and didn't knit so much. Even so, I remember her teaching my sister to knit, and me of course. I remember her making socks, and latch-hooking rugs. I even remember her knitting a pocket for a cardigan she had bought which had none. I remember thinking "wow, isn't that cool, that she can just DO that?" All four of us (my sister, my brothers and me) had a knitted lamb in a different colour. I remember getting mine at about 3 or 4 and it was purple, which I was perfectly happy with, but it wasn't until I was older that purple became well and truly my favourite colour. I do believe our first dog ate that lamb. I don't blame her, I suspect malice aforethought from her master. *sigh*. Siblings. My oldest brother's security toy (he was the only one of us who was especially attached to a particular toy from early infancy) was a large doll knitted by my Grandma, and my sister had one too. We've still got my sister's doll. Our first dog ate my brother's. I plan to re-create one of those lambs. And my brother's doll too, for his own son, who had better not feed his sister's toys to the dog. So, my Grandma was a big knitter. Her daughter (incidentally after whom I am named) is a knitter, and it was super fun meeting her last year and talking about knitting, plus ALL the other stuff we talked about when I was there. She recently posted a picture of a beautiful baby blanket she's knitted, in cotton and bamboo no less. Beautiful yarns, and I regret that I've been favouring the acrylic lately because I'm cheap. I can dream, though. Then there's me, also  knitter. Also my sister, a crocheter (but the crochet could come from the other side of the family. Let's not get into that though.) I recently made some mittens which I'll blog about at some stage. I'll admit that in the craziness of this semester, I was worried I was losing my obsession with knitting. Obsession is a fantastic thing, and I love when I'm in the grips of it. But it has to fade eventually, and there's a danger of it fading completely. Thankfully I don't think knitting ever will stop being a part of my life. It's apparently in my genes. Here is a genogram of all these fibre arts family members (men are added in order to join the dots. I don't hate men, but these particular ones don't knit. 

As I write more and more of this blog post, I realise that I might be experiencing some end-of-semester delirium. I presented my research proposal today (well, yesterday) and allI have left is an assignment and a test. Humour me.

So, it occurs to me that I'm all like, oh cool, look at all these knitters in my past! How special! But in reality, no, it's not that special. In the olden days everyone knitted and sewed and did all of that wholesome stuff. I bet my Granddad's other sisters knit/knitted too. When I first moved to Tasmania, I devoured the Little Women book and sequels by Louisa May Alcott. The books are so touching and beautiful. But when you stand back and look at them, they're about domestic life! Sometimes not even particularly noteworthy events in domestic life. Meg and Jo went to a party, Jo darned Mr Bhaer's socks, the girls put on a play. So simple, and so beautiful. Something I love in those books is the image of the women of the house with their mending baskets working together in the evening. All the women could knit and all the women did knit! I've heard that knitting started off as a man's activity, but in the late 19th century, it was very much a skill which women had and did more than the men, and it provided a time for discussion between women in a family. Alcott was a feminist, and in her last book of the series (don't want to give away too much), there are women in a university, and though they are very smart and studious, they're starting to forget how to sew and knit, and the March sisters run classes to teach them. I know it's kitschy Americana or whatever, and it was written so long ago, but it's just a lovely image. Women in a family, and then women in a community, doing such a creative, essential thing as fixing and making clothes, to provide for themselves and their families. Maybe I'm old-fashioned, but it makes my heart smile. One day, if I have daughters, I'm going to teach them the value of the thread.

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Happy Birthday, Grandma!

Today is my Grandma's 90th Birthday. Unfortunately, my Grandma died in 2007, but I believe that she's out in the universe somewhere and happy. She is the Grandma who joined the army as a teenager during WWII, but who was happy as a mother to my dad and his siblings. She is the Grandma who moved her family from the UK to Australia in the 60s, where there was no extended family. But a big one grew around her. She is the Grandma who taught my mum to cook my dad's favourite foods. She gave my mother a geranium cutting from her house, and from that cutting my mum planted geraniums at many of the family's properties over the years.

She is the Grandma who looked after my siblings, cousins and me after school. Potatoes and gravy? Yes please. She is the Grandma who, in her later years, would buy goodies from the cart that went around the nursing home and loaded my sister and I up with head scarves, hair clips and chocolates. I love her for all these reasons and more. One thing I'm very grateful for is that she is the Grandma who taught many children to knit, and one of them was me. I even remember her teaching me when I was about six. Thanks, Grandma, you laid the foundations for a passion which I hope I'll do until I'm 90 and beyond.

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Alas and Alack! My Knitting is Waiting!

It is a public holiday today. ANZAC Day (shout out to my brother in the navy even though he definitely won't read this). I'm taking a short break from homework which I will be doing all day so that I can have a quick snack. My knitting has gone neglected for a couple of days out of sheer lack of time. Here is a melodramatic poem about it:

Oh, my knitting!
You sit on the shelf above me,
A half finished sheep with no face.
You are so near to me,
I could reach out and touch you,
You are so dear to me,
Kitchener-stitched to my heart.
But you are so far from me!
Oh, so far!
For my homework forbids me
From an extended time of bliss
From the first purl, I am well aware
That our meetings are brief.
The parting is so hard
That I rarely take you up,
Though I wish to so much.
I can therefore only wait
Until the semester draws to an end
And I can pick you up again
And give the sheep a face.