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on gauge (free pattern, too)

January 31, 2009

My favorite chapter of any knitting book is Chapter 2 of Elizabeth Zimmermann’s Knitting Without Tears.  The chapter is called “Gauge: Required Reading” and it’s short and to the point.

I pulled the book off the shelf yesterday specifically to read just that chapter.  I’m teaching a Learn to Knit class at my LYS and will be talking about gauge during Sunday’s class.  The class is the second in a series of three.  The first class we cast-on, knit and purled.  When they come to class on Sunday the students will have a square piece of stockinette fabric.  Hopefully.

Since I want to get the newbies to understand Gauge,  I pulled out my bag of swatches to bring to class.  I found this:

First Knitting

This is the first knitting I ever produced.  I borrowed my friend’s Stitch & Bitch book and sat down with some heather gray Red Heart and size 8 needles that my sister gave me.  I’m amazed that I still have this bit of knitting.  But when Debbie Stoller tells you to hold onto it for posterity, you pretty much do what she says.

During my first two years of knitting, I never knit a gauge swatch.  Or if I did it was a half-assed one.  I knit them now because I like to; I collect them.  Sometimes my gauge swatches are the beginning and end of a project.  Sometimes they evolve into something more.  And to be honest, I still don’t always knit a swatch.  Really!


Here is a picture from May ’08.  If you click on it you can see notes on each swatch.  Since I took that picture, I have made many more swatches and found older ones, too.

So, back to knitting class on Sunday.  I am struggling with how to approach the gauge issue with newbies.  I agree with EZ when she says, “GAUGE is the most important principle in knitting.”  I will teach the new knitters how to measure it, tell them what it means, and illustrate what might happen if they ignore the swatching process.

But I think the gauge part of knitting is something that you have to learn over time.  You need one gloriously effed up project – hours and hours of knitting – to teach you that swatching is a step not to be ignored.

That’s about enough gauge talk, right?  How about a free hat pattern?

how to knit a hat

I was going to call this pattern, written for the newbies, “How to Knit a Hat” but that was taken.  So instead I named it Elementary.  Knit in the round with worsted weight yarn, garter stitch brim, spiral-y decreases at the top.

how to knit a hat

You can get this one-page download for free on Ravelry.  CLICK HERE!

P.S. Don’t forget to check your gauge before you begin: 20 sts = 4″ measured over stockinette stitch.  🙂

8 Comments leave one →
  1. January 31, 2009 4:51 pm

    Love the gauge swatches photo, you make swatching look so pretty colorful and fun, it’s inspiring. I know better than to skip a gauge swatch but sometimes, still…..

  2. January 31, 2009 6:34 pm

    I can’t believe how even your first knitting is! You must be a natural. I love the swatches photo. I tend to tear out my swatches for the yarn when I’m done with them, but it is fun to see your collection. How do you record/organize their vital stats? I find that I often forget the important parts about a swatch, so it would be interesting to hear how you catalog them.

    As far as convincing your new knitters of the importance of gauge, do you have any lace swatches? Lace changes so dramatically based on gauge; it might illustrate your point about how you can get a completely different feel in a fabric based on your gauge. I think you’re right that it’s just a lesson that everyone learns for themselves (and some of us never really learn), but at least you can plant the seed!

  3. February 1, 2009 4:49 pm

    Hope the class went well. Everything you said is spot on. Sometimes even when you know the terror of gauge, you don’t knit the swatch and just hope for the best.

  4. February 1, 2009 9:47 pm

    i can’t believe you have your first ever swatch! that’s incredible. you are so good for always swatching. i almost never swatch :-/ i wish i did though. i think it’d be really nice to have a gauge swatch for every project i’ve ever knit. it’d be cool to keep them all in a little book!

  5. February 2, 2009 6:58 pm

    Cute hat! I always knit a gauge swatch but I always unravel them. All your swatches look charming. Maybe I should get in the habit of keeping my swatches.

  6. February 2, 2009 7:03 pm

    I love this hat !!! I wish I’d kept all of my swatches.

  7. February 3, 2009 1:26 pm

    Wow – some of your gauge swatches look like FOs! I really like the colorwork wedge at the bottom.

  8. February 25, 2009 4:34 am

    I just finished my hat and it is so big. What did I do wrong other than use the wrong needles. Oh, maybe I should have made a test swatch too. Instead of the circular needles I used 4 double pointed needles. I’m still waiting for my circulars to come in. I was really excited to start this hat. Did I say how big it turned out. Anyway, I’ll be making your hat again. I haven’t posted to my blog yet as I want to sleep on this. I know I could have took it out and started over, but I was already decreasing. My yarn was chucky weight and I used a size 10.5 needles. Did I also say that I’ve only been knitting for about 2 months now. Anyway, love the pattern and will try it again.

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