Books you need to own: The following books are excellent sources for information, garment shapes and dimensions in various gauges – and perfect for building on to produce your own patterns now that you know how to adjust gauge!
Newton, Deborah. Designing Knitwear. Taunton Press, 1992 (newer paperback available). One of my personal favorites.
Vogue Knitting Book. Sixth & Spring Books, 2002. (Has been reprinted/updated several times). Another classic.
Leisure Arts’ Back to Basics (series) . Multi-size and multi-gauge patterns for children and adults. (#2274 Kids 6-12 drop shoulder; #2390 kids 6-12 set-in-sleeves; #2394 6 months-4 years set-in-sleeves; #2289 adult 42-50 drop shoulders; etc.) Might be somewhat out of date (if still available) but excellent resource.
Patons Back to Basics (series),multi-style (set-in, drop, raglan & vest in each book) for kids and adults; for specific gauges (#561 sport/DK weight; #562 worsted).Might be somewhat out of date (if still available) but excellent resource.
Self-Published and probably hard to find, but well worth owning:
Valuable Knitting Information < These yarn reference books were published twice a year and were available only to yarn shops, so talk to your local shop and see if they will sell you a more recent out-of-date edition. Much of the information stays relevant – especially when you want to check yardage and gauge information for long discontinued yarns.
Marion Nelson Pattern Cards These cards were self-published in England and have been out of print for some time. You might be able to find used sets through some of the book sites, Ravelry or eBay. Amazon lists them as unavailable. The basic set included raglans, set-in-sleeves , sleeveless and drop shoulder in sizes 18″-48″ for 4 different gauges. Additional sets included skirts, sideways and dolman sweaters, children’s clothing, yoke sweaters, etc.
The collar on the sweater I featured in my last two blogs is actually more of a turned or rolled collar. A true shapedshawlcollar requires short row shaping so I have included some generic directions in this posting. You’ll need to provide the actual number of stitches and rows for your project, but the the method is never fail – by hand or machine – and really doesn’t require much charting as such. You might just want to keep an eye on how many rows you work so the collar is neither too deep nor too skimpy. That can be adjusted by short rowing more or fewer stitches each row in order to increase/decrease the overall number of rows you work.
Hand knitters have an advantage in that they can fit the entire neckline onto a single circular needle and work the front bands and collar all in one piece. I have suggested that machine knitters work the collar with a center back seam – along with a caveat to make that seam either invisible or decorative…..there really isn’t any other choice if you think about it.
You could also work the collar in a single piece through the beginning of the V-neck shaping and then work both front bands separately. The method used to shape the back of this color can also be applied to other collars and trims so add it to your bag of tricks!
Nancy Olson sent along this photo of herself modeling a version of the shawl collared cardigan that she knitted on her SK160 (mid-gauge). She used DAK to help chart the sweater and I think it looks great!
Sorry to bother you, but we are trying to make sure that the blog postings broadcast as they are supposed to. This last blog didn’t reach everyone as it should have. Just delete this – I’ll get out another real blog soon!
Sorry for the delay – It was hard to find enough time to finish up the new shawl collared cardigan, wash it and wait for it to dry in the New England humidity, but now I’d like to walk you through the process of charting an original design. I used some hand dyed yarn that a friend gifted me because it wasn’t right for something she was working on – and it was just perfect for my cardigan! The yarn, Maude’s Mountain Spun (which may not even be available anymore) has 200 yards per 4 ounce skein and it knitted beautifully on my Brother bulky (9 mm) machine. My gauge, with stitch size 7, was 4 stitches and 5.33 rows per inch. Throughout this pattern there might be places where my numbers are one or two off from what you figure – probably just how I chose to round off or up. I do not own a ribber for my bulky so the bands were worked in 2×2 rib by hand on size 8 needles.This is the pattern for the brown cardigan brown cardigan
Charting the Back
With a calculator and a copy of the basic pattern (cardiblank no stitch or row numbers, just measurements) I began by re-charting the back. I multiplied the width (27”) by my stitch gauge (4) and found I needed to cast on 108 stitches.
Next, I multiplied my shoulder width (10.5”) by my stitch gauge (4) and determined that I needed 42 stitches for each shoulder. Subtracting 84 sts (2 shoulders) from 108 sts (the cast on ) told me that I would have 24 sts for the back neck. (To double check, divide 24 by the width (6”) and you get 4 stitches per inch. Perfect.)
The total length of the garment should be 24.5”, which, when multiplied by the row gauge (5.33), dictates a total of 130.5 rows – which I rounded up to 132 so that I ended on the right. No good reason for that other than habit. I also broke down the length measurement by multiplying the length to the armhole (13.25”) by row gauge so I knew where to hang a tag (RC 72) at each side to mark the beginning of the armhole. These tags are handy to have ready when you start assembling the garment. (I also tag the beginning of the front neckline at the same time.)
Charting the Front
First multiply the lower width (18”) by stitch gauge (4), which amounts to 72 stitches to cast on. When you multiply the stitch gauge by the width of the collar extension (6”), you’ll find that it accounts for 24 stitches. Subtract 24 (collar stitches) and 42 shoulder stitches from the total width of the garment (72) and you’ll find that 6 stitches remain. These 6 stitches will be decreased to shape the front neckline (which is not nearly as sharp a V as it looks on my diagrams).
To figure the neckline decreases, you need to divide the number of stitches that must be decreased (6) into the total number of rows you have to do it (60 rows), which (conveniently in this case) results in 1 decrease every 10th row, six times, or, more concisely: -1 10/R x 6. This places the first decrease to right at RC 72, which is correct.
Charting the Sleeves
Multiplying the garment measurements by the stitch gauge dictates casting on 36 stitches and ending with 90. Subtracting 36 from 90 indicates that we need to increase by 54 stitches over the length of the sleeve. Because increases will be made at both edges of the sleeve, this means that there should be 27 increases worked over 88 rows (measurement x row gauge).
When working sleeve increases, you should never have an increase on either the first or the last row so the formula for spacing out the increases is worked a little differently than it was for the front decrease spacing. What we really need to find here is the number of spaces between the increases and between the beginning/ending edge of the fabric and the first/last increase.
You’ll finally get a chance to use that long division (with a slight twist) you learned in 3rd grade! You need to divide 27 (increases) into 88 (rows) except that, in order to avoid placing increases on the first/last rows, we’ll actually divide by 28, which is the number of spaces between/before/after the increases.
Now add 1 to the answer (3), which now becomes 4. Connect the new answer to the remainder below (which just happens to be 4 – could be anything). This tells us we will increase a 1stitch every fourth row four times (+1 4/R x 4).
Hopefully you are still with me because it gets kind of weird now. Subtract the remainder (4) from the divisor (28), which equals 24. Then subtract the 1 you added in the first step. Connect the 3 and 23 to indicate that you also need to make an increase every third row 23 times (+1 3/R x 23).
Its easy to check the math on this. First multiply the frequency of the increase (3/R) by the number of times you should increase (23) and the answer is 69 rows. Do the same thing for the increases made every 4th row, four times, which equals another 16 rows. 69 + 16 = 85 rows. Perfect.
I have no idea why and how this is designed to work – I just trust that it does because math was never my strong subject in school. The formula always works. If you’d like a short cut, there are a couple of calculators on line that do all the figuring for you. So will Garment Designer or DAK if you use those programs. This link http://www.getknitting.com/ak_0603mfcalc.aspx will bring you right to an automatic magic formula calculator.
How you work the increases is up to you. Sometimes computer programs try to shuffle the increases for you so that you might do an increase every 4th row after having done so many of them every 3rd row. I find it confusing to work like that so I generally work all my 4th row increases first, then move on to the 3/R increases when there is such a huge difference between the number of times I do each. I work the 4/R increases first to start shaping the sleeve more gradually so it doesn’t suddenly balloon out around my wrist.
You can arrange the increases however it makes the most sense to you, but I can guarantee that nobody is ever going to say “she knitted this gorgeous sweater but when she worked the sleeves, you can tell she did all her 4th row increases first and then all the 3rd row increases instead of alternating them throughout….” Not going to happen. Nobody will notice – not even you.
Just a couple more thoughts on this basic sweater shape. You could make the front even wider if you’d like to increase the size of the collar. You do not have to make any front neckline decreases if you want the entire front to roll all the way to the lower edges. You can add buttonholes and buttons, pockets, cables or any other details you want. Instead of rib, try finishing the edges with I-cord.
Double check the length of the sleeve by measuring yourself from the center back neck to the cuff and then compare to the garment schematic, adding half the width of the back to the length of the sleeve. Don’t forget to figure the added length of the rib.
Try charting this sweater with your own gauge information. It really is an easy garment shape to modify and change. Keep in mind that the bulkier the yarn, the more ease you need to build into a garment so that it drapes and fits correctly. If you decide to make a really oversized (OS) version of this cardigan, remember that as the body pieces get wider, the sleeve gets shorter. I’ve knitted some OS garments that had sleeves only 8” long and more snug fitting to support the weight of the garment. Also, you might need to knit the back in two pieces with a seam – make it attractive or make it invisible!
I’d love to show some of your sweaters here on the blog. So – when you get a chance, brush your hair, put on some lipstick and get somebody to take a nice photo of you wearing your design. Email it to me as a jpeg and I’ll post it so other knitters can see what you’ve done! Until next time!
I haven’t forgotten part 2 of the Charting posting, but wanted to introduce you to this shawl collared cardigan first. We’ll get back to the charting – I promise!
I designed this sweater in 1996 and knitted it – the first time – with a wonderful boucle from Lang Yarn called “Harvey”. I’ve knitted it several times since with a variety of yarns. The shape is an easy one to re-chart for any yarn and the style seems to look good on everyone. I think a collar can add a lot to a sweater and because this one is knitted as part of the front it doesn’t require a lot of fancy finishing.
I am including two versions of the pattern. The first version shawlcollarjacketgauged is written for a specific gauge (5 sts/8 rows = 1”) and can be knitted on the mid-gauge Sk-860 (LK-150) with stitch size 5 (4). The other version cardiblank only gives the dimensions so that you can re-write the pattern for whatever yarn/gauge you prefer! The pattern is written in two sizes, with the directions for the larger size in ( ).
For all of the garment pieces, I knit 1” of 2 x 2 ribbing. If you have a ribber, you can do this right on the machine. If not, begin on waste knitting and pick up the edge later to work the ribs by hand. Not a hand knitter? Use whatever edging or band you are comfortable doing. Because the jacket has a smart, boxy fit, I would avoid wide bands or bands that draw in the bottom of the garment. I chose 2 x 2 rib to keep the edges from rolling and to prevent stretching. I wasn’t looking for elasticity here.
After the ribbing, continue in stockinette (or a pattern stitch when you re-chart for your own version), tagging the armholes at RC (row count) 96 (106). This will eliminate the need to guess or re-measure later when joining the sleeves to the body.
At RC 176 (196) scrap off the back stitches in three sections, 42 (50) sts for each shoulder and 31 (32) for the back neck.
Knit two fronts with reversed shaping. The neckline decreases begin at RC 88 (108) and should be made 12 stitches from the front edge. You’ll need a multi-prong transfer tool to do this or else you will need to transfer 3-4 stitches at a time. The wide decreases help the front edge form the collar fold and are the main reason this collar loks so great when you finish. The short- hand on the diagram indicates that you should decrease 1 stitch every 10th (8th) row , 8 (10) times.
At RC 176 (196), scrap off the shoulder stitches and continue to RC 200 (220) on the remaining 30 sts to knit the back of the collar. Scrap off.
Knit two sleeves alike. Increase 1 stitch at each end of every 4th row 30 times and then (for the larger size only) increase 1 stitch every 3rd row three times. Scrap off all 100 (112) stitches. If you tag the center of the sleeve before you scrap off, it will be easy to line up the center of the sleeve with the shoulder seam later on.
Finishing: Block all pieces to size, using the schematic as a guide. Join the shoulder seams on the machine or by hand. Invisibly graft the ends of the back collar together. Then join the edge of the collar to the back neckline, easing to fit if necessary. Join the sleeves to the garment between the armhole tags and matching the center tag to the shoulder seam.
I finished the front edge of my sweater by picking up 131 sts along one front edge (all the way to the back collar seam), hanging it on the machine and knitting 1 row. Then I transferred every-other-stitch (EOS) to the ribber to knit 2 x 2 rib for 8 rows; transferred the ribber stitches back to the main bed and knitted 4 rows stockinette before using a back stitch bind off (See blog 5/8/16). Then I repeated it for the other side of the neckline and seamed the two bands together at the back neck.
You should use whatever band or trim you used for the lower edges of the sweater. You could also work an I-cord bind off (see blog 4/8/16) or hand crocheted finish. The choice is yours!
And now, because the promised storm has not materialized and the sun is actually shining, I am going to spend the rest of this afternoon digging in the dirt and tending my bone-dry gardens. Next time I’ll go into some detail about converting this pattern to a different gauge. See you then!
Last time I told you we would begin working with gauge to take control of our knitting. So, I’ve included a PDF file that contains a couple of simple exercises for you to get started with. Just click Charting1 and it will open the file so that you can print it out to use as a worksheet. You might want to use a yellow marker to highlight the basic formulas so they are always easy to find.
Next time we’ll start applying these same formulas to a sweater pattern, using an entirely different gauge than the pattern calls for. For most of us, not matching a pattern’s gauge is pretty much the norm and once you learn how to manipulate gauge you will be free from that restriction.
This means that you can work from hand knit magazines; be able to convert bulky patterns to the standard gauge and visa-versa. Keep in mind that all I am talking about here is the actual directions for how many stitches and rows to knit and the resulting changes to increases or decreases.
A re-worked pattern may not, for example, leave you enough needles to reproduce a specific fair isle or intarsia design. You may or may not be able to knit a specific stitch by machine. For now, however, let’s just deal with stitches and rows and start you on the road to an endless supply of patterns to knit!
I’ll try not to keep you waiting to long and in a couple of weeks, my schedule will even out for the fall and I will post more regularly. For now though, I am just getting settled into a new teaching gig at FIT – which I am loving – and next week I head out to Denver for a week at Craftsy. Shhhhh. Don’t tell anybody yet.
I think I get more questions like “where can I find a pattern for _________” (you can fill in the blank with socks, sweaters, raglans, hats, etc) than I do for any other problem. If you are a careful swatcher and you learn to work with gauges just a little bit, you can use most hand knit patterns, which tend to be more interesting and fashionable than the few that have been available specifically for the machine knitters – and it increases your options endlessly!
Keep in mind that stitches are stitches and rows are rows, regardless of whether you form them with two needles or a whole bed of them. Stitches are still stitches, but the lengthwise measurement must be considered as row counts (RC), rather than measured in progress as hand knitters do. Both, nonetheless, are dealt with in terms of gauge.
Before we start working with gauge, let me add a couple of thoughts to what I wrote in the previous post. Even by machine, there is no such thing as “knitting to gauge”. You simply must do a gauge swatch – knitted as large as possible with the same yarn, stitch size and pattern specs as the sweater. You’re kidding yourself (or magical with blocking!) if you think you “always knit to gauge”.
The “correct” gauge for any pattern was determined initially by the way the yarn was manufactured and any unique characteristics (like slubs or loops or “fur”, etc) then further defined by the designer who wrote the pattern. Matching that pattern’s gauge is your guarantee that the garment you knit with those directions will knit to size. Deviate from gauge and you are probably putting your efforts into a give-away project.
Most patterns specify the number of stitches/rows in a 4” square because that is usually large enough to average in any discrepancies in tension from row to row. (That consistency is usually more of a problem for hand knitters than it is for us.) While it is always tempting to stretch or scrunch a swatch to match 4”, there is just no such thing as “coming close enough”.
Consider this: if a pattern’s gauge is 22 stitches = 4” (which is DK at 5.5 sts/inch) and the sweater back calls for casting on 110 stitches, the piece is supposed to measure 20” wide (110 ÷ 5.5 = 20). However, if your swatch doesn’t really measure 4”, look what happens to those 110 stitches:
If your swatch measures
Actual Gauge STS/inch
110 stitches will measure
In the example below the gauge is supposed to be 28 sts = 4” or 7 stitches/inch, which is a typical gauge for fingering weight yarn. The pattern calls for casting on 140 stitches so that the back of the sweater will measure 20” wide. Once again, look what happens to the actual width of the sweater when your gauge is not exact:
If your swatch measures
140 stitches will measure
By the time you apply the “close” gauge to a back and a front, the resulting sweater could be as much as 5” too large or too small and wouldn’t fit before you even start knitting!
Keep this in mind: It takes fewer big stitches and more small stitches to make up an inch of knitting. If your swatch measures less than 4”, it means the stitches are too small. If your swatch is larger than 4” your stitches are too big.
Carry this a step further and you will see that the coarser the yarn/gauge, the more critical it is to match the required gauge exactly. With finer yarns, there may be a tiny bit more leeway. The difference between 7 and 7.25 stitches/inch probably won’t make or break a garment. However, if you are knitting on a bulky or mid-gauge machine, it is imperative that you match the gauge exactly or be prepared to re-chart the pattern in whole or in part.
While you can usually match a hand knit stitch gauge, the row count is often a bit more elusive. In my next posting, we’ll begin working with gauge to adapt existing patterns or to chart our own. Even if you use DAK or Garment Styler to chart your patterns, this is information worth understanding so you are never again a prisoner of somebody else’s designs!
It has been a while! I could blame the unrelenting heat: high 90’s with 98% humidity for my lack of activity, but this kind of weather provides great opportunities for hibernating with the air conditioning and getting lots of work done inside. The truth is that I have been busy prepping for my two classes at FIT (Fashion Institute of Technology) in NYC this fall and also a trip to Denver with those great folks at Craftsy.com in early fall. Just saying…
Before I get into this week’s topic, I also want to mention that I will be doing a class here in Northford, CT November 12 & 13 for the North Branford Recreation Department and will post the contact and registration information in a couple of weeks. If you live in the Northeast – save the date!
One of the most important – and least addressed (and maybe one of the most boring)- parts of knitting is The Swatch. I sometimes spend an afternoon swatching a variety of yarns, then another day charting and planning before I actually get around to any knitting.
The most important thing about swatching is to make sure you knit enough stitches and rows to accurately measure – this is no place for skimping! If you use a charting attachment (i.e. Knit contour/radar/leader), you must do your swatch according to the directions in your manual. These are the normal guidelines:
Standard gauge machines 40 stitches/60 rows
Mid-gauge Machines 30 stitches/40 rows
Bulky machines 20 stitches/30 rows
Programs like Garment Designer and Design-A-Knit can utilize these same measurements or the number of stitches/rows in 10 centimeters. If you are just trying to match somebody else’s gauge or designing your own patterns, it really doesn’t matter how many stitches and rows you knit as long as you write it down so you can figure out the exact gauge later on.
Assume that I am swatching a yarn for my mid-gauge machine, I’ll cast on with scrap yarn over a width of 40 stitches and knit some rows. Next, I’ll change to my main yarn and set the row counter (RC) to 000; knit 20 rows and then make two eyelets by moving the 16th stitch at each side of zero to the adjacent needle, leaving the empty needles in working position (WP). Knit 20 more rows and then knit two rows with waste yarn.
The scrap yarn acts as a marker for the required 40 rows and there are 30 stitches between the two eyelets. Now, so I don’t forget what stitch size I used, I make a series of eyelets in the scrap yarn. For size 6, I would just make 6 eyelets, but for size 6 I would make 6 eyelets at one side and two more at the other. Follow the eyelets with a couple more rows of scrap, slowly increasing (or decreasing) the stitch size for the next sample.
Then just repeat knitting 20 rows, making the eyelets to mark the 30 stitches and knitting 20 more rows. Follow that with some rows of waste knitting and eyelets to mark the stitch size. I often knit a strip of gauge swatches with four or five different sections so I can compare and choose the absolute best gauge.
I bind off the strip and then finish it exactly as I plan to finish my sweater. For most yarns, that means hand wash and lay flat to dry. For superwash wools or cottons, that means running the swatch through the dryer.
You don’t want to measure any swatch until it has been finished. Otherwise, you might be wasting your time knitting a sweater that only fits until the first time it is washed. Most yarns have some tendency to bloom (i.e. fluff out) or shrink or otherwise alter once washed and you don’t want any surprises later on!
Lay the swatch flat and measure between the eyelets for the stitch width and between the top and bottom rows of waste knitting for the rows. You’ve already done the counting!
For a charting attachment, you need to use the special ruler that came with your machine. It converts the required number of stitches/rows to a single number you can use to choose the stitch scale or set the row rotation. For other purposes, you can just divide the total number of stitches (or rows) by the inch measurement to find out how many stitches (rows) per inch.
For general purposes, I usually make a chart like the one below to record the measurements of 30 stitches or 40 rows so I have all my figures in one place to compare and choose which stitch size will get me closest to my gauge goal.
Tagged 30 stitches
If you are trying to match a specific gauge and haven’t done so, I plan to address some charting in the next couple of blogs so stay tuned!
Last time I wrote about choosing yarns that knit on the “sweet size” for your machine and I thought I would spend a few more words on the topic before I move on to something else. Bear with me.
I do a lot of sampling and playing with new yarns before I commit to a stitch size. Sometimes I’ll just knit a few rows with a variety of sizes to zero in on the best sizes and then I do an actual swatch. Even after so many years, I still find surprises and there are no guarantees that all worsteds are created equal, for example.
One of the things that affects how a yarn knits on any machine is the yarn’s content – it also affects how the fabric stretches or drapes and wears long-term. I have spent years earning my reputation as a yarn snob. I really believe that you get what you pay for and that the yarn is still the least expensive component in anything I knit. My time always ranks first – and not just because of my fascination with hand-manipulated techniques. I spend a lot of time swatching and planning and I try not to skimp on the details as I knit. If a 2-step decrease is going to add something to the finished look of the garment, I don’t mind that they take longer to execute than the simple 1-step decreases would. I try not to skimp on finishing either. Faster is seldom better.
In addition to yarn quality and content affecting the way your garment finishes up, it also plays into the ease of knitting. Tightly twisted, in-elastic yarns are harder to knit with. They probably won’t let you cross wider cables as easily as you would like. Yes, I prefer wool to almost anything else because it is so agreeable to work with. It stretches when needed, but returns to shape. You can block it without killing the fiber. The colors tend to be richer. The list goes on.
My love for wool, however, does not mean that I am blind to the benefits of other fibers. There are some terrific wool blends out there that are fully machine washable and dryable, adopting the characteristics of the blend with the beauty and manageability of the wool. There are also some beautiful superwash wools to choose from, though I am still reluctant to take something I have labored over and toss it into a washing machine….
That said, superwash wool is really practical for children’s wear. Keep in mind, however, that while wools and many bends are engineered to “bloom” when steamed or washed – thus filling out the stitches (and maybe holding in the ends you spent hours weaving into the seams), superwash has been treated so that it never blooms. While it may soften and drape more after washing, the gauge is about the same as it is after removing the fabric from the machine and letting it rest for a while.
Yarns with some stretch to them will work better with tighter stitch sizes because the stitches can stretch slightly to slip over the closed latches and, at any stitch size, they just have more give as they are fed into the needles. They knit more easily.
Yarns like 100% cotton, linen, silk, rayon have very little stretch. What stretch they may have is usually a result of the way the yarn was plied. I still like working with these fibers, but I am probably less likely to try crossing a 5×5 cable in linen than I am with wool or a blend. The yarn’s content always affects the way the machine knits even if the yarn knits right in the middle of the dial.
To a lesser extend, you may even find a difference in the way the same yarn knits in white or navy blue. Many of the dark dyes take their toll on the yarn due to the immersion time and temperature, the amount of dye, etc. While I wouldn’t change stitch size for each color in a navy and white stripe, I would double check my gauge if the navy or the white were used for a solid colored garment. I would never use the gauge for one to knit a garment with the other.
How easily or smoothly any yarn knits on a particular machine can also be affected by how well oiled the machine is, how many weights you are using, how the tension mast is adjusted, the weather, static electricity. In short – there are lots of things that can go wrong, which is why I am even more committed to using the best yarns I can. I am convinced that none of us bought a knitting machine because we needed some sweaters. You could buy a lot of sweaters for what most of us have invested in our machines! Machine knitting is supposed to be fun! Interesting! An ongoing learning experience! Lets all strive for fewer sweaters and make them better sweaters that are worthy of the very best yarns.
I get a lot of emails and Craftsy class questions about stitch size and which yarns are appropriate for what machines. These are important questions because, coupled with the auto tension (see blog 6/5/16), stitch size and yarn choices account for a lot of the problems that beginning machine Knitter’s encounter.
Stitches form the same way on all machines by shunting the needle butts through a triangular pathway in the cams on the underside of the carriage. First the needles are pushes forward in their slots so that the old stitches slide back over and open the latches. Then, right in the middle of the carriage, yarn is fed into each needle hook before the carriage guides them back in their slots. Larger or smaller stitches are formed depending on how far back the needles are pushed. That distance is determined by the length of the triangular pathway which, in turn, is controlled by the dial on the top of the carriage. (If you own a Bond/ISM, the key plates feature fixed triangular pathways of varying lengths)
Stitch size or tension? I know that some manuals use the term “tension” to describe the numbers on the top of the carriage dial and, in all honesty, I have no idea why. Stitches are formed by the length of the pathway underneath the carriage, which is lengthened or shortened according to the numbers on the dial. There is no tension applied to them. To my mind, tension only comes into play when the yarn passes between the two spring-loaded discs in the tension mast to create more or less tension – or drag – on the yarn. I think that using the word tension to describe both the tension mast and the dial settings is confusing.
I use the term stitch size but stitch tension and stitch size are the same thing and they are controlled by the dial (usually) on the top of the carriage. The larger the number, the larger the stitch size and the smaller the number, the smaller the stitch size. This is because the cams under the carriage create a longer or shorter pathway for the needle butts to travel through. When the butts travel a longer distance, they pull more yarn through each stitch.
No single machine is capable of knitting all the yarns you might want to use – which is why so many of us own more than one machine. Every machine is capable of handling a very specific range of yarns and that is determined by a couple of things. First of all, the yarn needs to be in some proportion to the needles themselves: the size of their open hooks and its size when the latch is closed for the old stitch to slide off over a new one. Stitches must must be able to cleanly fit into the hooks of the needles so they don’t split and cause damaged stitches or a jammed carriage as the needles move back and forth through them to form the next row of stitches. Obviously, a super bulky yarn will not fit the hooks of a standard gauge machine, but it works the other way as well. If a yarn is super thin, it probably wants to form very tiny stitches and, with the dial set on a very low number, the stitches may be too tight to pass over the closed latches.
The space between the needles also affects stitch size and gauge because, once the fabric is off the machine and you give a good lengthwise tug, the yarn that passed below the sinker posts/gate pegs/flow combs is absorbed into each of the stitches, slightly increasing their size. Sometimes you can use this effect to your advantage if you are trying to match a very specific gauge and happen to own two machines. For example, worsted weight wool usually knits around stitch size 7 on a 6.5 mid-gauge machine and on about a stitch size 5 on most bulkies. While you might be able to achieve the requisite 5 stitches per inch on either machine, you might find that the row gauge of the swatch knitted on the mid-gauge is closer than the one knitted on the bulky because of the way the yarn between the stitches is absorbed into the stitches. You can knit worsted on either of these machines, but you may prefer the hand or the drape of the fabric from one over the other .
The chart below will give you a rough idea of which machines can knit which yarns but these are not iron clad rules. Apart from trying to achieve a specific gauge or drape to your fabric, you also want it to be easy for you and the machine to knit the yarn in question. That said, let me state that there is an optimum range for which every machine is calibrated to work perfectly– the sweet spot, if you will, where the yarns knit pliable, drapey fabrics and neither the machine nor the knitter are strained.
Most standard gauge (4.5 – 5 mm) machines are calibrated to knit their best with fingering weight yarn on stitch sizes 5-8 (depending on the brand). Mid-gauge (6.5 – 7mm) were designed specifically for DK weights to knit like butter (or, as we say in Boston, Buttah) on stitch size 5, with a range for other suitable yarns extending from 4-7 or 8. Bulkies were designed for worsted weights to knit on size 5 (More Buttah) and their sweet spotr also extends from stitch size 4-7 or 8.
The sweet spot is where you can knit appropriate yarns with a fair amount of confidence that they will knit cleanly and easily. Yes, of course you can knit with a stitch size 10 but be aware that it is not what the machine was designed to do best, is not what it really likes to do (it is just trying to make you happy)) and will probably be harder to push the carriage across each row. It is definitely not where a beginner should be starting! Ditto for size 3. On size 10, the needle butts are pulled down a longer cam pathway under the carriage, which takes more effort on your part and the machine’s. On size 3, the stitches that need to slide over the closed latches can be stingy and small and almost need too be dragged over the latches.
On the other hand, if you work with yarns that knit in the optimum range for your machine, neither you nor the machine needs too work so hard and you are not setting yourself up for yarn problems when you try new techniques. You’ll have a better idea whether it is something you are doing (or not)) that might cause problems as you experiment with new techniques.
Well then, Susan, why DO they have sizes 1-3 and 9-10 on the dial????? Both extremes on the dial are included basically because they can. The smallest stitch sizes become useful when working ribbing (latched and true) because the idea is to create smaller stitches with more elasticity. When stitches reverse from knit to purl, they create the elasticity that causes ribs to pull in the fabric. When those small stitch sizes are combined with double bed capability, the stitches also access the yarn that zig zags back and forth across the beds from stitch to stitch. That length is absorbed into the stitches so that they are not really as small as they would be if they had been formed on a single bed where the stitches can only absorb the short length of yarn between adjacent stitches.
The largest stitch sizes do allow you to extend the range of yarns that your machine can use, but keep in mind that if you are constantly working on size 9 or 10, you probably need a different machine with a coarser gauge and bigger needles. Also, I would never recommend a beginner to start working on size 10 because they need to develop a feel for when the machine is working smoothly so they begin to understand when things go awry.
I’ll add some more thoughts on stitch sizes and swatching in the next blog post once I get caught up in the garden and give some attention to the current book project and the classes I will be teaching at FIT in the fall. If anyone finds a way to get more hours in the day, please let me know the secret!