Crochet Corner- Swatches that Lie!

Not long ago there was a discussion in my Ravelry group (Crochet Insider) about swatching or not swatching before a project.  These days, just about every dedicated crocheter knows they are supposed to do a swatch first, especially when making garments, but often they still don't.  I have to admit that I  ranted in rhyme about it on a thread, as follows:

Crocheters, can you please get on the right page
You can’t make it work without getting gauge.
Don’t be lazy, it’s a good thing to do,
Practice the stitch before you make a boo boo.
You have the nerve to complain about fit
But you can’t be bothered to first swatch it?
It’s an insult to people who work hard and long
When you post here on rav and say it’s all wrong.

OK, maybe I went overboard here, but my group is very supportive.  This touched off a discussion about why people don't swatch, and one of the group responded with a rhyme of her own:

Making a gauge swatch is certainly wise.
But what do you do if the swatch just lies?
To get the gauge that the pattern advises,
I might need to go down three hook sizes.
If I do manage to get the width right,
I can’t get the row gauge, try as I might.
Then washing and blocking and hanging -- oh heck,
I end up crocheting the pattern “on spec.”
So it’s sometimes less frustrating just to plunge in
And use trial and error - it’s not such a sin.
But rather than match the designer’s own hand,
I wish there were a formula we could all understand
For converting the gauge to any yarn we want
So we could all be flexible, and save Dora the rant. (!)

Thus was I educated by my fans that the reasons for not swatching go beyond laziness, and are worth discussing.

Several folks mentioned how difficult it is to match gauge in crochet.  My theory is that it's actually harder than in knitting;  there are many small maneuvers in each crochet stitch, and therefore more ways for stitches to vary in size.  People often find that even if they match stitch gauge, they can't get row gauge.  Even more problematic, once you make a larger piece of crochet fabric, the weight of the fabric often causes gauge to change, and next thing you know, you're calling the swatch  a liar!

Let's look at the row gauge issue first:  the problem people usually have is that row gauge is shorter than the designer's.  The height of stitches is controlled by how much you lift the first loop that is drawn through the stitch -- in a single crochet, right after inserting your hook under the top loops; in taller stitches, there are yarn overs first, but it's still the first loop after inserting your hook in the stitch you're working into. Even if you're working around a post or elsewhere, it's still that first loop that comes through the stitch, and how high you draw it up, that determines the height of the stitch.  If you generally work very tightly, you'll be amazed how loosening up right at that spot will not only help you achieve row gauge, but will open up your stitches, make a prettier surface, and improve drape.

OK, so you've got row gauge licked, but you still may face the issue of the swatch that lies -- in other words, gauge changes when going from swatch to actual item. This impacts on my own design process quite a bit.  I start out on a design with a gauge swatch, and use it to compute how many stitches and rows I'll need for the design.  But very often, as I work the project, I redo all those counts in light of the somewhat different gauge I'm getting now that I'm actually making the project.  So my original swatch is more like a "draft" gauge, not the real thing. 

Where does this leave the poor crocheter though?  Even if they get gauge on their swatch,  what if it doesn't carry over into the item itself?

There is a solution, and that's what I want to share today.  This is applicable only when you are close to gauge, perhaps one or two stitches more or less per 4", or one row more or less.  DO make a gauge swatch and see if you can get close to the designer's gauge.  Then, start making the piece, and after you've got several inches of work, measure it again for gauge. This is your REAL gauge. Finally, based on the dimensions of the item you're making, adjust the stitch and row counts so that you can make the item at your gauge, not the designer's. 

Here's an example:  say you are making a sweater, starting with the back piece at the bottom.  If your gauge is a little larger than the designer's, your piece might be coming out an inch wider than you thought.  At the bottom of a sweater, an inch is no big deal, so there's no need to start again.  But you do want to account for this difference in gauge in areas where the garment needs to be more fitted, such as at the shoulders, neck, or sleeves. 

Take a look at the sweater schematic and see how many inches it should be across the shoulders.  Let's say the desired width there is 15".  On your stitched up back piece -  how many stitches are in 15"?  You can figure it out using math, but hey, why not just count them on your work? Just lay the piece down flat with a ruler and count stitches and rows. Easier, right? 

Now, to get the stitch count right for the shoulders, when you get to the point in the sweater where stitches are decreased for the shoulders -- this usually occurs at the armhole -- adjust the decreases so you end up with the correct stitch count for your gauge.  You can also count the number of stitches and rows you'll need for the correct dimensions at any point in your sweater and adjust the pattern accordingly.

This is all easier than many people think, trust me.  On the other hand, I have found that many sweater fit problems are less about gauge, and more about people not knowing their measurements.  But that's for another post on another day!

Happy Crocheting!

Dora Ohrenstein is an author, designer and writer whose most recent book is Custom Crocheted Sweaters: Make Garments that Really Fit.  Her website  is a great source for articles, interviews and techniques, and where she teaches online crochet classes.

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1 comment:

  1. Really smart rhymes from both of you and a terrific discussion!