Sunday, November 1, 2009

Before we start the "real" knitting

Wood was working on other things for a few weeks, so I put together the first tutorial for our sweater project. My next e-mail went something like this:

"As I mentioned, the first thing you have to do is decide which sweater size you want to knit. I'm going to knit the 1-2 years, but you can choose whatever size you want (I was totally brain-dead and bought twice as much yarn as I needed, so I'm actually going to make two - Christmas presents). Once you know the size you want to knit, the pattern will tell you how much yardage you need, in yarn. If you're knitting the 1-2 years, the pattern says you need 4 skeins/balls of yarn containing 114 yards each = 456 yards (I think... Math, don't fail me now!). Mark up the pattern in a way that will clearly lay out the instructions that apply to you.
(Sorry for the crappy quality - my camera pooched and all I have is my built-in webcam for now.)

You'll see that the 1-2 year size is the second one in parentheses, under "FINISHED SIZE". That means that I have to obey all the instructions located in the second position, wherever there are parentheses. Hence, I have circled all of those instructions and crossed out all the other choices, so I wouldn't get confused (a lot easier to do than you would think, especially when you're distracted by children, the TV, or chocolate). I did that to the whole pattern and double-checked to make sure I got everything.

A word on yarn: You can get any yarn you want, but I would stay with a superwash (non-shrinking, washer/dryer-friendly) merino wool. And (VERY IMPORTANTLY), it needs to knit up to 21 stitches/4" or very close within that range (check the ball band on the skein - it will tell you). I know I'm repeating myself, but if this doesn't get done right, your sweater could either fit Barbie or Paul Bunyan, depending on which way you go. And for the love of all things good and holy, bring the damn pattern to the store with you (so says the voice of much experience), so you don't end up buying twice as much yarn as you need to. Rookie mistake *cough cough*.

The next thing to do is figure out what needle size you need. You do this by knitting up a "gauge swatch", which, for all intents and purposes, is exactly what you've been doing when you were knitting up 6" squares for Juniper's school. Those were all gauge swatches. So, you get to knit a couple more. The idea here is to try a couple of different needle sizes (start with the size they recommend on the yarn's ball band and go from there) until you get the right yarn/needle combination. And the reason you measure over 4" is that 1" is not precise enough and 12" would drive you crazy (see attached photo of correct swatch - sorry, Photobooth is the best I can do - no amount of abuse will get my camera working). I can not emphasize this enough: YOU ABSOLUTELY POSITIVELY NEED TO KNIT UP A GAUGE SWATCH. This is non-negotiable when you are knitting garments. Even hats. Don't fool yourself. I can not emphasize THIS enough, either: KNIT YOUR SWATCH WITH THE NEEDLE YOU WILL BE USING TO MAKE THE SWEATER. You'll knit differently on circular needles than you will using straight or double-pointed needles. You knit the swatch on circulars the same way you would if you were using straights (back and forth). For the sweater, we'll be knitting in a "tube", but don't worry about that for now. For swatching purposes, pretend the needle is actually a set of straights, just tethered together.

One of three scenarios will occur when you are done your 6" x 6" square:

1. You will get LESS than 21 stitches per 4". This means that you are knitting too loosely. Your stitches are too big and taking up too much space. Get a smaller needle size - start by going down one size and go from there. Knit a new swatch to see what happens.
2. You will get MORE than 21 stitches per 4". This means that you, like 99% of all other beginning knitters before you, knit too tightly and need to use bigger needles to let your stitches breathe.
3. You will get EXACTLY 21 stitches per 4". This is pretty unlikely, so if it happens, go buy a lottery ticket right away.

If you get 20.5 or 21.5 stitches (what I got), don't sweat it. Stick with those needles - it will still fit.

Usually, if I don't have the right needle, I try to borrow, but seeing as you're starting and you'll likely make more baby/kid stuff, you're safe to buy a couple of these. Fairs and garage sales are AWESOME for picking up cheap and good quality knitting supplies. Grandmothers' closets are also a good raiding spot.

Then, when you've gotten the size picked, the yarn purchased, the needle sized figured out, you'll need to get the stuff I sent you in that pdf (the one with the lovely self-portraits), and also grab 4 paper clips or large-ish safety pins (if you can find one that has a different colour/shape, snag that one, too). We're going to use those instead of buying stitch markers. A girl's gotta save some money, somewhere.

So this is where I'm at:

pattern printed out and marked up? check!
sweater size picked out? check!
yarn? check!
gauge swatch knitted? needle size figured out? check! and check!
needles purchased/found? check!
other stuff on the materials list? check!

I'm ready to cast on whenever you are.

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