If you want to knit outside the lines, you need to swatch a lot. I swatch to get to know new yarns. I swatch to try out different stitch patterns. I swatch to play with new techniques. I swatch because I'm bored. I swatch because I have nothing better to knit. I swatch because the yarn is there.
Here is the yarn that was in my swatch basket a couple of days ago:
There are three balls of Cherry Tree Hill sock yarn, two different colors of Peace Fleece worsted, and a luscious ball of Artful Yarns Serenade (pima cotton/angora) in shades of pink, blue, and lavender. Inexplicably missing is the peach-colored Cascade Sierra and Great Adirondack Yarn Company Silky Sock that I've actually been swatching.
I often swatch most of a skein of a yarn while I'm trying to decide what to do with it. I started swatching the Cascade Sierra in Daisy Stitch on size 7 needles (bottom of swatch), switched to stockinette, went down a needle size, worked two different kinds of lace (Spade Pattern, and Traveling Vine), switched to stockinette again, and then worked some Shower Stitch (top of swatch).
After I decided I had enough information, I bound off and took the raw gauge measurements I might need. At that point, I was visualizing a scoop-necked pullover with bell-shaped short sleeves of Shower Stitch and a curved hem with Shower Stitch along the lower edge. After laundering, I'm leaning towards the Traveling Vine for sleeves and trim.
Today, I've got to measure myself (I'm shrinking) and try to get Garment Designer to cooperate in doing the numbers for me. With a little luck (or, perhaps, a touch of impatience and the oomph to work out the shoulders), I'll cast on later today.
I'm still trying to get Nona's impossible 8 stitches per inch for the Sidewinders. To this end, I took the finest sock yarn I own (Great Adirondack's Silky Sock in Bahama Mama) and worked it on 000 needles.
Here's a picture of me working on size 000 needles. Unreal, eh? I can handle working on small needles, but this is a bit beyond my comfort zone.
(Morgayn tells me that I'd be able to handle it if I'd just wear my glasses. Which is probably true, but it makes me seasick to wear my reading glasses for more than 30 minutes.)
And here's the point where I gave up trying to make gauge with size 000 needles:
6.53 stitches to the inch. Blast! What do people knit on to get 8 stitches to the inch?
I used to be a tight knitter. My recent experience with sock gauges, however, has convinced me that I've become all loosy goosy. I tend to need to work socks on needles two sizes smaller than recommended in order to get a reasonable sock fabric.
I'm wondering whether my cure for rowing out is the culprit here. Back when I was a straight continental knitter, I rowed out terribly. Wrapping those purl stitches, in addition to being slow and tedious, makes the purls much looser than the knits. When I switched to ECU (Eastern Continental Uncrossed) aka combined knitting, my purls tightened up and my rowing out was less obvious.
It was still obvious enough for my dear friend Anne to notice, however, and I read somewhere that perfectly even rows are the mark of a master knitter. So, without worrying too much about it, I set out to see if I could adjust my tension to avoid rowing out.
I've heard lots of folks suggest the need to work purl rows with a tighter tension, but that made my fingers ache. Finally, I ran across the bright idea of working knit rows with a looser tension and that, combined with a slightly firmer tension on purl rows, does the trick. Unless I forget and work knit rows with normal tension.
So now I'm a loose (if fast and relaxed knitter who has no trouble working p3-tog-tbls because the stitches are, in fact, loose enough to handle the maneuvre) knitter who can't get 8 stitches per inch to save her life.
Humility is endless.