Friday, September 11, 2009

Gauge is not a constant

I can't say I've ever given the subject of gauge much thought before. I knit a swatch to determine the correct needle size to use to get the gauge stated in a pattern, but knitting the swatch hasn't ever led me to contemplate the subject of gauge.

Last month, however, when I started my second pair of socks, I (for the first time ever) did not knit a gauge swatch because I had used the same yarn, in a different colorway, for the pair of socks I made in June. (See "June, Glorious June," my post for Tuesday, 30 June 2009, to view that pair of socks.) Imagine my surprise when the same yarn and same needle (a US1) gave me ten stitches per inch, instead of the eight stitches per inch it had produced in June. (Can you spell s-t-r-e-s-s?) I ripped out the toes, started again with a needle a half size larger, and got nine stitches per inch. After ripping out the toes again, I changed to a needle a full size larger than the first one, and finally got the desired eight stitches per inch. By then, when it was too late to finish the socks that month, I'd begun contemplating the subject of gauge.

What I realized was that, between early June and mid-August, there had been a lot of changes in my life and my work, and I was under a lot more stress than I had been two months earlier.

But the "Eureka!" moment didn't come until about a week ago. This month, I'm knitting a pair of socks with the same yarn I used for the pair I made last month for my friend, Kathy. (See "Summer's End," my post for Wednesday, 19 August 2009, to see Kathy's socks in all their glory.) The yarn is Lorna's Laces Shepherd Sock, which I bought at The Loopy Ewe.
The Loopy Ewe
Kathy's socks are the Rainbow colorway; this month's socks, which are for my mom, are the Mountain Creek colorway. This month's socks are Wendy Johnson's Feather and Fan socks.

I'd been contemplating gauge, enough to realize that all the changes in my life and work had occurred before I started Kathy's socks. Once again, for the second (and final!) time in my life, I did not knit a gauge swatch. (You'd think I would have learnt my lesson, but....) The very same US1 needle that had given me eight stitches per inch for this yarn in early August gave me, you guessed it, ten stitches per inch in early September. After two more sessions of ripping out the toes until I'd hit a needle that gave me gauge (a US2 again), I realized that Professor O had not yet resigned when I started Kathy's socks. And I finally learnt not to assume that the same needle and yarn I used a few weeks ago will give me the same gauge today.

But the downside of that lesson is that now I'm afraid to work on any project I started more than a few weeks ago, for fear that my now much tighter gauge will ruin it.

I guess that means I should start something new. : )