Start Your Engines

Thanks for all of your votes on which yarn I should pick for my Roan Retool, Gentle Knitters! I really appreciate your input, and I'll show you what I decided as soon as the yarn arrives (insert mental image of me with my arms wrapped around my mailbox, here).

I've been hard at work on the chart, as I promised you. So hard, in fact, that I sent a message to Rowan, asking to show them my work, and requesting their permission to offer it to you online. We'll see what they say. Either A: "That's fine, leave us alone", or "No way, you ignorant Yank! That's a Rowan pattern and if you publish it in any way you'll hear from our Solicitors." I feel confident that my version will be so different from the original that I won't be infringing on any intellectual property, but the waters there are always murky. I have to find a way to make my readers happy, keep Rowan from coming after me, and if I'm really really lucky, to recoup a little of the cost of my time. All in a day's work for a knitting designer.

Now that the chart is whipped into shape (I can't wait for you to see it - it's beautiful!), it's time for you to do a little preliminary pattern whispering. For those who have a copy, please take an in-depth read of the pattern instructions. Contemplate their meanings and apply them to your project. Now forget all about them. Here's why:

When we commit to knitting in the round, everything related to flat knitting goes out the window. You're welcome. Rather than get bogged down in Rowan's original instructions, I'm going to help you write your own, one step at a time.

Where do patterns tell us to start? Gauge, of course. So surprising nobody, I'm going to ask you to swatch now, using the yarn(s) of your choice. I'll be doing this right along with you, as soon as my yarn arrives. I want you to make at least three (3!) separate swatches. Please knit them in 2-color stranded st st. Pick any simple chart for this - it doesn't have to be from the Roan chart (unless you want to practice). If you are comfortable doing so, and your yarn will let you, make your swatches in the circular fashion; by which I mean work them on 2 needles, dragging super-long floats of yarn back to the beginning of each row, and working on the knit side only. It will look like this when you are done and break the long floats:

If 1. you are not comfortable enough with this type of swatch to keep the sts at the beginning and end of every "round" from being ugly or 2. your yarn is not sticky 2-ply shetland (the only yarn that swatches effectively in this way), make different kinds of swatches. I suggest:

A. Make your swatch in the round on a 16" needle. Yes, that will be a big swatch. Switch needle sizes at some interval (make yarnovers or purl sts to show you where/what size) to determine the fabric you like best. Later you can either:

1. Close its top and make it a hat

2. Practice steeking techniques on it

3. Frog it because you need the extra yarn

B. You can make your swatch back and forth in rows. Yes, I realize this is antithetical to our purpose here, but for what you need these swatches for, it may be the most expedient route. Choose this option if:

1. You are comfortable working with DK/Sport yarns at this gauge and kind of know what to expect from your yarn and hands

2. You aren't completely unhinged by the idea of purling back in pattern long enough to get 4" of knitting

Here are your goals for swatching:

1. Find the knitted fabric YOU LIKE BEST. This may or may not have any relation to the 6 sts and 6.5 rows per inch that Rowan says we should like. Guess what! When we reinvent the wheel (pattern) we might as well use the knitting we want! I personally would have to wear boxing gloves to get that gauge on those needles, so I'll just make some swell fabric the way my hands like to and go from there, thank you very much. 

2. DO NOT TWIST THE STRANDS on the back of your work. Choose an orientation for your strands (i.e. white always passes under red and red always passes over white) and never deviate from it. EVER. Even if you've never knit stranded colorwork this way before and it makes your teeth itch, do it anyway. I have redrawn the chart so that you will never have to tack a single float, so stop doing that now. These swatches are the perfect place to practice.

3. MAKE SURE YOUR FLOATS ARE LONG ENOUGH. How long? When you look at the back side of the swatch, you should see them drooping a little bit, like swags. Each one should "smile". If you don't see swags/smiles, your floats are too tight. Trust me: The extra float length will disappear, and never be missed. Without it, your knitting will permanently change size and shape the minute its allowed to, usually becoming smaller. Be sure to ask for the interpretive dance when you see me.

4. If you hit your dream gauge on the first try, congratulations, you are a Supreme Being and we love you for it. Bind off your swatch and wait for the rest of us mortals to catch up. While you're waiting, make 2 more swatches, at any gauge.

5. Once you have three distinct pieces of knitting (or one big one if you went with plan A), and you love at least one of them, wash and block it exactly as your yarn manufacturer suggests. No rougher, no more gentle. Once that's done, re-measure to make sure nothing drastic happened to your gauge during blocking. If all looks good/normal, you're ready to proceed. If not, take a look at what went wrong and let us know over on Ravelry or here in the comments if you need backup. This is the critical juncture to notice that your yarn pills, or shrinks/stretches, or otherwise turns to crap. If you suspect any of these atrocities has befallen you, get a second opinion. DO NOT lie to yourself and say it will all be fine. Better to be honest now than a year of knitting from now. I'm being cruel to be kind, and you know I'm right. I want this sweater to be your proudest yet, and that starts with having the right yarn.

6. What do we do with the other 2 swatches? So happy you asked. One I would like you to block as gently as humanly possible. Perhaps a gentle mist of water, or a delicate spritz of steam. Let dry and measure/compare to the first. Notice anything different? Does your yarn like it better when you treat it even more gently than the label instructs? If so, beware. This yarn may not like being frogged while you work. It might not like being worn in humidity. There is only one way to be sure before you wholeheartedly commit to using it. And that is:

7. Take the last swatch and beat the tar out of it. Throw it in the washing machine to soak. Subject it to extremes of temperature (hot and cold rinses). Rub the pretty side of it against your denim-clad leg (or even the sidewalk) for a few minutes and see if you can make it pill. If it's superwash, stick it in the dryer. You get the idea: I want you to find out where this swatch's breaking point is. If it takes less than you expect, have a long stern talk with yourself about yarn and the nature of commitment.

8. If you started out with one big swatch, you can either wait until you have practiced steeking on it and do the durability tests then, or you can make some little solid-color bits to play rough with.

9. And while you're at it, you might as well do the wearability test: Put a swatch in your bra and see how long you can stand it. If you're planning on wearing a yarn next to your skin, this is the only way to know for sure...You're Welcome.

Okay, my friends. That should be enough to keep you out of trouble for a little while. Go forth and swatch. And let me know what you learn! Oh, and hold on to these swatches, even if they are beat up. We're going to need them again before we're through.