Thanks, Erin, for sending me this article from Mason Dixon Knitting: Yarn Detective: Ballbands are Liars. I do subscribe to Mason Dixon’s articles but had not read that one yet so when Erin sent it to me, I figured I should stop right then and read it. This is the exact article I wish I had read when I first started knitting. If you’re a new or experienced knitter, it is so worth your time to read this one.
I learned from the article but it also confirmed things that I’ve learned through experience.
When we were in the midst of moving to Texas in 2011, about all I had knitted were socks and a couple of straight, rectangular wraps. Vince was already gone to Texas. Chad was still off at college finishing up his last semester. The chickens had already gone to their new home. I was home alone . . not much laundry, not much cooking . . so I knit! I was ready to move on to bigger and better things . . a rectangular shawl I thought.
Traveling Woman was a fairly new shawl pattern at the time and everyone was making it. It could be made with one skein of fingering weight yarn and I had plenty of that. I cannot tell you how many times I tried to knit that shawl. It was one of those where you start with the garter tab and expand out from there. I never got past the point where I should have had 6 or 9 stitches on my needles. Without exaggerating, I know I started that shawl a dozen times. I can still remember seeing the ball of yarn, with the squiggly tail where I had started and ripped back so many times. I finally gave up and never did knit it. I should knit one . . the garter tab is now, 7-1/2 years later, a piece of cake and I’ve done it many times. Something in my brain just was not registering when I tried it that first time. Now I know that most anything I need to do, I can find a youtube video to get me through it.
Back to the Ballband article topics, here are some of the things I’ve learned about knitting through the years, things I wish I had known 7-1/2 years ago.
- I am a loose knitter! I look at the ballband (or yarn listing on Ravelry) and see the recommended yarn size and I automatically go down a needle size. Sometimes I go down two or three needle sizes to get gauge.
- Yardage/Weight on Ballbands is a guess! It’s very easy to weigh a skein of yarn. Most often, skeins are overweight. I am not going to unwind a skein of yarn and measure the yardage. Could you see 400 yards of yarn all over the place? I feel like I never actually know how many yards are really on a ballband. I’ve come to use the yardage as a guestimate and not count on it being accurate.
- I don’t like loose knitting! The Mason Dixon article has a couple of great photos of a swatch knitted according to the needle size suggested on the ballband vs. a swatch on the needle size to give the preferred gauge. I look at projects on Ravelry and when I see a sweater that looks like it’s hanging over boobs, like a gauzy fabric and the sweater accentuates every little bump and lump or roll, I know it’s been knitted using needles way larger than I prefer. I like for my sweaters to have a little “life of their own” to them. I almost always use a tighter gauge, which requires a little calculating, and usually means going up a size on the pattern . . maybe knit a size 40 to get a size 38. This also can often require a little more yarn.
- I always knit a swatch if size matters! For shawls, scarves, tote bags, etc., things that do not need to fit, I do not usually bother with a swatch. There was a time when I thought swatching was a waste of time. I’ve learned through the years and with several projects I didn’t like because the stitches was too loose, that swatching matters more than anything else I do with a sweater. I always make my swatches larger than 4″ x 4″. I wash them several times. I carry them around in my pocket. I pin them inside my T-shirts when I’m around the house to see they will wear. If it’s a superwash wool, even though I won’t be washing mine in the machine, I’ll often throw the swatch in the washer and dryer with a load of towels or jeans, just to see how it looks after a little abuse.
- I always buy an extra skein for sweater projects! Yes, it is an added expense but there are enough scrappy projects that I don’t feel that I’m being wasteful. Often when I’m buying something that I “might” need and debating with myself about whether I should buy it, Vince says “We pay for home owner’s insurance every year!” That’s truly a gamble too. It’s very expense out here in wildfire country with little reliable fire protection but we do it so what’s an extra skein of yarn. If a pattern calls for the equivalent of 8 skeins, I’ll make sure I have at least 9 skeins, and am honestly more comfortable with 10 skeins. By the time you do an adequate size swatch, and account for me liking my knitting tight, I almost always go over on the yarn requirements and it just isn’t worth worrying about running out and not being able to get a good match, even if it is the exact same color.
There are projects for which I do not buy extra skeinsSocks – I know that with a 400 yard skein of fingering weight yarn, I can get a 7″ leg and then enough for my foot so I don’t buy extra for socks. I usually don’t buy extra for shawls. Since they do not have to “fit”, if I see I’m getting close, I’ll figure out a way to leave out a few rows or add in another color. I keep a lot of Madelinetosh TML on hand and that’s what I usually use for shawls.
What have you learned through the years of knitting that you wish you had known when you started? There are always new knitters and hopefully we can share some helpful info with them but we can all learn from each other.