New Adventures, New Home

Two months ago, I did something I had never done before – I moved away from my home town.

I grew up in California’s North Bay, and there is a reason why people stay there. The weather is mild, the landscape is beautiful, the people are kind, the beach is close, and there’s more local production of food, wine, and fiber then you could shake a stick at! I had a wonderful time growing up in Sonoma county. I loved living there for all the reasons I just mentioned, and more; including the fact that all of my friends, and family are there. So why leave? Well, for all the wonderful things about Sonoma county, it doesn’t have a law school, and I am bound and determined to get my J.D. So two months ago, I moved up to Portland, OR to start my first year at Lewis and Clark Law.

It has been an interesting couple of months. Law school has definitely been the right choice for me. I’m enjoying the classes. I love the material, the thinking that is required, the new research and writing skills I’m learning. I’m loving exploring the area, visiting little thrift stores, finding new coffee shops, and going on hikes. It has been a little bumpy transitioning from a smaller town to a larger city. Discovering that parking lots are few and far between, that different neighborhoods have different feels, that going downtown can be a tremendous chore, and that driving across town can take the better part of an hour have all been new experiences for me. But the hardest thing by far, has been the feeling of loneliness.

I have always been a super introverted person, more likely to have a few very close friends in one tight-knit group than several friends across several groups. And it will usually take me a while to form those kinds of bonds. It’s just who I am, and I have always been this way. Living in one place for my entire life, this hasn’t really been much of a problem. My close friends have always been around, and even when confronted with the task of making new friends, my old friends were always there to support me, and give me a safe space to return to when I felt overwhelmed by new people and experiences. That is no longer an option. I’m out here completely on my own (well not completely, I moved with my boyfriend and my cat, but as any lady knows, neither can take the place of girlfriends), and sort of struggling to find a place to fit in.

Which is actually sort of okay. It may take time, but I am working on discovering a new place, and figuring out exactly how I fit into it. It’s scary, and overwhelming, and completely uncomfortable, but it’s also an incredibly opportunity to learn something about myself.

So what does this have to do with knitting? This is a knitting blog, and most of you probably come here to read about knitting. Admittedly, this post doesn’t have too much to do with knitting, except for this: in this time where so much of my life seems shaky and off-balance, knitting is the solid thing in the center tying everything together. I may not know where my career is going, or if I’ll make friends at school, or if I’m doing any of this right, but I can still make a sweater that I could love and wear for the rest of my life. I may not know if I’ll ever truly feel at home in this strange, new city, but I know that my feet will still feel cozy in a pair of freshly knitted socks. I may feel a little lonely watching Netflix by myself on a Friday night, but once I pick up my knitting, I feel soothed, and at peace. There may not be much I feel confident about these days, but knitting is one of those things, and if that’s not amazing, then I don’t know what is.

 

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Adjusting Your Pattern to Your Gauge

We have all head it before – “Be sure to check your gauge before starting your sweater!”, “Don’t forget to work up a gauge swatch!”, “It doesn’t fit? Did you check your gauge?”

Any which way you turn in the knitting community, it seems that there is always something – a blog post, a paragraph in a book – educating us on the importance of gauge. Which is wonderful. It’s lovely to have that information so readily available. However, many of these pieces discuss the importance of gauge, how to check it, and how to adjust your needles to achieve correct gauge, but don’t necessarily explain how to change your pattern to suit your gauge. I can’t tell you how many knitters I have had come into the knit shop where I work, pull out their gauge swatch and ask “what next?”.

The truth of the matter is, sometimes we want to make a garment with a different gauge than the pattern suggests. Whether it’s because we have our hearts set on a yarn that won’t quite get gauge or we love the shape of the garment, but desire a different fabric, it sometimes just isn’t possible to knit a pattern to the suggested gauge. However, just because your gauge is off, doesn’t mean you can’t still make it work.

To adjust your pattern to your gauge, all you really need is some basic math. Say you’re knitting a sweater, and the given gauge is 6 stitches to the inch, but the fabric that you like is 5 stitches to the inch. All you need to do is go through the pattern and convert the number of stitches you’re supposed to have on your needle at any given time to match your 5 stitches gauge. Sound complicated? Don’t worry, it’s much simpler than it seems!

Say that the pattern you’re working on is for a top-down set-in-sleeve pullover, the first thing you would need to cast on for is the back neck. In the pattern’s schematic, you can check to see how many inches you’re supposed to cast on for the back neck in your size. If its 8″, all you have to do is multiply your inch gauge – in this case, 5 stitches per inch – by 8, and you’ll come up with your cast on number. You can also check this number against what the pattern says. If the pattern is having you cast on 48 stitches, you can divide the cast on amount by the number of stitches per inch that the pattern calls for. If the initial cast on is 48 stitches, and the pattern gauge is 6 stitches per inch, you can divide 48 by 6 to come up with how many inches to cast on. From there, you can multiply the number of inches by your own gauge to come up with how much to cast on.

The same holds true for differing row gauges. If the pattern you’re knitting calls for 10 rows per inch, but you’re knitting at 8 rows per inch, you can reference the schematic to see how many rows you should be knitting or check the row count in the pattern to figure out how many inches long the piece will be. For instance, if you’re knitting the back piece of a top-down set-in-sleeve sweater, it may be 7″ from the cast on for the back neck to the armhole. In that case, you would want to multiply your row gauge by 7 to determine how many rows you need to knit. Likewise, you can count out how many rows the pattern is asking you to knit, divide by the given row gauge, and multiply the resulting number by your own row gauge to determine how many rows to knit.

A combo of those two techniques can be used to adjust increases and decreases to suit your gauge as well. If you have to decrease the width of a garment by 4″ over 5″ of length in order to shape a waist, all that you need to do is plug your gauge in to know how many rows you need to knit, and how often you need to decrease. The row question is easy, just multiply your row gauge by the amount of inches given for the decrease section. To figure out your decreases, you can multiply your gauge by how much you will be decreasing to determine how many stitches you need to decrease. If you’re knitting a sweater, and have to decrease from a 36″ bust to a 32″ waist, then you would subtract the waist measurement from the bust measurement, and multiply that number by your stitches per inch gauge. In this cause, it would be 4″ of difference multiplied by 5 stitches to the inch, so you would need to decrease 20 stitches. If you have 5″ to do this, and you’re getting 8 rows per inch, then you have 40 rows in which you need to work your decreases. From there, you can decide how many decreases you want to do per decrease row, and how staggered you want the decreasing to be. A standard decrease row will have you decreasing 4 stitches each row, so if you need to decrease a total of 20 stitches, you would want to do 5 decrease rows. If you need to do 5 decrease rows over a total of 40 rows, and wanted evenly spaced decreases, then you would want to decrease every 8th row.

Increases can be adjusted for gauge in exactly the same way as decreasing, except you’ll be adding stitches back in, instead of taking them out.

The bottom line is, gauge is important, but not getting the expected gauges doesn’t mean you can’t make the pattern you want with the yarn of your choice. I have had so many customers come in discouraged because they couldn’t get gauge in the yarn that they really wanted to use. You are the boss of you’re knitting, and you can make it work for you.

Top-Down Raglan vs. Top-Down Set-in-Sleeve

In the knitting world, one doesn’t need to travel far in order to stumble upon the virtues of top-down sweaters. They are quick to knit, can be done all in one piece, and are relatively easy to troubleshoot. Since top-down sweaters are knit from the top down, you can try it on as you go, and make any adjustments to fit, shaping, and length as needed. Though it can become cumbersome to carry around a top-down sweater towards the end of the work, the fact that it is knit in one piece eliminates the seaming process. Sweaters with a top-down construction are excellent for knitters who are just starting out on sweater making and want to knit something easy, and for more advanced sweater knitters who want to knit something quick, with lots of fit control. However, after deciding to knit a top-down sweater, the question then becomes will you knit a top-down raglan or a top-down set-in-sleeve? In my experience, both methods of construction have some pluses and minuses that are good to be aware of.

set-in-sleeve (left), raglan (right)

For the most part, top-down sweaters are made with a raglan construction. It is easy to see why, when you consider that they are simple to knit, require little shaping, and figuring out how to set one up is easy enough to calculate at home. Because of these benefits, I typically turn to raglan construction when I need to churn out a sweater fast or if I’m making a sweater for someone else and I’m not going to be getting super precise fit. That is where the minuses come in. Though there are so people who look fantastic in raglan construction, there are those, like myself, who don’t find it as flattering. I have a large chest, and if I want to knit a more fitted sweater, raglan construction just won’t do. Since a raglan sleeve is a straight line, it has a harder time conforming to the natural curvature of the body. Therefore, when I try to make a fitted raglan, I find that the raglan line tends to pull and stretch out of place. While raglan sweaters are easy to set up, they don’t always fit well on every body.

Set-in-sleeve top-down sweaters tend to fit much better than raglans. Because a set-in-sleeve follows a curved line, they can be easily adjusted to fit the particular sculpture of the intended wearer. For this reason, I have started knitting almost all my top-down sweaters with set-in-sleeves. They just happen to fit better on my shoulders without tugging at my breasts. However, they simply are not as simple to put together as raglans. I have yet to find a “plug-and-chug” method for top-down set-in-sleeve construction. Though I have found multiple raglan methods where all you have to do is plug in your gauge and measurements into an easy equation in order to figure out how many stitches to cast on, and which stitches will be your front, back, and sleeves. Set-in-sleeve construction is just not (as least at the moment!) quite so approachable. It also happens to require casting the back on first, shaping the shoulders, and then placing the back on hold until the front is constructed and ready to be joined with the back at the underarms. In contrast, a raglan can be cast on and knit straight through from top to bottom.

What about you all? Any preferences when it comes to raglan vs. set-in-sleeve? Anyone found a great set-in-sleeve “plug-and-chug” that they’d like to share? Let me know in the comments!

For anyone looking to try out either a top-down raglan, I highly recommend checking out Hannah Fettig’s Lesley or looking at Karen Templer’s series on Fringe Association about how to improvise a top-down raglan.

And for anyone interested in trying out some top-down set-in-sleeves, I suggest checking out Elizabeth Doherty’s Clarendon (really her whole book on the method), and Andi Satterlund’s Plain Jane.