Swatching: Before and After
To make my Abalone, I knew I would need to actually swatch, since there’s no way I’m a size small! The pattern is really flexible because you knit it to your measurements, but this requires an actual swatch to determine how many stitches to cast on. So, I picked the needle I thought would be most likely to give me a good fabric (US 6) and started in on a swatch. I cast on 2x as many stitches as the pattern called for to fit in 4″, worked a couple of rows of garter stitch and then settled into stockinette with a 5-stitch garter border on each side.
A few rows in, however, I decided that I definitely was not happy with the way I was rowing out. “Rowing out” refers to one row of stitches being larger than the next. This is something I struggle with when I’m knitting flat stockinette stitch, which is one reason I try to avoid it whenever possible! For me, my purl stitches are smaller than my knits, which can cause unevenness in flat stockinette. Luckily, there’s an easy solution: knit and purl with different sized needles! I generally knit with Knitpicks’ Interchangeable Knitting Needles, so it’s straightforward to put one size tip on one end, and another size on the other end. In this case, I was using my Harmony tips since I find they work best with slippery yarns such as this silk/merino blend, so I removed one of the US 6 tips and replaced it with a US 7. A quick purl row to mark the change in needles and I was good to go – I finished the swatch (skimping on the length a bit as row gauge isn’t important in this pattern) and worked a few garter stitch rows before binding off.
Ta-da! My finished swatch! But wait. It’s a bit messy looking, isn’t it? I even had to pin it out to get it to lay flat for this picture. (Can you notice the rowing out in the bottom section? It’s much more noticeable in person!) I’ve knit and ripped this yarn before, so I was knitting with slightly kinked yarn here, which can affect gauge slightly. Also, I’ve never finished anything with this yarn so I don’t know how it will behave when washed – will it stretch? shrink? stay the same? These things are somewhat problematic, as I certainly plan to wash my finished sweater, so the next step is to wash and block the swatch.
To do this, I simply submerged the swatch in a sinkful of cool water with a splash of soap in it (ahem. I know. I am out of wool wash. either is fine!), swished it around a bit and then wrung it out (gently!). Lastly, I laid the swatch flat on a towel and rolled it up, squishing it firmly to remove as much water as possible. Then, I laid the swatch out on a dry towel and pinned it into a rectangular shape (in the sun, because I was in a hurry and wanted it to dry quickly!).
Clearly, my pinning was not perfect, as it’s a bit rough along the bottom edge, but I was more concerned with the top half since that’s the part I used to measure my gauge. See how much neater the stitches look?
From here, I was able to measure my gauge (18 stitches to 4 inches, give or take 1/4″ – and for this particular sweater, 1/4″ over four inches is not going to make enough of a difference to worry about) and plug it in to the pattern to figure out how many stitches to cast on. The pattern is based on a nipple-to-nipple measurement (start at one nipple, go around the back and end at the other), which for me is 32″. I want mine to hit about that point with the edging on, so I subtracted out 4″ for the edging, giving 28″ as the finished width of the stockinette portion. 28 x 18/4 = 126, and I need to cast on 55% of that. This is 69.3, and I rounded up to 70 stitches. I quickly cast on and got to work on my Abalone! Unfortunately, I encountered a few setbacks, which I will talk about in a later post.