Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Design Diary: Respect the Swatch

Like most practiced knitters, if I’m making a garment where fit matters, I knit a gauge swatch. You know, that little 5X5 square (admittedly, mine usually end up being rectangular on account of overzealous cast-ons) that lets you figure out how many stitches, and less crucially, rows, fit across an inch? When I follow a pattern, that little swatch is my Rosetta stone – it lets me know if the sweater with a 42-inch bust measurement really will accommodate a 42-inch bust or it lets me know if I need to make modifications to ensure a good fit.

Naturally, I started my first design project with a gauge swatch. 5(and a half)x5 inches of Mirasol Yarns Lachiwa on 3.5mm needles later, I had a lovely little almost-square to wash, block, and measure. This modest bit of handiwork would serve as the foundation for what I knew would be a masterpiece of clever design and impressive craftsmanship.

And then I cast on. Well, first I worked out the math – determined how many stitches I would need to achieve the correct chest measurement, decided where I wanted the neck opening to fall, and figured the appropriate number of stitches to start with. Then I cast on. When I finished lopping the yarn onto my needle, I faltered. Even though I had not knit so much as a single row, I could tell that my garment – a baby dress with a knit bodice and fabric skirt – was going to turn out much smaller than the 12 month size I had planned. So I cast on a few more stitches for good measure and began to knit.

Once I strayed from the path I had carefully devised via simple arithmetic, I did not return. I intuited my way through the sleeve shaping (raglan increases) and arbitrarily decided the armscye depth. Pretty early on, I could see the bodice was going to be too big. But I persevered. The dress was, after all, intended for a growing baby. If she couldn’t wear it now, then surely she could in a few months time. Only after I knit to within a couple of inches from the hem did I realize how long it would take for Addie to grow into her dress. My panicked addition of several stitches had resulted in a bodice generous enough to fit a two-year-old.

She looks thrilled, doesn't she? In fairness, tolerating a photo shoot while wearing an ill-fitting dress isn't my idea of fun, either.

I resolved to finish, rather than frog the too-large top. I guess I wanted some artifact of my first attempt at designing so that years – maybe even months, depending on how quickly I improve, from now, I can laugh at my novice decisions. In the couple of months since I bound off and sewed on the fabric skirt Addie has grown; her dress is no longer clownishly humongous, but it still hangs off her.

Before the end of the year, I’ll knit a second version of this dress and this time I will respect the swatch and listen to what it tells me. I’ll let you know how it turns out.

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