Saturday, June 20, 2009

Vindication and *JOY*

O frabjous day...

The long-awaited parcel of NatureSpun sport-weight yarn for Peggy Tudor finally arrived yesterday morning. Yipee!! I lost no time whatsoever, but ripped open the bag and extracted a skein and immediately began knitting swatches. The color is EXACTLY what I wanted. I would call it a true green or emerald green, not markedly blue or yellowish in tone, neither too dark nor too pale. Goldilocks would definitely approve, in other words, as would Kermit the Frog. The wool is dreamy to work with, as I had hoped, being both soft and springy with wonderful drape and plenty of stitch definition to show off the pattern. So while I have no doubt that there will be traditional guernseys in my future (I've already got his-and-her items from Fishermen's Sweaters in my Ravelry queue and a color card from the UK that has my imagination all fired up), nevertheless I firmly believe that I have found the right yarn for Peggy Tudor. My instincts were correct on this one.

The pattern calls for 3 mm (US size 2) needles and 36 stitches x 42 rows to 10 cm, but everyone knows that the designer is a notoriously tight knitter. I encountered quite a few people on Ravelry who had real trouble making the right gauge for this project and was fully prepared to dial down at least two needle sizes in pursuit of the goal. There's certainly nothing like lace knitting to inure a person against any residual fear of small needles!!

Technically, the US needle sizes from 0 through 3 cover the range from 2.0 mm through 3.25 mm, but metric needles actually come in 0.25 mm increments at that end of the scale. So there are really six sizes in that range instead of four (2.0 mm = US 0, 2.25 mm, 2.5 mm, 2.75 mm, 3.0 mm, 3.25 mm = US 3). Conversion charts define US size 1 and size 2 in different ways, but at any rate my size 2 needles happen to be 2.75 mm rather than 3.0 mm. I started with those, then, to see how close to the required gauge I could get with just one metric size smaller than the pattern say. Afterwards, for good measure, I knitted a second swatch using 2.5 mm needles. Here is a photo of the two, taken in natural light (2.75 mm needles on the top, 2.5 mm on the bottom). Click on the image to bring up a larger version.

Now, the second swatch is visibly narrower than the first because it has fewer stitches across, but despite repeated attempts I cannot measure a difference in gauge between the two. Both come out to 34.5 stitches x 43 rows to 10 cm. Happily, I believe that this is close enough to the specifications. My body measurement is right on the cusp between a small and a medium for the pattern, which means that I can knit the small size at my gauge and have it come out just about right. I am also reassured by the fact that the swatches are both a bit too wide and not quite tall enough. Careful blocking at the end can easily pull the finished piece to be slightly longer and narrower, if necessary. There is definitely plenty of give, and although I wetted each swatch and stretched it with my hands while allowing it to dry, I did not use any pins, because I wanted to see what the gauge would be in its "natural" state.

I have looked at both swatches from all sorts of different angles and under different lighting conditions, trying to make up my mind about which needles to use. It is not an easy call, but because the measurements are the same, the decision comes down to the look and feel of the fabric. Here are closeup pictures of both swatches for comparison: 2.75 mm needles on the left and 2.5 mm on the right. Click on either one for an even closer view.

I think I could honestly go either way and not be disappointed, but the 2.75 mm needles felt more comfortable with the yarn as I was knitting and I think I prefer the stitch definition somewhat too, even though I have to admit that my eyes keep going back and forth.

So I am going to cast on this afternoon with the 2.75 mm needles. The sweater is knitted in narrow vertical panels that are then carefully sewn together (5 each for the front and back and 3 for each sleeve). If I get part way into the first panel and do not like the way it looks, I can always start over with the 2.5 mm needles and not worry about having to rip out a great big piece.

Whatever happens, this is going to be *FUN*.

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