Friday, June 24, 2011

Evolution of a Design (part 7): The Fabric

When I write up my patterns for baby blankets, I always provide a gauge measurement and then include some statement like, "not necessary to get gauge." Since a blanket isn't a garment, it doesn't require perfect sizing. As a result, if your gauge doesn't match mine and you end up with a blanket that's 33"x32" instead of my 31"x31", that's not a big deal.

So gauge doesn't matter, right?

Well... the way I think about it, that's only sort of true. It's okay to be a little bit off. There won't be any extra-long sleeves or super-tight busts to worry about. In that sense, gauge doesn't matter at all. On the other hand, gauge isn't only about size. It also has a role in the type and drape of fabric you're creating. Obviously, gauge isn't the only factor - yarn type and weight have a significant impact on your fabric. But you could knit up two wildly different swatches using the same yarn but different needle sizes.

So even with a baby blanket, where exact sizing may not be critical, gauge matters.

I suppose there are a number of different points at which a designer could (or should) start thinking about the fabric and what gauge is going to get them there. For things where sizing matters, it makes really good sense to get started on that right away. With this blanket, I didn't even begin to think about it until after I'd already created the chart. That's probably backwards, I know, but it's the way this design started to shape up.

Up to this point, I've been working in worsted weight for the blankets. Of course, my panda blanket has only 137 stitches across, so even in worsted, that's a pretty small blanket. The snail, though, is significantly larger. It's got a cast-on of 325 stitches. (I know! What on earth was I thinking?) It was pretty clear from the get-go that an afghan with that many stitches knit up in a worsted weight yarn has no business calling itself a baby blanket (if I used the same gauge as the panda, the snail would end up at 73" wide). So the decision to go with a lighter weight yarn was an easy one to make.

When I received yarn support from Dream in Color, the decision to go with DK weight was pretty much made for me. Before that I'd been toying with the idea of going even lighter - to fingering weight. I did a quick survey in a couple of groups on Ravelry, asking people what they thought of very light weight baby blankets. The responses were strongly in favor of them, particularly from folks who live in warmer climates. So, since I'd be using the DK from DIC for the intarsia version, I thought it might be nice to try fingering for the solid version.

Once both had arrived, I had to swatch. I know - swatching isn't terribly fun. I don't know many people who like it; I'm certainly not among those who do. So maybe we can call it a necessary evil. Because it's necessary. Even when you're knitting a baby blanket. Guess how I know? Go on - guess! (I won't tell you ... I'm sure you're right.) My younger sister is making the single color sample, and I needed to provide some guidance, so I knit up some stockinette swatches of the fingering weight yarn with a few different needle sizes. One was way too hole-y. One was way too tight, creating a stiff fabric. But one was just right. Good drape, good stitch definition. Perfect. It may be that a different needle size gives her the fabric I'm looking for -

Frankly, it doesn't matter what size needle she uses, as long as she gets gauge. Because you know what getting gauge will ensure? The perfect fabric...

Next up: converting the chart to written word...

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