Saturday, November 21, 2009

I don't think that word means what you think it means

I have a friend who once talked me into a project which involved sewing 100 pencil cases from cotton duck fabric. Each pencil case was going to need a 10" zipper, so I went online and found a zipper company that could make me as many zippers as I wanted in whatever color I wanted and with whatever kind of zipper pull I wanted. The only problem was that (at the time) they had a completely unsecure method of ordering through their website, which involved clicking on a link that brought up a blank email, into which I was supposed to type a) what I wanted and b) my credit card number.

Well, not being a complete idiot, I didn't do that, so I called the company instead and got a person whose first language was not English, which was okay, but it turned out that sometimes what you say to a person is not what they hear.

Our conversation went something like this:
"I would like to order one hundred 10-inch zippers."
"Okay," he said. "How many do you want?"
Puzzled, I said, "Uh, I want a hundred."
I then went on to tell him what color I wanted, and all the other zipper-related details, and then I gave him my credit card number.

A few days later a somewhat larger box than I expected arrived at my door. Since my friend wasn't due to come over for a few more days to work on the project, I didn't open the box right away, but when I did, I realized something had gone horribly wrong with my order. Inside the box was 100 zippers, in exactly the right color, each of which was 110" long. I ordered one hundred 10-inch zippers, but he thought I was ordering 110-inch zippers.

I mentioned the other day that there is a sweater I want to start. I've had the yarn for months now, having ordered it shortly after I bought the book the pattern is in.

One thing has puzzled me since I bought the book and the yarn. The yarn called for is a sport weight yarn. Now, I'm not a slave to using the yarn called for in a pattern, because I understand how to make substitutions, but the yarn and the pattern have confounded me since I first laid eyes on them, because both specify using the same needle size, but each indicate a very different gauge, not just from each other, but also different from the gauge I would expect to get with that needle size.

The yarn is a sport weight yarn, and the label says it works up at 6 sts/inch, which seems about right to me for a sport weight yarn. Here's the confusing part. The yarn label says to use a size 6 needle to achieve that gauge.

Now, I am a knitter who almost without fail achieves the gauge on the label using the suggested needle size. In this case, I think it would be impossible. I have no doubt I could get 6 sts/in with this yarn, but I think it would take a size 4 needle to do it. As I said, I am an on-gauge knitter. The theoretically average knitter yarn companies label their products for.

I once did an experiment where I knitted up swatches for three different yarn weights using three different needle sizes. I used a fingering weight yarn, a worsted weight, and a bulky. I used size 3 needles, size 7 and size 10 (maybe 10.5, I can't remember for sure).

Typical gauges would be as follows:
Fingering on size 3 needles would give me 7 sts/in
Worsted weight on size 7 needles would give me 5 sts/in
Bulky weight on the size 10 or 10.5 needles would give me 3.5 sts/in

What I wanted to see was what my gauges were for these yarns when I used different needles.

The fingering weight yarn worked up at 5 sts/in on size 7 needles, and 3.5 sts/in on size 10 needles. The 3.5 sts/in swatch was like cheesecloth, of course.

The worsted weight worked up at 3.5 sts/in on size 10 needles.

When I used smaller needles than the yarn typically called for, the sts could only get squished so far, but my experience has shown me that I *can* get DK gauge on DK needles with worsted yarn, which is only one yarn weight thicker than DK. I can get worsted weight gauge on worsted weight needles with Aran yarn.

So knowing that, and knowing that sport weight yarn is a thinner yarn than DK and worsted, I would expect to get about 5.25 sts/in on size 6 needles for any yarn worsted weight or thinner.

Now, looking at the *pattern*, I see that it calls for using this yarn with size 6 needles, but it indicates a gauge of 5 sts/in. Again, not the needle size I (the theoretical average knitter) would typically use to get 5 sts/in, and certainly not the *gauge* I would want for a sport weight yarn if I didn't want the sweater to lose its shape.

I wrote to the yarn company, suggesting that there may be an error on their label, perhaps they meant to put Size 4 needle, not 4.0mm (which is what a size 6 needle is), helpfully explaining that I am typically an on-gauge knitter, and that 6 sts/in on size 6 needles seems unlikely. Their response was as follows:

Suggested needle size is just that, a suggestion. It's a starting point. It was decided that a size 6 needle would give the desired gauge for the average knitter. I know that I would start swatching on a 4, because I'm rather loose knitter. But
as you know, everyone is different.
Can you hear me bashing my head against my keyboard?

In the meantime, I swatched on size 6 needles, and washed the swatch. It did seem to grow while it was wet, but once dry, returned to its pre-bath size. 22 sts and 30 rows/4". I swatched on size 7 needles and got 5 sts/in, but the fabric just seems too flimsy to me. I'll have to modify the pattern based on the gauge I got which means I'll need more yarn than the pattern calls for. Luckily, I ordered more yarn than the pattern requires for my size, because by ordering more, I got a discount, making it cheaper to get 9 or 10 balls than it was to get 8. Crazy.

In other sweater news, I am chugging along on my Diagonal Rib sweater.

I'm about half way through the second sleeve, so I hope to finish up this weekend. I'm starting to get paranoid about how this thing is going to fit and I'm still not sure how I like the front neckline. I think the cable stitches (what's left of them) should perhaps extend up the side of the neck, but I also think that would make the neck too narrow.

We'll see how it goes. Easy enough to rip out the neck and redo it, if necessary.

The whole process for this sweater has been much too easy. Maybe because I'm not trying to follow someone else's pattern and dealing with conflicting gauge information from two sources. There's a lesson in there somewhere, I'm sure of it.

Finally -- I am at the brink of 36,000 words on my NaNo novel. I'm so happy to be doing this with so many of my online writing buddies. It's been an exhilarating month of don't look down writing. If it weren't for the Write or Die software, I'd have too much time to think while I was writing, and I'd stop in my tracks.

Sadly, I must mourn the loss of my "M" key. It was acting up for a couple of days, and then yesterday, it flew off the keyboard.

Broken bit

I replaced it with a key I never use

It's no wonder it flew off. Apparently, my fingernails are hard on the keys.

They are scarred for life.

No comments: