Apr 05, 2018 :: by Leila Raabe
Elizabeth Smith, designer behind many gorgeous patterns, including three of our new Kestrel 2018 designs, stops by the blog today for a guest post about getting gauge—and keeping it, whether working flat or in the round. Enjoy!
Ah, gauge. It’s a subject matter that can cause many knitters to cringe. But, the more you understand it, the less you have to fear! One aspect of gauge you may be familiar with is the difference between “flat” (i.e, back-and-forth) gauge and “in the round” gauge.
In stockinette stitch flat, you work a knit row, and then you work a purl row, back and forth; whereas in stockinette stitch in the round, you are knitting every round (no purl stitches). For many knitters, myself included, purl stitches are looser than knit stitches, causing your flat knitting to be looser than your in-the-round knitting.
This can be a bit of a problem when a design involves working both in the round as well as flat, such as in a seamless pullover where the body is worked in the round, and the top of the sweater is worked flat. If your gauge is significantly different between in the round and flat, then your sweater fabric can look inconsistent.
I found that when working with cotton or linen yarns (such as Kestrel), the difference between my in-the-round gauge and my flat gauge was even more dramatic. So how do you keep a consistent looking fabric when your gauge might alter halfway through the garment, especially with a linen yarn like Kestrel?
left to right: Laguna, Mira, and Kai from Kestrel 2018
When working in stockinette stitch, such as in Laguna and Kai, when you transition from in-the-round knitting to flat knitting, work your RS (right side) knit rows in the same needle you had used when working in the round, but work your WS (wrong side) purl rows with 1 needle size smaller. This will prevent your fabric from becoming too loose.
The thought of using 2 different needle sizes may seem awkward at first, but in fact it’s quite easy. And, if you use interchangeable tips, you can simply put one needle size on one end and the smaller size on the other.
To illustrate the difference, above is a photo of 2 Kestrel swatches. For both, I worked in the round for the bottom half, and then worked flat for the top half.
On the left, I used a needle size smaller on WS rows in the top flat section, and on the right, I kept the same needle size throughout. As you can see on the right side swatch, my flat stitches are much looser and creates a very visible difference in fabric compared to the bottom. But the left side swatch, using the smaller needle on WS row technique, allows the fabric to stay more consistent throughout.
You can use this same idea when working in garter stitch too, but it’s worked just slightly differently – this was the case for my Mira design. For garter stitch in the round, you work a knit round followed by a purl round, whereas in garter stitch flat, you knit every round.
So, this means your flat gauge will actually be tighter than your in the round gauge (the opposite of stockinette stitch). When you transition from in the round knitting to flat knitting in garter stitch, you will work your RS rows with the same needle as you used when working in the round, but work your WS rows with 1 needle size larger. This will prevent your fabric from becoming too tight.
I hope this tip helps in your spring and summer knitting with Kestrel!
Thanks so much, Elizabeth—lots to think about there, and I'll be paying closer attention to any gauge differences as I swatch for new projects.
Do you have any tips for managing gauge to achieve the results you want to see in your knitting? Let us know in the comments!