Sunday, November 25, 2007

Too Tightly Wound? Part 1: Knitting

It strikes me to wonder lately if I'm a little too tightly wound and need to loosen up.

To the best of my memory, it seems like I've generally knit at a fairly average gauge. But some recent observations have shaken me to my boots. Could it really be that I've been a tight knitter all these years and didn't know? No, that's just not possible. Consider the following exhibits:

Exhibit 1.
I had to go up a needle size, from US 0 to US 1, to get gauge on the Gentleman's Fancy socks, now underway. That's funny; I don't think this is usually the case (but maybe I haven't been checking carefully?)

Even so, I have a sneaky feeling that maybe I ought to check it again, because the first sock of the pair seems suspiciously narrow. It's a stretchy stitch pattern. But still.

I'm a little concerned about whether it's going to fit a man-sized foot. It's a bit large on my average-sized woman's foot, but I'm not sure if it's large enough, especially up near the top of the cuff, for a man's well-turned muscular calf. Maybe it's just that Nancy Bush, whose pattern it is, is an exceptionally loose knitter. Sure, that's it.

Exhibit 2.
I like my needles pointy. I've seen it said somewhere that those who dislike blunt-pointed needles are probably tight knitters. I remember trying my first pair of Addi Turbo circular needles, in a US size 7. Addi Turbos are finely honed instruments, veritable weapons in the knitter's arsenal, gleaming and dangerous. I liked their sleekness, appreciated the nickel-plated slipperiness that makes for fast, smooth knitting.

The points did seem a little blunt, but not so much as to be a problem. For another project, I went ahead and ordered a pair in US size 3, figuring the points would be scaled down along with the needle diameter. Not so. To my dismay, when they arrived, the points on the size 3s seemed no smaller than those on the size 7s. Not one whit. (OK, that might be an exaggeration. I think they were actually a little smaller. Maybe one or two whits.) That, I did not care for at all. Slipping those great big dull points under a thin little strand of sport-weight yarn was not my idea of fun. I soon abandoned the Addis and went back to an old standby set of needles. But that was surely just a fluke.

Exhibit 3
Lately, after a whole row of purling, the stitches have not been sliding so easily on the needle. But I have monkeyed around a lot over the past year with my purling technique. Having been unthrilled by the characteristically loose leftmost stitch I was getting in ribs and cables, I was looking for a way to eliminate it. Oh, I know there are a couple of tricks people use for this (for instance, here), but I was determined to solve it my way. I may have tightened up my purling a bit too much in the process. A minor adjustment out of whack, that's all.

Exhibit 4
I saw a side-by-side test. I sat next to a friend in one of the Market Session classes at Stitches East. We all knitted, as part of the lesson, the same pattern, with the same yarn. My knitted sample was just that little bit smaller than hers. With the same size and brand of needles. Hmmm.

My stitches looked small and even (for the most part). Hers were more comfortably relaxed. Well, then probably she was knitting a little too loosely for the most consistent results. Obviously. That would be it. Of course.

Exhibit 5
My great-grandmother, who gave me my first knitting lessons, was known in our family as a famously tight knitter. All her work was beautifully done, but very tight. OK, but I was barely knitting at all then! I was too young! It was years later when I really learned how to knit! I'd forgotten everything!

Coincidence? Who can say?

(I wonder if anyone has ever done a research dissertation on the effect of genetics on knitting style.)

2 comments:

Beate said...

I knit the same way as my mother and my grandmother.
Not too loose and not too thight.
But I found out after years prefering bamboo or other wood made needles, that plastic and such like, makes me knit very loose.I think it changes and vary during the years.Like I have periods that I can not knit with thick yarn and thinks its awful.
Others were I just knit a whole sweather in no time in thick yarn and love it.
Mostly I prefer thin ( socklike), fingering, yarn.

Beate

Amy said...

I, too, knit the same way as my mother and grandmother. I've thought about studying knitting styles and geography, too, since most of the women in this town knit the same way.

(And I knit in a pretty unusual fashion--I not only throw, but hold onto the yarn I'm throwing with my thumb and forefinger. It's inefficient but very, very even.)