Design Diary: The Case of the Runaway Gauge Swatch

A few weeks ago I lamented winter’s departure and the impending end of this year’s sweater weather. Since then I’ve survived a nasty cold, the entire family succumbed to stomach flu, seven inches of unexpected snow coated our region, and the bitter cold just won’t quit. I’m done. Of course now that I’ve officially changed my position on the current wintry weather, we might see even more snow this weekend. If the forecast is right, come Sunday night I’ll be hunkered down in a nest of hand-knits, consoling myself with woolly goodness that’s not quite ready to be banished to the storage bin.

I’ll have knitting in hand whether the snow shows or stays away; I’ve got a sample to work up. For the last couple of years, one of my knitting goals has been to design and draft a pattern for a knitted garment. In that time I have managed to design a few things, but they’ve all been on the fly and based more on intuition rather than math and schematics.

Don’t get me wrong, I love casting on with a rough idea in mind and seeing where my needles take me. But this method can lead to a lot of frustration (see my previous post about the lace wrap that would not be without extensive planning and charting). Even this time I couldn’t stop myself from designing on the needles. I cast on for what I intended to be a gauge swatch, starting with the garter stitch I envisioned for the bodice. A few rows in, I decided to just try out the short row sleeve shaping I had in mind. Not long after that, my swatch resembled the entire bodice; I had kept on knitting, stopping only to hold the partial knit against Addie’s chest to ensure a decent fit. When I completed the bodice I did not stop to block, determine gauge, and draft my pattern like a good designer in training.  I just kept on working until the sweater was done.

The first time I pulled it over Addie’s head the body stretched tightly across her little tummy. She was proud of her new mommy-made garment, but I wasn’t sure I could let her wear it out of the house. It’s a good thing the yarn I selected grows slightly with blocking, and that I decided to include a generous lace panel on the front of the sweater.

I was lucky this time. While the sweater isn’t exactly how I envisioned it, it’s pretty darn close. I figured out, for example, where I should place my increases and how many I should work to achieve an A-line shape, how much ease the lace panel adds when blocked out, and how much the bodice stretches with blocking.  My prototype was pretty much a glorified gauge swatch – a gauge swatch that fits Addie perfectly and that she’s perfectly happy to wear.

Now that I’ve gotten the spontaneous designing out of my system, I’m working up a sample from the pattern I drafted based on my gauge. This one will also be for Addie, and she will wear it for the pattern cover photo shoot. But before I even warm up the camera for that final shoot, I have one more sample to knit – in a smaller size to check my grading.

I just need to maintain my focus and resist the urge to cast on for all of the other designs I’ve dreamed up since starting this one, and maybe just maybe I will have a pattern to release by the end of next month. At the very least, though, my kiddo gets a couple of cute spring tunics to sport during these transitional weather months.

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