Friday, December 12, 2008

Swatch Abuse Takes a Turn with Cotton

Here in Texas, cotton is King. I love to wear it. It is cool and very practical. I live in my jeans and T-shirts for much of the year.

I think one of the nice things about jeans, is that when you put them on out of the wash, they may not be too comfortable at first, but wear them a while and they fit like a glove as the cotton stretches when it is worn.

Knit sweaters from cotton can be a big disappointment. Just like the jeans, you put them on, and they begin stretching mostly sideways until you are wearing a sack, or can not even keep the shoulders where they belong. It does not matter if the sweater is hand knit or made by machine the stretch happens unless you have done something to prevent it.

For years, when machine knitting with cotton, I have combated this tendency by plaiting a thin strand of a more stable yarn - like a 2/30 acrylic - on the wrong side of my cotton sweaters. This stable yarn helps keep the cotton from stretching. However, the plaiting yarn does change the hand of the fabric and also makes the garment less comfy sometimes.

A while back I was reading an old Spin-Off magazine. I have no idea which one, but I think it was from the middle 90's. There was a photo of a handspun cotton sweater and for some reason I stopped and read what the author had written about it. Often I just skip over reading this type of information, but for some reason I did not this time.

The author wrote that her cotton sweaters never stretch out to where she can not wear them. The secret she said is in how the original swatch is treated before the gauge is taken.

She advised knitting the swatch, then stretching it width wise several times firmly. She then washed it in hot water and dried it in a hot dryer to encourage it to shrink all it was going to.

When the swatch has been washed and dried, do not take your gauge yet. Instead, grab the swatch and pull it hard horizontally several times, stretching it as much as you can. Set the swatch aside for a day. Now measure the swatch and calculate your gauge.

I wanted to make the Take A Turn Sweater from Mary Anne Oger's Knitwords magazine. I absolutely adore this magazine, and I think all Machine Knitters should be subscribers to it. Mary Ann is currently offering this pattern for free on the website so you can get a sample of the types of patterns in the magazine.

I went into my stash, and grabbed the first cone that was a color I loved. This turned out to be a 2/16 cotton yarn in a beautiful blue. I decided to try out the knitting with cotton hint from the old Spin Off magazine to see how it worked rather than plait the cotton as I usually do.

I used the yarn triple stranded on my Knitking Compuknit IV standard gauge machine. I cast on 60 stitches at tension 8 and sampled the hem technique used in the pattern. Next I put in some waste knitting and made a standard tension swatch. I put in some more waste knitting and sampled the cable technique used in the pattern. Then I stretched, washed, dried and stretched the swatch as advised in the article. Finally, I measured the swatch and calculated my gauge.

I almost always use Designaknit to chart my sweaters in my gauge, since I never use the yarn called for in the pattern. I decided since there were lots of cables to keep track of, I would create a stitch pattern that exactly fit my sweater marking all the cable crossings. I was really glad I took the time to do this for this particular sweater.

When I laid out the sweater on the stitch pattern, I discovered that the cables were falling off the shoulders of the sweater. I should have expected this, because I had stretched the cotton swatch sideways resulting in fewer stitches per inch than on the original garment.

The pattern called for seven stitches between each cable pattern. On my sweater, I rearranged this to five stitches between each cable pattern to make everything fit. I made three quarter length sleeves, and decided to add some additional cables on the bottom of each sleeve not called for in the pattern.

When I made the sweater, it seemed really long coming off the machine. The sweater pieces were stretched, washed, dried and stretched just as for the swatch. I then assembled the sweater using the yarn from the unravelled swatch. I also used this preshrunk yarn in the neckband trim. I think using unwashed, unshrunk yarn would cause puckers in the sweater once it was washed.

I have worn the sweater now, and I am happy to report that the wide neckline in the sweater does not fall off my shoulders. It certainly would have if I had not abused the swatch prior to taking my gauge. The sweater does not grow and grow and is as comfy as an old sweatshirt. I will be using this technique for knitting with cotton from now on.

1 comment:

T said...

Wow, this is incredible. Very useful info there (she says as she's about to frog an entire cotton sweater...) and I'll learn it, use it and live it.

Love the cable detail - in fact, the whole enchilada is just plain super!