Constellate, how can I change my gauge?

We’re having a little KAL for Constellate, and I promised I’d talk about a few ways you can modify the pattern as part of the festivities.  One of the easiest (and I think most fun) ways you could modify this pattern is to tweak your gauge.

Now, the pattern is already written in three gauges (5.5, 6, or 6.5 stitches per inch, which should work for most dk, sport, or fingering weight yarns).  There’s a little chart in the pattern that looks something like this.  It shows you what size head the hat fits at various gauges and cast ons.

So if you wanted to work at 6 stitches per inch, and you have a 20 inch head, you’d cast on 104 stitches.  Of you can go the other way.  Say you have a 21.5 inch head, you can cast on either 104 stitches and work at 5.5 stitches per inch, or 112 stitches and work at 6 stitches per inch, or 120 stitches and work at6.5 stitches per inch.  (Oh, and it’s are stretchy, so don’t worry if your head isn’t exactly the size shown, this is very forgiving, go with the closest size, or if you’re right in between, I’d go with the next bigger size.)

But what if you want to make the hat with a bulky yarn?  Or a really skinny yarn?  You can totally do that, as long as you know your gauge and the size of your head.  So if you have a yarn you’re absolutely set on using, first knit a nice big swatch in the ribbing shown in the pattern, block it, measure your gauge (in stitches per inch), then measure your head (in inches).

Now you have to do a bit of math, but it’s really only a tiny bit.  You need to figure out how many stitches you need to fit around your head.  To do this, multiply the size of your head by 0.85 (that gets you a bit of negative ease so your hat isn’t too loose).  That tells you how big your knitting needs to be in inches.  Now multiply that by your gauge.  That tells you about how many stitches you need to cast on.

 Head size (in inches) x 0.85 x Gauge (in stitches per inch) = How many stitches it takes to get around your head

But, that’s not quite all there is to it.  You also need to make your cast on play nicely with the stitch used in the pattern.  In this case, that means you want your cast on to be divisible by 8.  If the number you got above is divisible by 8, that’s perfect, you totally win, you’re done, that’s your cast on.  If not, find the nearest multiple of 8 and use that.

So let’s work through a few examples.  Say you had a yarn that gave you a beautiful fabric at 4.5 stitches per inch and you have a 20 inch head.

 20 inch head x 0.85 x 4.5 stitches per inch = 76.5 stitches to get around your head
76.5 is not divisible by 8, so look for the closest multiple of 8, which is 80
So, to fit a 20 inch head at 4.5 stitches per inch, cast on 80 stitches

What if you wanted to go the other way.  Say you have a 22 inch head and the personal fortitude to knit this thing at 7.5 stitches per inch.

22 inch head x 0.85 x 7.5 stitches per inch = 140.25 stitches to get around your head
140.25 is not divisible by 8, so look for the closest multiple of 8, which is 144
So to fit a 22 inch head at 7.5 stitches per inch, cast on 144 stitches

For this hat, that’s really all there is to it.  So knit a good swatch (the ones I’m showing here are in no way big enough…you really need them to be at least four inches on a side, five is better), block it, and measure carefully.  Then do just the tiniest bit of math, and you can make this in any gauge you’d like!  I personally think it would be downright adorable in a bulky yarn and hope someone makes one and shows it to me.


The Mysteries of Gauge

On a lot of my recent patterns, I’ve included a wee little chart like this.  The shaded column on the left is gauge (in stitches per inch).  The shaded row on the top lists the various sizes the pattern is written in.  The cells in the middle tell you what size finished object you’ll get if you make a given size at a given gauge.  So with this chart, if you were working at a gauge of 4.5 stitches per inch, and you make the size medium, you’ll get a hat with a finished size of 20 inches.

This demonstrates one of the most basic things about knitting, and one of the things I think a surprisingly large number of knitters haven’t quite internalized.  You can really fine tune your sizing through yarn choice and gauge. Now this isn’t magic (it’s math) and it doesn’t work for everything.  But it is an awfully handy tool to have in your box of tricks when you want to nudge the size of something just a bit.

The socks I’m working on now are a perfect illustration of this.   Let’s look.

The gray socks on the top have a 64 stitch foot.  The blue socks on the bottom have 54 stitch foot.  Yet as you can see, the blue socks are quite a bit bigger than the gray socks.  This is because the gray socks are worked at a gauge of 8 stitches to the inch, and the blue socks are worked at a gauge of 6 stitches to the inch.

This only works because the socks use radcially different yarns.  The gray socks are a traditional sock weight, and the blue socks are a heavy dk. So both socks are knit up at an appropriate density (nice firm fabric suitable for socks) for the given yarn.  You can’t just use the gray yarn at 6 stitches per inch (it would feel like walking on little wires, and it would wear through in a few hours) or the blue yarn at 8 stitches per inch (you’d break your needles and the fabric would be stiff like cardboard).

But, with a bit of planning, this approach can let you use a wider range of patterns and yarns than you might think.  Let’s say you’ve fallen madly in love with a  pattern that comes in a 64 stitch size and calls for a gauge of 8 stitches per inch.  That gives about an 8 inch sock.  What if your feet aren’t 8 inches?  If you’ve got bigger feet, pick a thicker yarn and work at a gauge of closer to 7.5 or 7 stitches per inch.  If you’ve got smaller feet, pick a thinner yarn and work at a gauge of closer to 8.5 or 9 stitches per inch. This trick lets you fine tune the final size without having to adjust the pattern itself.  Especially for something like a sock where a half inch one way or the other can make all the difference, it works beautifully.

Now I can’t speak to the skinny yarns (I’ve got big feet and I’m a lazy knitter), but I have a nice little list of excellent thick sock yarns.  I’ll come back and post them later if people are interested (and I’d love to hear from you folks with tiny feet or more patience about which skinny sock yarns are your favorite).