• Brave Little Buckaroo

The Swatch Paradox

Updated: May 18

Hello friends.

Today we’re going to chat a bit about gauge and I’m hoping you can offer some words of wisdom. Whenever I’ve made myself garments in the past, either knit or sewn, I almost always make them too big. I am not a small person, and I don’t like things to be too tight, so my instinct is to err on the side of caution. It doesn’t help that my weight, and therefore my size, has fluctuated wildly over the years - almost 60kg/132lbs between my highest and lowest adult weight - so it can take a minute for my mind and body to catch up to each other depending on the direction they're going. It also doesn’t help that there is absolutely no consistency in sizing between any of the clothing brands, stores, or patterns, either commercial or independent.

(And don’t even get me started on the sizing of things like Jeans. Or BRAS! Bloody hell.)

Anyway, I currently wear an Australian size 14-16 in most of my purchased ready to wear clothing, but according to my bust measurement (approx. 115cm/45”) I am completely sized out of most of the big four pattern companies that to go up to a size 22. How can a size 14 shirt fit perfectly in a store, but in a DIY shirt pattern I need a size 24 or larger? I have tried making the 22 (usually the biggest size in the packet) and hoping for the best, and although the pattern guidelines say it will be too small for me, it usually ends up too big. Although occasionally they can also end up wildly too small.

A lot of indie patterns aren’t a whole lot better, although I know many of them are working hard at it these days. The only indie pattern I’ve tried making so far had my bust measurement listed as the largest size, a 4XL. But when I made it to that size, it was miles too big for me! Like falling off my shoulders too big. I now make it two sizes smaller than what is recommended for my measurements to get it to fit nicely.

So what are the measurements on the packet even for if they don’t actually correspond to either our bodies or the finished garment?

I know this is not a new problem, and I am far from the only person who has it, but I do have a point. (Great! Please get to it already!)

If a sewing project turns out to be the wrong size, oftentimes there are a number of tweaks and adjustments you can make to fix it, especially if it’s too big. But if a knitting project turns out the wrong size, there’s not a whole lot you can really do about it. So when I was preparing to start knitting my Whitmoor Cardigan, I was determined to get it right the first time. It’s a big investment in both materials and time and I really wanted it to be something I could be proud of and love to wear. So I measured myself carefully and checked the pattern recommendations and looked at other people’s finished cardigans on all different body types to help select the right size for me. Given that my bust measurement is 45” and the pattern recommends 0-3” of positive ease, I chose the size with the finished measurement of 47.5”. I wanted it to be cozy and comfortable, but not hugely oversized, so I fought the ever-present urge to size up.

I swatched for gauge and I blocked my swatch and I took notes and photos and I got perfect gauge with the recommended needles on my first try. Amazing! So I started knitting. I tried it on a few times as I went, and though it seemed a bit more snug than I’d have liked, I reassured myself that I got perfect gauge, I’ve done everything right, so this will all work itself out in the blocking. It has to! That’s how it works!

As I cast off the bottom ribbing and finally tried it on without needles attached, I started to get properly worried. It’s been a bit tight through the width all along, and I still felt reasonably confident that blocking would sort that out, but even though I knit the exact right number of rows for the longer length version, it’s short. Like, really short. I looked at my notes and I counted my rows and checked all my buttonholes and I definitely did everything right, so why is it so small?

Now granted, it did take me around ten months to finish the body of this cardigan. I whipped through the lacy yoke part, but the body got put on hold a few times as other projects took my attention, but I don’t think my gauge would have changed so dramatically over the course of that time. So I went and found my swatch. And you guys, it’s not to gauge AT ALL. It’s miles too small in both directions.


So, naturally, my first thought is that I’ve screwed it up somehow. Did I not get gauge after all? Were all my memories of being so careful and precise completely fabricated? I went and found my original notes and no, I really did get gauge. I even wrote the words “correct gauge”. Clever Ten Months Ago Me even measured the swatch before she blocked it, so I now have all the information I could possibly need… to be even more confused than I was before.

The gauge of my original swatch was 24st and 30r. The gauge of my blocked swatch was 21st and 28r (perfect gauge). The current gauge of the swatch that’s been floating around my craft room for ten months? 24st and 33r. So it’s smaller now than it was when I knit it. HOW CAN THIS BE?!

My original question was: Can a blocked swatch shrink back to its pre-blocked size over time? But now my questions is: Can a blocked garment shrink back to a size even smaller than it was when it was first knit? And also: Is my cardigan literally shrinking as I’m knitting it? BUT HOW?!

(It’s just occurring to me now, could it be the mohair? Do you think?)

I’m so confused. And more than a little disheartened. Given all of that, the current size of my cardigan (unblocked, because I’m still working on the sleeves) is about 4-5” smaller than it should be in both width and length. It’s not ideal, but if it’s too tight for me to wear buttoned up, I guess it won’t be the end of the world. I would probably wear it unbuttoned most of the time anyway. But I definitely don’t want it to be too tight AND too short.

At this stage I will probably unpick the bottom edge, rip out the ribbing (fingering and mohair knit together, torturous), knit a few more inches of length, and hope for a blocking miracle. The only other option is to completely start again, which I just don’t think my poor heart has in it.

So I guess my questions for you are: Have you ever had anything like this happen to you? Did you even know it could happen? Do you know how to make it stop? And have you any wonderful clever suggestions for what I should do next?

Please help. (Or at least commiserate.) I love you. Bye.xo

(At least the sleeve looks pretty.)


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