Why We Make: Self-Expression

Today, we're kicking off a new series here on the blog: the Why We Make series.

This series will delve into the different reasons people choose to make and how those reasons are good for the soul. The Why We Make series will not only enumerate the different ways that makers fill themselves up by creating things, but invite us all to experience different reasons for making to deepen our understanding of our crafts and ourselves.

This post in the Why We Make series is all about making as self-expression. Self-expression is the process of taking your internal thoughts, dreams, and ideas and putting them out into the world as something that can be experienced by others.

Through the process of self-expression, we come to know ourselves better. In order to truly express yourself, you have to have a good idea of what you want to express. This requires questioning your motives and values. As we all try to be the best version of ourselves, the process of self-expression forces us to define what that version looks like and cares about.

Methods of self-expression are as many and varied as the people who express themselves. The benefits of self-expression are not only reaped from verbal or written creations. Psychologists have known for years: "Self-expression through music and art acts as an alternative form of catharsis and has been used in pain management and substance abuse groups as healthier outlets for inner conflicts and emotions (Adelman & Castricone, 1986; Bailey, 1986)."*

And, yes, those benefits extend to knitting! Remember, self-expression is the process of making internal thoughts physical, and what more physical is there than a crafted item that you wear, use, or give as a gift?

Here are some ways to express yourself through making:

  • Create a garment that you feel confident and proud of wearing.
  • Make something for a loved one to show you care.
  • Make something for your home that reflects who you are - maybe a cozy cabled pillow for cuddling next to the fire, maybe a snarky political cross-stitch.

Is self-expression your motivation for making? Do you have a favorite way to express yourself through making? If you're not a self-expression maker, why do you make? Will you give expressing yourself through knitting a try? Drop a comment below and get the conversation started!

*Quote is from "Culture and Self-Expression" by Heejung S. Kim and
Deborah Ko. Linked here. 

Kendra Hunt
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Kendra's Fall Faves

Well, friends, we made it. Through long, hot summer days, we have arrived at my favorite season: fall. I think many knitters (and people in general) love fall for so many reasons: the more agreeable temperatures, the beauty of the trees as they change colors, and (of course) the arrival of seasonal hot drinks that are so easy to cozy up with. I revel in fall for all of these reasons and also because it signals the return of sweater weather - not only for the wearing of sweaters but for the knitting of them as well. 

I've noticed myself bringing out the same things each time I sit down to knit. I revel in my time knitting when I have surrounded myself with these things. Lately, my knitting sessions have been elevated and I want to share with you the things that have been making me happy this fall!

First up is Sweet Harvest Pumpkin tea from Celestial Seasonings. I make myself a mug and add a dash of French Vanilla creamer to really make this an indulgent treat. I find that this tea isn't overly pumpkin-y or sweet like some holiday beverages can get. And the fact that I can buy this at my local Sprout's makes this a favorite I can turn to again and again. 

The second thing on my list of favorites is this candle that I snagged from Denver shop Candelaria. This is a soy wax candle in a scent called "Fallen Leaves," which is a comforting blend of apples, berries, and pecans. It came with a Jack-o-lantern coaster but the scent is so cozy, I still love burning it in the evenings!

My last fave that I want to share with you is my new project bag from Box Eleven. Box Eleven is a Denver-based company that makes "small batch wearables" hand-printed with original designs. Katie, the owner and maker behind Box Eleven, created these bags with knitters in mind - there are even lots of pockets on the inside! 

I have been enjoying knitting out of this bag since I got it in October. It's the perfect size to toss in my bag for knitting on the bus or just to sit in my lap as i watch TV and knit on my sweater.

I hope you've enjoyed seeing some of these things that have been making my making so great these last weeks. Leave a comment below and let me know - what are some of your fall faves?

Kendra Hunt
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Getting Gauge Part 3: Make it Work for YOU

Welcome to Part 3 of the Getting Gauge series! This is the last part in a series on gauge; Part 1 was the intro and Part 2 was all about swatching. This final installment of the Getting Gauge series will go over how to leverage the information you got from your swatch to get the best finished object possible. This post is for you if:

  • your gauge did not match the pattern at all, even on another needle size, or
  • you are substituting yarn of a different weight.

Usually stitch gauge is more essential to a fitting garment. It is easy to modify your pattern if your row gauge is off by adding extra rows. This post will start with, and go into detail about, finding a stitch gauge that works for your project. The end of the post will touch on row gauge and how to fix it without going into too much depth.

Stitch Gauge Fix

or what to do when your swatch is too wide or too narrow:

1. Pick the needle size that gives you the fabric you want.

Choose a needle size that give you a fabric that will most match the intended project. If your pattern is a drapey cardigan, make sure that your swatch mimics that fabric. Likewise, if you're making a dense winter hat, ensure that your swatch doesn't have visible holes where wind can sneak in.

2. Figure out your stitches per inch. 

Measuring your swatch was actually the last step in Part 2 of this series. Take your number of stitches per 4 inches, and divide by 4. This will give you your stitches per inch more accurately than simply counting the stitches in an inch. 

If my swatch gives me 30 stitches of row gauge, 30/4 = 7.5 stitches per inch.

3. Determine how many inches around you want your item to be.

This can be the bust/chest of a sweater, crown of a hat, hand circumference of a glove, or back width of a cardigan.  If it's available, use the pattern schematic for this.

Take your body measurement +/- any ease indicated.

For example, my bust is 48" and the pattern for a pullover indicates 4" of positive ease. The finished bust of my ideal size would be 52".

Another example: a hat. My head is 22" around and most hats have at least 1" of negative ease. My ideal hat size would be 21".

If your pattern says "to fit" a certain measurement, it likely has the ease already built in. This happens often with hats, where the pattern will likely say "to fit an 18" (20", 22").  In this case, you'd need to find out how much ease is built into the pattern. Step 4 will go over that, so, onwards!

4. Determine how many stitches around you want your item to be. 

This is where the magic happens:

Take your number of stitches per inch (Step 2).

Multiply it by the number of inches around you want your item to be (Step 3).

That is the ideal number of stitches for your finished piece. 

Go to that part in your pattern - where underarms join, brim of hat, hand of mitten. Find the stitch counts. Find the stitch count closest to how many stitches around you want your item to be. That is your size.

Using the same examples from Steps 2 and 3:

I want my pullover to be 52" around, at 7.5 stitches per inch:

52 x 7.5 = 390. My ideal pullover would be 390 stitches around.

I go to the part of the pattern where the stitch counts for the bust are. I see 360 (368, 375, 382, 390, 395). Great, I know that I should make the second, to largest size because the stitch count (390) matches my ideal stitch count.

It is more likely that your stitch count won't match. In that case, you can reverse-engineer your size as well - take the number of stitches, divide by the number of stitches per inch, and that is how wide your item will be. 

If, instead of the last 2 stitch counts being (390, 395) they are (388, 395), I can use the reverse-engineer formula to help choose a size.

388 stitches/7.5 stitches per inch = 51.73" around garment.

395 stitches/7.5 stitches per inch = 52.67" around garment. 

The first formula gives me the closest measurement to the intended garment, so I would knit that one.  

This is also the formula to use if your pattern lists sizes as "to fit." You can always bypass a designer's pattern-writing choices and go directly to the numbers to figure out how to knit any pattern. 

Row Gauge Fix

or, what to do when your swatch is too long or too short. 

Row gauge isn't usually as big of a problem if it's off. Most patterns say "knit to x inches" and if your row gauge is off, it doesn't matter.

But sweater shaping! Unless your row gauge was way off, I would knit the pattern as written. Blocking can do wonders to a finished item, and it's not worth altering (and possibly messing up) the actual content of a pattern.



Kendra Hunt
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Getting Gauge Part 2 - Swatch Like You Mean It

Welcome to Part 2 of the Getting Gauge series! Part 1 of the series went over the basics of gauge - what it is, when it’s important, and how it affects the size of a finished object. This post will delve into swatching, the process of determining your gauge and how it will affect your finished object.

Preparation Quote

For any project that has to fit, you should take the time to knit a full gauge swatch. Sometimes the urge to skip swatching is strong, but the information that you can glean from this little piece of fabric can help inform your whole project and ensure that your finished object is beloved and treasured. The time you take to swatch may save you more time, confusion, and heartbreak down the road. 

Anatomy of a Swatch

Anatomy of a Swatch


Border Stitches:

Your swatch should include a border of 3-5 stitches garter stitch on all sides. This will help prevent a stockinette stitch from rolling in on itself and is generally helpful to keep your swatch nice and neat.

Buffer Stitches:

A good swatch includes more stitches than the gauge indicates. For example, if a pattern indicates 24 stitches and 35 rows to 4"/10cm, a good swatch would be at least 30 stitches and 41 rows of the stitch pattern inside the border stitches. These extra "buffer" stitches allow you to be able to measure your swatch in the middle of the fabric, whereas if you were to attempt to measure it at an edge or near the border, the stitches would be warped and your gauge measurement wouldn't be quite accurate. Always knit your buffer stitches in the same pattern as the gauge swatch.

Needle Size Indicator:

Indicating your needle size on your swatch is always a good idea, but it becomes essential if you end up making more than one swatch. You want to be able to tell which swatch was made with which needles! The neatest way to do this is with eyelets in the corner of the swatch. Simply do as many eyelets (yo, k2tog) as your needle size, e.g., US4 = 4 eyelets.  If, in a frenzy of swatching, you forget to add the eyelets, you can simply tie knots in the tail of your swatch to indicate your needle size.

Swatching in Pattern

Your pattern should indicate what stitch the gauge is measured in - this is the stitch you should knit your swatch in. Often, gauge will be indicated in whatever stitch pattern is the most prominent on a pattern, so be sure to check your pattern before starting a plain stockinette swatch. Sometimes, gauge is given in more than one stitch pattern.  Take time to swatch both!

Patterned SwatchFollow the same guidelines for a patterned swatch as a plain one - include border stitches and buffer stitches. Your buffer stitches should be knit in the same stitch as the main swatch. Sometimes, this will mean adding entire pattern repeats to the width and height of your swatch. It is always better to have a bigger swatch than one that is too small.

For some lace and colorwork patterns, the designer may list gauge as a certain number of repeats of a pattern or motif, rather than a number of stitches. In this case, simply knit your swatch including border stitches and buffer stitches as above.

Swatching in the Round

If the majority of your project will be knit in the round, you should consider swatching in the round. Most people knit and purl with different tensions, and when knitting in the round the ratio of knit to purl changes. Knitting stockinette in the round, where there is no purling at all, versus knitting it flat, where half the stitches are purled, may result in a different tension and gauge.

Swatching in the round is easy! And fun!

Using a circular needle, knit a row (including border and buffer stitches), then slide it back to the other side of the needle, loosely draping the yarn to the back of the swatch, and begin knitting on the right side again. When you're finished, you can cut the loose strands on the back and lay your swatch flat.

Swatched in the Round

A Note About Row Gauge

Many knitters only swatch to determine their stitch gauge. Row gauge can be easily altered by knitting more or fewer rows. However, row gauge that differs significantly from a pattern will affect how shaping is spaced in a pattern. It will also affect the depth of any short row shaping. A full swatch is always best to determine your fabric’s characteristics and to get a sense for your row gauge, even if it’s not essential for your pattern.

Prepping your Swatch

Now that you've knit a masterpiece swatch, it's time to see how you measure up! Cast off your swatch - measuring a swatch that’s still on the needles won’t yield accurate numbers! Measure your swatch before and after washing it. It's important to determine how much your knitting changes after washing. This can be incredibly valuable when you're knitting. For example, if it doesn't look like your item will fit, you can refer to your gauge swatch to see how much the fabric will grow to determine if it will actually fit.

When you do wash your swatch, wash it as you intend to wash the finished object. If you will hand wash your item with wool wash and block it with wires and pins, do that with your swatch. If you're going to machine-wash and dry your item, do that. Often, pattern designers will provide blocking instructions, so refer to those if they’re present.

Measuring Your Swatch

When your swatch has dried, it’s time for the moment of truth: measuring and counting your stitches. Using locking stitch markers or scrap yarn, mark a 4”/10cm square in the middle of your swatch. Now, count how many stitches wide the square is. Then, how many rows tall your square is. That’s your gauge.

A gauge checker if a very handy tool to have for measuring swatches! Just lay out your swatch (no stretching!) and put the checker on top. Count how many stitches wide and tall appear through the windows, and that's your gauge!

Now What?

So you’ve determined your gauge - great! Now is the tricky part - determining if your gauge is a good fit for the pattern.

First, before even looking at the pattern - do you like the fabric of your swatch? Does it have the appropriate structure or drape for your pattern? Is the stitch definition where you want it to be? These are important questions to ask of your swatch, particularly if you are substituting yarns. You can match the pattern’s gauge exactly, but if the fabric characteristics don’t match, the finished item won’t match the pattern photos.

Then, compare your gauge to the pattern gauge. Does it match exactly? Remember, a swatch off by even one stitch could make a difference of inches on a full garment.

If your gauge matches exactly, congrats! Cast on your project!

If your swatch doesn’t match the pattern gauge at all (if you’re off by more than one stitch), you should swatch again. If you have more stitches than you should, go up a needle size. If you have fewer stitches than you should, go down. Knitting more than one swatch at once is a good idea, especially if you want to compare the fabric you make on different needles.

But what if…

your swatch isn’t off by that much, or

you did get gauge but you don’t like the fabric?

Then, you’ll have to do some simple calculations to determine which pattern size will give you a FO that fits. In Part 3 of the Getting Gauge series, we’ll go over those simple calculations and the reasoning behind them so you can knit any garment to fit, no matter your gauge.

Did you learn anything new here about swatching? Do you have any tips or tricks for swatching? Please, leave a comment to share!

Kendra Hunt
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Getting Gauge Part 1: What is Knitting Gauge and Why Should I Care?

Part 1 of the Getting Gauge Series - what is gauge and why does it matter?

Kendra Hunt
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Color Ways: MoonRise

Color Ways: MoonRise

Exploring 2-color knitting patterns and 3-color knitting patterns inspired by Colorful Eclectic's MoonRise Collection, inspired by Tula Pink De La Luna. Knitting pattern recommendations for sweaters and shawls to knit this fall. 

Kendra Hunt
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