TKGA – Swatches and the Dangers of “Read Instructions Carefully”

I’m the type of person where once I’m interested in something I read everything about it.  If I want to learn a new features on my camera I start with the manual and then I look for even more instructions so I’m sure I understand what I read.  When I’m looking at my mortgage statements online I click the links that further define a term and still find that lacking.

So what does that mean?  Well it means if you tell me to be sure to carefully read all instructions then I am going to do that.  If you say it more than once than I am going to read those things word for word and you better believe I will try to follow them word for word.  You want to see how dangerous this is?  Well this came up when I was trying to block my first swatches for the TKGA Master Hand Knitter’s program.  Here is a quote from their blocking instructions

“The swatches should be “squared off”. This means that each side should be the same length.”

Well here is the resulting mind rant that was stuck in my head for weeks from just those two little sentences:

Okay these first few swatches are all about gauge.  But wait, there is no room or need to measure your actual gauge.  I have these instructions that are set up so that I absolutely have to have 5.5 stitches per inch no matter what.  Why?  Well let’s go through it.

  1. Block instructions insist that swatches should be “squared off” and this is even further explained that it means each side should be the same length.
  2. The swatches require 25 sts at bind off
  3. The swatches tell you to knit for 4.5”  

So where does this lead?  It leads to a blocked swatch that is 4.5” wide with 25 stitches.  Guess what?  That is 5.5 stitches per inch.  The only reason it may not be is because you’re not supposed to measure selvage stitches but even so this is what it should work out to in all practicality.

And to make matters worse:

The instructions insist that you do not over block or otherwise distort your stitches

Uhhh, okay?  So … hmm.  Let’s say my worsted weight yarn says my gauge should be from 4.5 – 5.5 stitches per inch based on my needle size.  Ok, great, I knit 4.5 stitches per inch.  Well crap how do you knit 4.5 stitches per inch and have it block to 4.5 inches wide with 25 stitches?  Because I have to tell you I’m pretty sure my swatch is going to be closer to 5.5 inches now.

Well okay I guess I could felt it, that could get it small enough to “square off” … err no, no, wait, because I can’t felt in just one direction so now it will be shorter too. Plus I’m pretty sure felting is considered a distortion of some sort.  Okay, okay, I’ll re-knit the swatch with smaller needles.

Well crap, now I knit 6 stitches per inch.  My swatch is now just a bit over 4” wide.  Well, okay, I can block an extra half inch out of that. Right?  Well yes, yes, I can.  I’m talented like that.  See? Look at my nice over blocked (flattened) stitches.  Wait, what?  I can’t over block … hmm.  Well crap.  Now what?

Alright I can find the right gauge for this swatch with a few more trial and error … but … what about the other swatches?  I have to use the same yarn and needle and I know that my stockinette, garter, and seed stitch do not use the same gauge.  Well crap once again, now I’m truly stumped. I’m going to go knit something else.

And, yes, this did go through my head for quite a while.  I finally e-mailed the question off to TKGA and got an answer quickly which I very much appreciate.

It turns out that the swatches don’t have to be square.  Each side doesn’t mean all four sides are the same.  It means the left and right sides match each other and the top and bottom sides match each other but do not have to match the left and right sides.  So a rectangle.  She was kind enough to warn me that the increase and decrease swatches will have different top and bottom measurements, an isosceles trapezoid, and this is okay as well.

I’m glad she warned me or it would probably have set off another mental rant about the impossibility of doing an increase/decrease without causing mismatched “sides.”  So what I’m still not sure of is if I was supposed to apply “common sense” to those two sentences or if I just got caught on the complexity of the English language.  Each side could translate to each pair of sides.  “Side” could mean left and right and the top and bottom are not sides at all.  I really don’t know.  I also don’t know if I should stop trying to read the instructions so exactly or what.

This is bringing me back to junior high where I always went up to ask the teacher to clarify test questions because they could be read in such a way to have two different answers.  Those teachers got frustrated very quickly.  Hopefully the TKGA committee members are more patient or at least have a sense of humor.

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