In search of getting gauge

In case you don’t know already, I’m a loose knitter.  When I knit Continental (my “go to” method), I knit pretty fast.  The price I pay for speed is that sometimes my stitches don’t look as tidy as I’d like.

Any pattern I swatch for begins on a needle two sizes down. This can be a real drag when you get down to smaller needles.  I look on jealously at the people who comfortably knit to gauge.

Last year, while taking a class on Fair Isle knitting, I learned that when I knit English style I knit to gauge.  Not only that, sometimes I have to go up a needle size.  The problem (for me) knitting English style is that I throw my yarn wide like I’m starting a lawn mower. 

photo credit: Andrea Wong

In February I took a Craftsy class on Portuguese Knitting with Andrea Wong. I was curious if this method would sort out my challenges with gauge.

Here is a good explanation of the origin and execution from the blog, The Knitting Needle and the Damage Done.

“Most knitters in Western society are familiar with the two most common styles of knitting: English style, in which the yarn is kept at proper tension using the right hand; and Continental, in which the yarn is kept in play using the left hand…. But there is another common method you may not know about called Portuguese knitting.

Portuguese knitting, also known as Turkish Knitting, Incan Knitting, Andean Knitting and “around the neck knitting”, originated among Arabic knitters. The technique gradually spread north from Africa and the Middle East to the Mediterranean, the Balkans (especially Bulgaria and Greece), the Iberian Peninsula and eventually came to South America via Spanish and Portuguese colonization.”

A friend of mine forwarded me a very timely article from Knitting Daily. “The fascinating thing about Portuguese knitting is that it’s worked with the purl stitch. Stay with me—there’s no moving the yarn from back to front, the motion is a simple flick of the thumb. It’s really quite amazing. The yarn is tensioned using a knitting pin, or sometimes by putting it behind your neck. Once you get used to this method, the only motion for this style of knitting is that little flick of the thumb.”

What an interesting process.  The stitches are worked in a completely different fashion. At first I tried it out tensioning the yarn around my neck.  That worked well enough, however it wasn’t fluid enough for me.  Next I tried a coiless safety pin.  That worked great.  I had to be sure I liked the method before investing in equipment.  It’s all about the notions. 

I doubt you’d be surprised to learn that I had bookmarked this clip before even taking the class. After my due diligence I purchased it from Etsy. I prefer to use a clip versus a pin so that a pin doesn’t ruin my clothing.

The difference in my gauge is unparalleled. The picture above is a comparison of my ribbing for the Cirrus Poncho.  After going down two needle sizes for the ribbing for this poncho, my gauge still wasn’t right and I had to recalculate the cast on number to get the right width of the cuff (knitting on the right side of the photo). The ribbing on the left was done knitting Portuguese style, it looks like two different people knit these pieces. I was on gauge and do not have to modify the pattern to accommodate my loosey, goosey knitting.

I find this method easier to maintain than knitting English style.  I can keep my stitches even and get gauge.

I’ll still use Continental for speed and the use of different muscles. Currently I’m knitting two projects with the Portuguese method, the Cirrus Poncho and the Odele T Shirt.