"Take some of your wool and the size needle your intelligence
tells you might be right, and make a swatch. That is to say, suit
the needle size to your own personal and peculiar way of
- Elizabeth Zimmermann, Knitter's Almanac
Somewhere, maybe even here, in my home town of Iowa City, Iowa,
there's a neuroscientist at work, mapping out the peculiar nerve
pathways inside a knitter's brain. Once completed, we might
finally have a guide to understanding the odd journeys we knitters
occasionally embark on. Like this summer, for instance, a summer
of oppressive heat and drought, when I found myself pondering
Usually we think of washcloths as gaugeless, "gauge not
important." But what does "gauge unimportant" really mean? That
any gauge will do? Should we just follow the ball band's
recommendation? Or, do we cast on the stated amount of stitches on
whatever needles we have around and proceed with confidence? After
all, it is a washcloth, however it turns out, it will still be
I'm not sure a neuroscientist will ever fathom why this
knitter's quandary nagged at me. But it did. And to top it all,
while the summer's scorching dryness turned our soft green lawns
to a pale and crunchy brown, there was the lure of a new washcloth
yarn, Lion Brand Kitchen Cotton. I had five skeins, each
exuberantly bright, several with enticing names like Tropic Breeze
and Bubblegum. They reminded me of childhood visits to my
grandmother in Coney Island.
Investigating gauge with a yarn that brought back memories of the
boardwalk's neon lights and the ocean's soft breezes seemed like a
perfect project for my air-conditioned inside days. Kitchen Cotton
is a worsted weight yarn and the ball band recommends #7 needles.
So I planned to knit on needles spanning from size 5 to 10.5, all
in the same simple pattern (see Notes).
Most of my knitting was done in the evenings. My youngest daughter
had engaged us in a Friday Night Lights marathon. I'm not a
football or a TV fan, but this rural Texas drama kept my needles
moving and my heart pounding. When the Dillon Panthers won the
State championship, I lost my place in the pattern and had to rip
back several rows. By the time I cast off the last washcloth, I
had learned that a quarterback is the most important player on the
team and that a range of gauges can create a useful range of
How did gauge affect the washcloths?
Gauge determines size, shape, drape, and yardage. The tighter the
gauge, the denser the fabric, and the more yarn needed. The looser
the gauge, the wider the washcloth. Gauge varies from knitter to
knitter. When in doubt, start with the ball band's recommendation.
I tend to knit tight that's why I could use size 10.5 needles and
still get a workable washcloth at 3.5 stitches to an inch.
It's rained a few times since I cast on the first washcloth.
There's a hint of green returning to our lawn. Soon our nights
will stay cool, and our days, too. Then I'll contemplate other
"gauge not important" patterns like baby blankets and simple
shawls. And when that happens, the washcloths will serve to remind
me that gauge is always important, even when it's not.
Coney Island Washcloth
(Click photo to zoom.)
Samples made with Kitchen
Gauge not important. Try out in several needle sizes.
Cast on 36 stitches.
Row 1 (RS) Knit two, purl two to the end.
Row 2 (WS) Knit the knits, purl the purls.
Rows 3,4 Knit
Repeat until desired length. End on Row 2.
Bind off knit stitches knitwise, purl stitches purlwise. Weave in