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"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 knitting."
- 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 washcloths.

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 useful? Right?

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 wonderful washcloths.

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

Coney Island Washcloths

(Click photo to zoom.)

Samples made with Kitchen Cotton
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 ends.

Authored by

Michelle Edwards is the author/illustrator of A KNITTER'S HOME COMPANION and many award-winning children's books including CHICKEN MAN and STINKY STERN FOREVER. In her spare time, Michelle enjoys talking about books in schools throughout the US and beyond. Her newest book, Room for the Baby, will be available from Random House in Fall 2012. Visit Michelle Edwards at her website or on Facebook.
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