Gauge and needle size in dishcloths

I was sitting at my kitchen table this morning, drinking coffee and knitting (!). I know can you believe it, actually knitting a dishcloth. I’ll show you a picture in just a bit.

Anyway, as I was knitting this new dishcloth I was watching the design pop up so nicely and I started thinking about the various emails I get about knitters having trouble with the design showing up. It’s usually a variation of the same theme: they can’t see the design. The purl bumps don’t pop up.

I have given this A LOT of thought over the last year. And done quite a bit of experimentation. With my normal knitting style, I have no trouble whatsoever getting the design to show up. When I block my dishcloths, I don’t need to pick at the purl bumps to pull them up into place to see them better. I am just blocking them to make the corners a little more square and so they will lay flat for a photo. The design is already nice and puffy.

A couple of years ago I was having test knitters help me out and I had a couple of test knitters whose dishcloths were simply gorgeous! I asked them, what are you doing to make the design pop out so well? The answer was nothing! They didn’t use small needles, they didn’t use special blocking techniques. One test knitter said she barely had to block her dishcloth at all.

I began experimenting with knitting the dishcloths. My usual style to knit my cloths is to use size 6 metal needles. Specifically, I use Knit Picks Options Interchangeable Nickel Plated Circular Needles. I have the set. I also have several additional short cables and size 6 tips.I should mention that I knit with the 6s even though I recommend the 7s for my patterns because I am a loose knitter. I knit Continental Style because it is much quicker and my tension is very even, but it is loose. I often have to go down a needle size to obtain the proper gauge. Way back when I first started designing the patterns I figured I should recommend size 7 needles since I use size 6. I have recently begun putting size 6 on my patterns but I may change all of that after all this experimentation.

I began knitting dishcloths using smaller tips: 5s and 4s and even went larger up to a 7. I tried using the Harmony wooden tips (I have the whole set of those as well) in a variety of sizes from 7 down to 4. I knit normally; I knit tightly.

Here is what I found:

The tighter you knit, the harder it is to see your design.

The smaller needles make a tight fabric. And you can make it even tighter by pulling the yarn tight. I tried it several different ways. But when you have a tight fabric, your purl bumps are also tight. They simply do not have enough give in them to pop up. As you knit you need to pull up on the loops of the purl bumps just enough to make them sit up on top of the fabric. You need to learn to knit just a little looser. Not a lot looser, but enough that you are not pulling the purls tightly and pulling them flat.

Some other  interesting things I found out:

Try knitting with metal needles versus wooden needles (if you’re using the dishcloth cotton yarn).

This one may just be specific to me. But I sort of think not. Cotton yarn is very “grabby” and simply refuses to slide along on the wooden needles. I found that I knit much tighter on the wooden needles. The purl bumps wouldn’t pop up at all when I knit with the wooden needles. I was pulling them flat because my knitting was tight. With the metal needles, everything slides along nicely and I was able to pull the loops up reasonably.

Smaller needles will get you rectangular cloths.

This is just more of a note for those of you who are using smaller needles to knit my dishcloths. I have not designed them to be knit that way. You will end up with a short rectangular cloth because there are not enough rows to compensate for the smaller needles. Every time I knit with the size 4s or 5s my dishcloths ended up rectangular. It was very annoying. Blocking helped some, but if you are going to use those super small needles, you should add a row or two of stockinette on each end between the border and the design.

It is possible to knit too loose to see the design.

I tried knitting very loosely. And I tried knitting with 7s. For me that’s pretty loose. Knitting with size 7s, I could still see the design, but only OK. Knitting super loose with size 7s things started to fall apart. I would estimate that would be the equivalent of  a knitter with regular tension knitting with almost 9s.

All of this comes down to individual knitting style.

I know that I will have knitters telling me that there is no way they will be able to see the design if they use larger needles (such as 6s or 7s) and others saying they just have to pull the yarn tightly. This was my experimentation. Done over a large number of cloths with a variety of needle sizes and two types (wooden and metal). I knit quickly in Continental style with a very even tension although it does tend to be loose. If you are having trouble seeing the design, try a different needle size, but don’t automatically assume you need to go smaller. Or check your tension. Change your needle type to help you loosen up. If you are a new knitter, try to train yourself to knit looser. It does get easier.

And now a picture I promised:

This is one of my latest designs. It’s from my new baby collection of dishcloth patterns. I’ve had this in the works for over a year now. I typed up the set of patterns in October; I just haven’t had a chance to knit them up until now. You can see this is unblocked and in progress and notice how the design just pops out. This wasn’t taken with any fancy lighting or camera. I just snapped it with my iPhone (no flash available) and I’m pretty amazed at how great it turned out.

Here’s another one:

I took this one with the tape measure because I get some email saying how my cloths aren’t 9 inches square – that they are much smaller, less than 8 inches. This is unblocked, unstretched, in progress. I’m using size 6 needles to knit it. Again taken with my iPhone so nothing fancy. It’s a little hard to see (if you click on the picture you’ll see it larger), but the tape measure shows that the cloth is very nearly 9 inches across.

Happy knitting everyone!

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7 Responses to “Gauge and needle size in dishcloths”

  1. Penny August 23, 2011 at 1:51 pm #

    I tend to knit very tightly and this was very helpful. I’m going to work on getting it just a little looser!

  2. Bev Pier March 15, 2012 at 1:08 am #

    I find that the patterns that are all Knit stitches on every other row, and the pattern is made by K & P on the purl row, show up much better than the ones that have both K & P on every row.

    • Emily March 17, 2012 at 8:14 am #

      Hi Bev,
      Thanks for your comment. I completely agree with you that designs made by garter stitch show up much better. I think the designs that use reverse stockinette on a stockinette background end up looking sort of flat. Many of my designs will have all knit stitches every other row with the design rows on the purl row. Sometimes for spacing reasons it is the opposite with all purling every other row, but either way it creates a garter stitch picture on the stockinette background.
      Take care,
      Emily

  3. Julie May 1, 2013 at 5:32 am #

    Thanks for the tips. I knit loosely and use metal or plastic needles. My problem is that I often have knit stitches popping out among the purl stitches, especially when it is just a single knit stitch sandwiched in among purls. Any suggestions?

    • Emily May 28, 2013 at 10:16 pm #

      Hi Julie,
      It does sound like you are a very loose knitter. I would maybe try to go down a needle size or possibly try bamboo needles. For me when I knit with cotton on bamboo, I find I’m knitting much tighter. The bamboo may grab at your yarn better and help keep it under control and from popping out as you are knitting.
      Good luck!
      Emily

  4. Anna Colonese October 24, 2013 at 8:47 am #

    can you use worsted weight yarn? also how do I make a afghan out of the squares> thank you, new knitter.

    • Emily November 18, 2013 at 10:44 am #

      Hi Anna,
      Yes you can use worsted weight yarn. That is probably the best weight to use. To make an afghan, I would probably knit all the squares separately and then join them together by sewing by hand. If you were using all the same color yarn for the squares, you could also make long strips of squares, one on top of the other by simply starting a new pattern once you finished one (be careful with the right and wrong sides.) Then you would only have to sew the long strips together.
      Emily

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