MDK Atlas: Shifting Gauge
For me the new year comes with wanting to think about some familiar and even beloved things in a new way. I don’t do goals, but I look at things I might want to shift a little, a little more of this, a little less of that.
Working with Atlas, I’ve noticed that it shifts gauges quite nicely, which surprised me until I thought a bit about its construction.
Woolen spun yarns are the best gauge shifters, but even though Atlas is a worsted spun yarn, it has properties that let it keep structure as looser gauges.
What lets it shift?
I knit Atlas (the color is Cedar, a perfect golden brown) in three gauges: 18 stitches, 16 stitches, and 14 stitches to 4 inches (left to right in the photo). Only 18 stitches/4 inches is a recommended ball band gauge.
The two things that allow Atlas to pretty successfully shift gauge are the fiber it’s made from and the twist used to make the yarn. The yarn is made from 100% Rambouillet wool, a fiber that is buttery soft and has a lot of crimp. Crimp imparts elasticity to a fiber and yarn, and Rambouillet’s crimp is like a tightly coiled spring. The second element, twist, is what holds the yarn together.
Atlas is spun with a light twist in both the single and the ply, allowing the crimp to do its thing, spring. If the twist was tighter it would hold the crimp so it couldn’t shift around so easily. With a lighter twist there is more air in the yarn, and that gives the crimp room to help hold structure at a looser gauge.
As you knit Atlas at a looser gauge things change both structurally and visually—everything relaxes. Stitches look looser. I can see in my stockinette swatches that my stitches aren’t quite as tidy, and my rowing out shows more. In my lace swatches the overall visual feeling of the swatches softens.
In my lace swatches, the yarn overs are wonderfully open, which I quite like, even though the lace pattern doesn’t have quite the same shape, it’s less substantial.
One of my favorite things about shifting to a looser gauge with a yarn is it always brings drape to the party. Because of its crimp, Atlas isn’t what I’d call a drapey yarn. But loosen up the gauge and it starts to slouch in a terrific way. The swatches compared here are 18 stitches to the inch and 14 stitches to the inch. I don’t know about you, but I’m adding an Atlas chunky lace shawl to my queue.
Stitch definition and structure
The softening of stitch definition and structure works well for stockinette and lace, but it may not be what you want for cables or texture stitches. Cables don’t really collapse, but they look and feel a little squashy as the gauge gets bigger.
They start to lose their shape a little and may get drapey.
It’s not a deal breaker, but be aware a gauge shift may not be what you want if you want a crisp cable.
Sometimes a little is good, but a lot isn’t quite right
There are times I like a shifted gauge better than a ball band gauge, like in these slip-stitch swatches. The middle swatch is 100% Goldilocks for me, the ball band gauge (left) looks compressed, and the largest shift (right) is just not right.
Especially in colorwork make sure to swatch gauge shifts. This is the ballband gauge and the loosest gauge side by side. At the loosest gauge the ‘picture’ of the slip stitch pattern starts to dissolve. For intarsia and Fair Isle, if your gauge is too loose, the yarns carried behind become visible.
Watch out for
A couple of other things to be aware of as you shift gauge are durability and density. A looser gauge opens up your knitting (literally) to pilling. A soft, fine fibered yarn like Atlas will pill more at a looser gauge. Knitting at a looser gauge creates bigger more open stitches which brings into play what I call the peek-a-boo factor. The looser a yarn is knit the more you can see through it.
Knitting is adaptable to nearly your every whim. The best thing you can do to see how a fabric behaves, and if you like it is to swatch. I know, I know, some knitters think swatch should be spelled with four letters, but it perfectly scratches so many itchy knitting questions. How will this yarn shift gauge and do I like it, are worth the time on the couch with a movie, swatching.