January's Project is an Aran Sweater
EZ was so obsessed with gauge and teaching knitters to understand its importance that she insisted on printing it in a completely different font each time it appeared in her books. It should be no surprise, then, that the first step of making a sweater is to do a swatch - and a large one at that.
Allow me to make a bit of a confession. I am highly resistant to swatching. I would much rather cast on a sleeve or something small and rip it all out if the gauge doesn't come out right than swatch. If I feel I must swatch, I usually try to knit the smallest amount I think I can get away with - about two inches wide and no more than six rows. This is not a good habit. Let me repeat: Do as I say, not as I do...you need to swatch more and larger than that!
However, having made a commitment to the almanac and the process of it all, I swatched Elizabeth Zimmerman style. She first gives the gauge over stockinette (thank goodness), then encourages you to work the pattern for the sweater into a hat so that you get a large enough piece to truly measure and play with. Now this is the kind of swatching I can get behind! I did my standard, tiny swatch until I landed on the appropriate needles for me, then I cast on 100 stitches for the hat.
Ten minutes later I was ripping it all out because I had failed to think for myself, count the stitches and pattern repeats, and space them properly. I was quite glad I had done that on a hat-sized piece instead of a body-sized piece. By the evening of January 1, I had a serviceable hat that told me everything I needed to know about the sweater I was embarking on. Let me say, I am a HUGE fan of the hat-as-swatch. Having a useful hat come out of it in the end is all the encouragement I need to make a large enough swatch. And, as an unexpected bonus, what an ego boost to get compliments on the fine pattern and lovely stitches before a single piece of the main sweater is done. How can one not feel like one's project is going to be a success when perfect strangers are admiring the swatch?
For those who need to know, I am using Lion Brand Fisherman's Wool for this project (I got it on clearance about two years ago with just this sweater in mind...) and my beloved ChiaoGoo interchangeable needles. I don't think I could face all those twisted stitches without the deliciously pointy tips. Here's my Ravelry project page with all the juicy details of the decreases. If you decide the knit the almanac along with me, please let me know, and use the hashtag #EZsAlmanac on social media. So far I've introduced it to Twitter, Instagram, and Ravelry, but you don't have to limit yourself!