Your Mood & Your Gauge – A Psychological Study

– Not to sound desperate but Please Read This: I need input! –

The panic monster in my head started screaming at me one dreary morning this week, it was a litany of “you swatched this, why can’t you do anything right?” and “do you even know how to knit”. Well Panic Monster, I did a little study and proved that you are seriously messing up my knitting.

The back story to this diatribe is that a few weeks ago I designed a pattern for a baby blanket. I swatched, double checked, changed sizes to accommodate my misbehaving hand and put it aside knowing it would be ready when I went to cast on. So on Monday I did just that, I proceeded to cast on a whopping 244 stitches and went full speed ahead fully intending on pumping out this blanket. To my horror, the blanket felt stiff and tight. No longer was this the soft, airy, loose baby blanket I had envisioned, honestly the silly thing felt more like a rug than a blanket. I doubled checked all my notes and my swatch, I was doing exactly what I had planned. No deviation from the original swatch. So what happened?

The psychology major in me (one of my many degrees screams my OCD, type-A rattled mind) decided that my hand was not to blame for this one, my brain was the culprit. When I originally did my swatch I was relaxed; the weather was beautiful so the windows were open, I was as well rested as I get and Max was curled in my lap mesmerized by the yarn moving inches from his face. All was good in my brain the day of the swatch. On Monday, the day after Mother’s Day, I still felt emotionally hung over from once again not being a Mom. I was tense, upset, hadn’t slept well and had consumed copious amounts of caffeine. You can guess what comes next.

My Panic Monster was messing with my knitting.

I frogged the blanket and did another swatch, appalled by the fact I needed needles two sizes bigger to achieve the same effect. For all you non-knitters out there, two sizes is a huge difference – just picture needing shoes two sizes bigger. Two sizes…what are you supposed to do with that? and how much of this has affected my other knitted items? I have never noticed a finish product looking awkward or clunky, so how do you proceed?

Well, there are sedative….Just kidding. Kind of. You’ll see.

I spent the week doing the same swatch while experiencing the following emotions: Exhaustion (up for more than 19 hours), Happiness, Calmness, Sedation (a happy little pill to calm the Panic Monster that I rarely use, but after Mother’s Day I was a mess for several days) and Extreme Anxiety. I would come back to my needles during these emotions, knit the original swatch and then proceed to correct it with the appropriate needles. The results were a tad jarring.

Swatch: 10rows by 10rows should be 4″ by 4″ on size 7 needles.

  1. Exhaustion: Swatch was 5″ by 5.4″. Desired swatch size had to be changed to size 6 needles with increase in tension.
  2. Happiness: Swatch was 4″ by 4″. No changes necessary. Also no surprise.
  3. Calmness: Swatch was 4″ by 4.6″. Only slight correction in tension needed.
  4. Sedation: Swatch was 6.2″ by 8.7! Changed to size 5 needles rendered a product of 5″ by 5.4″. Changed to size 4 needles 4.1″ by 4.2″. Once tension was correct the product was 4″ by 4″.
  5. Extreme Anxiety: Swatch was 2.8″ by 3.1″. Change to size 9 needles resulted in 3.9″ by 3.8″. Consideration with tension and yet another swatch led me to size 10 needles which was 4.1″ by 4.1″.

I am rarely sedated so I’ve dismiss this as a duh! moment, if you are fuzzy and loopy of course your knitting isn’t going to be tight. That’s why it’s not a good idea to knit while drunk, one of the many good ideas :). It was the Extreme Anxiety swatch that scares me; as I move my knitting to sweaters, shrugs and socks my anxiety could produce a product that is never going to fit right. How can you correct for the Panic Monster?

What I have noticed is that my knitting relaxes me. So I asked a nurse at work to watch my vitals during a panic attack; everyone I work with already knows about my Panic Monster and I have never felt ashamed of it. Thank God for nurses, oh hell, hospital staff in general. Nothing surprises them. Anyway,  after about 20 minutes of straight knitting I am calmer, my heart rate slows and my blood pressure drops. So I have come to the conclusion that I need to be knitting something simple for about 20 minutes before moving on to the more complex, more complicated types of knitting to ensure that my gauge is correct. I am going to have to do the same thing before I swatch a pattern out so that I can avoid more frogging.

Yowzer. What a week.

So, friends and neighbors who manage to get through my ramblings I would like to ask a few questions. Have anything like this happened to you? Do you find that your swatches can vary from one day to the next? How do you work through the process of ensuring that what you are knitting will be the exact shape and size that it needs to be?

27 thoughts on “Your Mood & Your Gauge – A Psychological Study

  1. Geekette Palette

    That was a very interesting study in gauge ! I believe my knitting does vary depending on my mood too. A few years ago I ended up at the hospital and I just had a crochet and cotton yarn, and I crocheted so incredibly tight, because of all the anxiety. I find out that I also need to warm up (both physically and mentally) with something easy to knit, something that doesn’t require my brain to be focused, before I can go for more complex stuff.
    I have a weird trick to fight panick attack, it’s to tidy up the toom I’m in. The more stuff there is at sight in the room, the less I can focus on my knitting, go figure.

    1. allnightknits Post author

      That actually makes perfect sense and is a great idea! Sometimes looking at my overflowing knitting basket makes me lose my focus. Thank you so much for sharing, this really means a lot to me!

  2. Sara M

    When I was knitting the baby kimono sweater, I noticed that my gauge got tighter and tighter as my ball of yarn was getting dangerously small. That meant I had to do quite a bit of aggressive blocking to get both sleeves to be the same size. 🙂 I only finished with 4″ of yarn to spare, so without knitting that tightly, I wouldn’t have had enough yarn, so I guess it wasn’t a terrible thing…

  3. creativelycarolyn

    Thank you for sharing that – it’s amazing how knitting and our mood intersects with each other and one impacts the other. You must have amazing insight into yourself to have figured out exactly how different moods affect your gauge!
    I’m not sure what happens to me. I certainly have been experiencing a lot of anxiety of late, and while I generally think to myself ‘I’m consistent in my tension’, reading this post I am realising that I’m probably not. For example, I’m knitting the second hand in a pair of gloves at the moment, and I think it’s just slightly smaller. I’ve been confused as to why, but judging by your experience, maybe it’s my mood! Thanks for sharing your insight and experience!

    1. allnightknits Post author

      Thanks for sharing your story, it’s good too know I am not the only knitter worried about this. It’s been a real learning experience and the comments are very appreciated! Hope the mittens turn out, I’ve sen your work and no doubt they will!

  4. Genie

    I crouched a blanket for an entire year and when it was done, it was only then that I noticed it was not very soft! It was so soothing making it that I didn’t think of feeling the texture because the crocheting was perfect. It was the yarn I used: organic, undyed wool. It’s not very good for blankets! But my dog likes it folded up – so I do get to enjoy the end result because I love my dog so much.

    1. allnightknits Post author

      I’m glad that the project didn’t go to waste, what a lucky dog! I Gus’s this sort of thing happens to everybody at one point or another, way to find the silver lining!

  5. monsteryarns

    If I’m tense I crochet and don’t start new projects. After a few stitches when I’ve not been able to pull the hook through the loop, I put it down, take a few breaths, rub my dog’s ears and feel a lot better. I think you need spaniel’s ears to help you relax : )

  6. lisagono

    It’s totally typical for your knitting tension to change. I once attended a knitting class, where the instructor knit one fair-isle legwarmer with a class in December, and the second legwarmer with a new group doing the same class in June. The June one was fully 50% bigger. Mood, weather, needle material can all change things for sure. Can I suggest having different projects that you pick up depending on your mood? For example, for socks, the tighter you knit the better!

      1. bekswhoknits

        yup I pick what project I’m going to knit/crochet depending on my mood. It’s one of the reasons I have so many unfinished objects.
        I’ve been so stressed lately anything cabled or delicate is completely out of the question.

        Not knitting whilst drunk is also a very good idea. I’ve looked at my knitting in the morning and its been quite clear how many beers I’d had over the course of the night..

  7. knitxpressions

    What an interesting post! I’ve heard about emotions affecting tension, but I’ve never really experienced that myself. I don’t mean to say that I’m always calm and collected, but it’s just that when I’m very upset I can’t cast on, and when I’m very angry I can’t go past casting on….I simply get stuck at getting my cast on rights. It’s horrible, but when I’m a little more in control of my feelings, I can get past all that and start feeling calmer with simple mindless knitting. But your little ‘experiment’ really proves how much a person’s feeling can affect the things we’re working on!

  8. Movies, Silently

    I absolutely have this happen! My mood really tends to affect my gauge but more with knitting than crochet. (I have a really unorthodox way of holding my crochet yarn but it seems to work for me.) I knit English style and fairly tightly so my tense knitting is not too different from my regular knitting, just a matter of a stitch or two. I think my gauge is more varied when I do Continental-style knitting (which I use for a Fair Isle technique). Maybe you could try crazy yarn holding?

  9. Winter Owls

    This was a really interesting post. I know when I am feeling anxious my whole body tenses up, I consciously have to relax my jaw, face and hands. Have you tried yoga, it has had an amazing relaxation effect on me?

    1. allnightknits Post author

      Try not to laugh but I am too competitive for yoga. The one class I took this 90lb blond pretzel was in front of me and I felt worse the day after that class than I did my first marathon! I should just try it at home, maybe that’ll work!

  10. Hannah Rose

    YES! I definitely noticed this before. Of course, I crochet, not knit (though not from lack of trying, haha). I was making a pair of baby booties this weekend and the first one was awesome, the second one…way too small. During the second one, I was dwelling on having to cal the doctor’s office and tell them they messed up on my prescriptions. I hate phone phobia. :/ Anyway, I think you hit it spot on, and your experiment proves it. I can NEVER keep my gauge right. Most of the time I don’t even bother because I know if I work on something later, my stitches will either be tighter or looser. It’s frustrating sometimes. I’ve been working on trying to keep my mood or level of anxiety in mind when I’m working. Ha, I always have to go up a hook size or 2 no matter what thought, and I contribute that to having a constant level of anxiety, which varies in severity.

    1. allnightknits Post author

      I can sympathize. My anxiety has been all over the map for years. I have cut down pretty severely on my medication because the fogginess was worse (for me) than the anxiety. The first month or two I was a total basket case and my Panic Monster was spoon feeding my phobia so it kept getting bigger and bigger.

      Things have leveled out for the most part, sometimes I think going back on the meds would just be easier than trying to control it myself (especially with something you really cannot control all that well, if at all) but sleeping through my life scares the hell out of me. Honestly, and this is horrible, I don’t remember my own wedding. I was so anxious that the doc sent in a prescription and I was so zonked that I really just have fragmented memories of it.

      Take care of yourself, and remember that stitches can be frogged, anxiety eventually goes away and you’re far too talented to let something as annoying as your Panic Monster mess with your life. Easier said than done but you get the point 😉

  11. knittingwithheart

    This is a very interesting post, matched only by it’s interesting comments! I don’t have a panic monster and try not to knit drunk. For me, messed-up and dropped stitches have a higher frequency when angry thoughts enters into the calmness of my knitting mind… And so, I’ve learned, for the sake of the WIP, that it is necessary to clear-away the clutter of bad thoughts before knitting on ❤


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