Sunday, August 31, 2003

What Does "Mambocat" mean?"

I must admit that I am cheered to already have an e-mail from my new blog, this one asking the meaning of "Mambocat."

Although I now live in Baton Rouge, LA, I was born and raised in New Orleans, LA, USA, where "mambo" music, associated with Mardi Gras, is well known. I chose the name based on the wiggly, hip-swinging, sashay of a fat cat's natural walk, which seems to go so nicely to the mambo beat.

"Cats are women in little fur coats. Dogs are men in little fur coats." -- Author unknown

"Time spent with cats is never wasted." -- Oscar Wilde

And for all you knitters who think it's "cute" when your cats (or dogs) play with yarn, please remember that ingested yarn or thread can cause grievous, life-threatening damage to your pet's intestinal system. However "cute" Fluffy may look playing with yarn, it can kill her. Please keep your yarn and thread away from your pets, and if you ever see thread or yarn hanging out of your pet's anus, DO NOT TOUCH IT and DO NOT PULL IT! Call your veterinarian immediately.



Some rainy-day thoughts about gauge...

There are some aspects of gauge which never seem to be discussed on KnitU or the KnitList.

Specifically, the fact that the suggested gauge on the yarn's ball band may not be suitable for the project you, the knitter, wish to create on your own.

For example, the gauge suggested on the ball band for most worsted weight yarns generally will produce a fabric that drapes in a manner suitable for a sweater. However, if you are designing your own shawl, you may want a slightly looser gauge. And if you are designing an afghan, you will want a slightly denser fabric. A knitted afghan done at sweater gauge may be a bit too loose and stretchy to be used as a blanket. If you are designing a pair of thick hiking socks using worsted weight yarn, you will want an even denser gauge, or the socks will wear too quickly, and may not be elastic enough to stay up on your leg.

So, the real secret to a good fabric when you are designing your own garment is to swatch, regardless of what the ball band says, changing needle sizes, until you arrive at a fabric that feels appropriate for what you want to do with the yarn. THEN count the number of stitches per inch -- the number of stitches per inch that produced the desired fabric YOU want to work with. And finally, multiply THIS number by the number of inches in width (or circumference) needed for your garment.

The best swatch to give you a sense of what the fabric will be like should be at least 40 stitches wide, and at least 3 or 4 inches long, IN PATTERN. Don't like it? Change needle sizes until it produces the feel and drape you want to achieve for the item you want to make.

This is a very simple concept, yet I see so many knitters disappointed with the item they produced because they swatched until they got the gauge suggested on the ball band, and then designed their garment using THAT gauge, only to end up with a stiff shawl or a droopy afghan.

It's good advice to use the suggested gauge on the ball band only if you are going to make an item the yarn was designed for. If you are going to make anything but socks with sock yarn, swatch until you get the fabric you like, measure ITS gauge, and do your math from there.

This concept seems to be even more lost in crochet. Crochet, by its nature, is thicker and less elastic than knitting because you are actually tying a KNOT with each stitch. Granted, you are making a series of connected knots, but they are knots nonetheless. I often feel the suggested crochet gauge on most yarn ball bands will produce a fabric that is too stiff. Again, change hook sizes until the fabric feels right to YOU. And make a swatch at least 6 or so inches wide, and work for at least 3-4 inches before you consider whether or not you like the resulting fabric. Change hooks sizes if you don't. Anything smaller won't give you a feel for the resulting fabric.

I see a lot of gauge and swatch discussion on the knitting sites on the Internet, but seldom do I see the topic discussed on crochet sites. I have no idea why, but perhaps this explains all the Mile-A-Minute afghans out there that are so thick and inflexible, they could be used for fall mats in karate class.

Many knitters and crocheters seem to view the swatch as a waste of time. The real waste of time is putting many hours into a garment or other item that you will not be satisfied with. Swatching before beginning your project is like putting a coat of primer on the wall before you begin to paint. It is not a waste of time, rather, it is something you must do if you want to achieve an excellent result.

Bonus: you can unravel the yarn after you swatch, use it in another project, or keep it for an emergency in case you run short of the amount of yarn for your project.



Saturday, August 30, 2003

This is my first post to my brand-new blog, so I suppose this entry should serve as an introduction.

If you like to knit, and you have confidence in your brain and your hands, and you're not allergic to a bit of math, you may find my posts useful.

If you are a process knitter, you may enjoy my ramblings. I won't be writing much about how many items I have to crank out before Christmas Eve. I am much more interested in the process of knitting, the passage of yarn between the fingers, and the sanity-invoking aspects of this ancient craft.

Knitting helps keep me sane in an insane world, and it's a helluva lot cheaper than Prozac. Which is why this blog is called Mambocat's Knitting Asylum. I am Mambocat. Welcome to the Asylum.

If you are interested in the technical aspects of the craft, and in the behavior of fiber and yarn, and if you have an interest in handspinning, there will be something for you as well. I crochet a bit too, and if you are a crocheter who doesn't spell "cute" with a "k," you might find an occasional interesting item here.

And if, by chance, you work in the field of animal care or have a family member affected by stroke, you will find words of interest here. I work at a public animal shelter serving close to half a million citizens. Animal sheltering is a stressful, honorable, maddening, joyous, heartbreaking, but ultimately rewarding, vocation. Please, people, spay or neuter your pets and keep them confined for their own protection. No excuses.

Last year, my husband had two strokes at age 48, turning his life upside down, re-arranging mine, and leaving me astonished at the lack of real support out there for the long-term at-home needs of stroke survivors and their family members. Dealing with the long-term stress and frustration of stroke is tough. Having something soothing and useful to do with one's hands helps a great deal to take the edge off.

You may write to me at if you would like to correspond further on any of these topics.

Current project: doing the math for a welted beret in Phat Silk Fine from Lalana Wools. This oversized beret is designed to keep dreadlocks or other prodigious amounts of hair in check. The challenge in the shaping is to maintain the jaunty, bouncy look of a beret, without it collapsing into a shapeless sack. Phat silk is not as elastic as wool and not as inelastic as cotton, so the welt pattern will look crisp. The trick to the shaping is in both the thickness of the welts and the spacing of increases and decreases.

Till my next post,


Inmates in the Asylum since July 27, 2006: