Both of the above partial skirts are made from one skein of cotton-ease, the same number of cast-on stitches and the same number of decrease rounds (two, though technically the top skirt is one round away from the 2nd decrease round). The only difference is that the top skirt was knit on a US 8 needle and the bottom skirt was knit on a US 7 needle. The top skirt has 34 rows and is about 40 1/2″ in diameter unstretched while the bottom skirt has 40 rows and is about 37″ in diameter unstretched.
Knitters talk a lot about gauge and swatches. Some knitters are firm swatchers and others like to proclaim that they never swatch and it always turns out okay in the end. I fall somewhere in between, sometimes I swatch obsessively (like I did for my FLS sweater) using up a full skein before making my decision on needle size, sometimes I don’t swatch at all. If you are a new knitter and you hear someone say, “I rarely do a gauge swatch and my projects always come out fine” don’t believe them. Or at least question whether their opinion of “just fine” is the same as your opinion of “just fine”. My lack of actual swatching for Elenka cost me over 4″ in skirt diameter and 2 weeks of knitting time.
Not swatching for something that starts out by casting on 204 stitches was a bad mistake. As a rule, IMO, the smaller the project the less you need to worry about gauge. Also, certain projects are more forgiving: bags and non-wearable items are particularly forgiving, small diameter pieces like socks, gloves and hats are also forgiving. Of course those small diameter pieces are sometimes uncomfortable if the fit is wrong – and why put all that time into a hand knit only to have a bad fit?
When I started working on Elenka, I consulted older swatches I had made about a year ago to pick my needle size. I also used the knowledge that lately I had been going down a needle size for many of my projects. I figured the fit of a loose fitting dress for a young girl was flexible, I couldn’t be too off. But I was wrong. When I last wrote about Elenka I was in the middle of the 2nd of 3 skeins. When I measured it I realized the skirt diameter was significantly smaller than the size I was supposed to be knitting. I had a couple options, a) keep knitting and find a new, smaller recipient and b) swatch again to get gauge and reknit for the intended recipient. So I set the first Elenka aside, and swatched on a larger needle in-the-round and was almost spot-on gauge that time, more like 4 1/4″ for 17 stitches in stockinette instead of the 4″ for 17 stitches required. And so once I had the right needle (I only had a 16″ circ on hand for swatching) I cast on again, using that 3rd skein. I just finished up one skein on the size 8 and put both partial-skirts on enough needle cable (thank you 40″ circs) to lay them out flat and compare the size and drape of each. I’m going to stick with the US 8 this time. The US 7 worked piece is smaller, stiffer and heavier while the US 8 worked piece is bigger, drapes nicely and feels lighter (even though I’m handling both pieces knit with the same amount of yarn). Oddly enough my current measurements say I am knitting tighter than I did on my gauge swatch but I’m still happy with the resulting fabric – and sometimes liking the resulting fabric is more important than gauge – but it does require thinking more about the math side of the pattern.