Part 1: Planning and Swatching
Step 1: Select your yarn. I recommend fingering or sport-weight yarn for heavy-wear items like socks and fingerless gloves. The greater number of stitches per inch, the more durable they will be and the longer they will last. I do not, however, recommend using laceweight (unless it's heavyweight superwash laceweight like Ella Rae or Wollmeise, which are really more light fingering weight than laceweight), as it's not always plied and tends to be a bit too delicate. As far as fiber content goes, I get best results from superwash wool or wool/nylon blends, the more tightly-spun plies, the better. Wool is elastic without stretching unpredictably, and is very durable and less prone to pilling. I don't recommend using cotton, which is inelastic and prone to shrinkage (and color fading), or alpaca, which pills like a mofo and stretches all over the place, or 100% synthetics, which can't be blocked and don't breathe.
Yardage requirements depend on three important factors:
- How big your hands are.
- Whether or not you want to do half-fingers.
- How long you want them to be.
I've found I can squeeze a pair of half-finger gloves that go just past my wrist out of a 50g, 200-ish yard skein of fingering weight sock yarn and still have some left over. Of course, I do have fairly small, short hands (I'll provide my measurements in the next entry in this series). If you have larger hands or want longer gloves/full fingers, you may want to get a second skein.
Step 2: Make a gauge swatch in the round. I know, I know, nobody likes to make gauge swatches. Sadly, when it comes to fitted garments of any kind, it's really necessary, as is doing a swatch-in-the-round for something that will be knitted that way. Most knitters' gauge changes when they switch from knitting flat to in the round (particularly if they knit continental style), and that can really affect the fir of the finished project. I usually try to do a 30 x 30 swatch, measuring the stitches in the middle of the square. If you're planning on blocking the finished project (I generally don't block socks and wristwarmers), you need to block the gauge swatch as sometimes washing can change gauge counts. I've found this happens less frequently with the superwash wool/nylon blends commonly used in fingering weight sock yarns, but it happens quite often with heavier, 100% untreated wool yarns.
You should shoot for a gauge in between 7-10 stitches per inch. Anything with fewer stitches won't wear as well and may pill with wear and use, and anything with more than that will take for-freaking-ever to finish. I usually wind up in the 8-9 range.
As for doing a gauge swatch in the round, I use this method, which is quick and easy to measure. Again, make sure to measure the stitches in the middle of the swatch, as this method does distort the edges.
Once you've completed these steps, you can move onto Part 2: Measuring and Math. I promise, I'll make the math as painless as possible.