The other day I was browsing Ravelry and twice I was tempted to tell people to swatch. I couldn’t control myself and replied to one of the threads, but found out that replying to the second thread with the same advice was a bit too much like preaching, so I didn’t – I saved the preaching to this blog.
You might find it funny that I’d be talking about swatches when all my patterns states that they aren’t of much importance. So, why bring the ‘S’ word up now? When doing shawls and stoles, chances are that a little difference in dimensions won’t matter, hence why I don’t mention gauge in my patterns, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t knit a swatch anyway.
Lets say you got some precious, fine yarn to knit the most awesome item everTM, but are afraid that you will somehow ruin it after months of careful knitting.
– Are you afraid that the yarn will break when you block the item? Knit a swatch and block it first. This way you’ll know how much you can pull the knitting.
– Worried that the yarn will felt, bleed or behave in an unexpected way when you wash the item? Swatch and wash.
There are other reasons to swatch too. We all had awesome yarn that doesn’t match the pattern we want to knit. If you make a (big enough) swatch in pattern, you’ll be able to tell if the yarn/pattern combo is a good match or not.
When knitting lace, another reason to make a swatch is to figure out the best needle size for the fabric you want to get. You will know, before committing to the pattern, how the fabric will drape, how it will block and, as a bonus, doing the swatch in pattern will help you memorize the pattern ;).
It took me a long time to accept the fact that swatches are not only necessary, but also very useful. It wasn’t until I began doing commissions for a yarn company that I began taking swatches seriously. As I’ve said many times before, I’m
cheap leery of wasting, and saw swatching as a waste of both time and yarn.
I went on my merry way, knitting with abandon, only to find out – way into the pattern – that I didn’t like the fabric I was creating, or that the superwash yarn wasn’t so super after all. I have piles of knitting that never became anything because I didn’t like how it was turning out. Instead of frogging, I just cut the yarn and save the rest for something else.
In my eagerness to start knitting already, I was wasting time and yarn, and in the end all those false starts were nothing more than super sized swatches.
I have to confess I’m still tempted to only knit a swatch to the exact number of stitches and rows the gauge is stated, but I know that it would be a waste of time, as it won’t be an accurate example of the knitting. Take the time to make a swatch that is big enough – 2 to 4 times the number of stitches and rows the gauge states. Then wash and block this swatch the same way you will the finished item.
A little tip for those times when gauge is necessary and you’re working with a fabric where counting stitches and rows are hard – like cables, lace, felted items or yarn that makes seeing individual stitches hard – write down how many stitches you cast on and how many rows you knit. Once you’re done with the swatch (knit, wash and block), measure the whole thing to find out how many stitches/in(cm) and rows/in(cm) you got.
A very special note on felting: unless you don’t mind wearing a coat/slipper/hat that doesn’t quite fit, swatches are mandatory with items that will be felt. Why? Even if you are using the same yarn as the one in the pattern, chances are your washer or water heater is different from the one used by the designer and will felt differently. If you decide to substitute yarns a swatch is even more important.
I’ll leave you with this very interesting post that prompted me to write this entry. I too, feel like people claim to never swatch as a badge of honor, and I don’t quite understand why anyone would be proud of that. Ravelry is full of wonderful examples of rebellion against the “rules” (knitting lace with variegated yarn, anyone?). Being unique is great, it is even better when what you knit fits.