Do you swatch? I hear all the time that people do not like to swatch so they don’t swatch. I suppose if you are making a shawl or scarf that doesn’t need to be a particular size you don’t need to. Or if you buy the yarn that the pattern says to use, you don’t need to. Or if you have a head, feet or hands that are “normal” size for most hats, socks or mittens, you wouldn’t need to. But if you are making a fitted garment, like a sweater or using custom spun yarn from a farm or if you are “shopping” in your stash, you need to swatch.
But if you are like me, swatching can save you time and heartache in the end. I do have a small stash, but more importantly, since my yarn is custom spun, I have yarns that aren’t the same as the yarns you can get at your LYS or craft store. I want to use it and I want to share it. So I need to make sure that I know what it will do and how it will knit up. Sorry crocheters, I really can’t figure out crocheting. I need to know what special mojo my yarns have so that I can share them with the world. So I must swatch.
For my famous Celtic Cardigan, I wanted to use my Fernham’s Choice yarn. It is a 80/20 blend of Blue Faced Leicester and kid mohair. It is a wonderful squishy worsted weight yarn, perfect for a warn cardigan. The pattern called for 18 stitches/26 rows + 4 inches on size 8 needles in the stockinette stitch. and each cable had it’s own gauge as well. I swatched and swatched until I got that gauge, but the needle size was different. If I hadn’t figured that out, I would have ended up with a sweater that was totally the wrong size. Even with this swatching, when I started knitting in earnest, my gauge loosened and I ended up about 6 inches too wide. This would have been devastating if I wasn’t already having to take out the sweater for the million other things I didn’t like about my knitting.
The lesson for me is to swatch before I make any larger project. I will also be swatching for my customers, in order to get a good idea of the gauge for my custom yarns. What I like to do is to make a 5 inch square that is surrounded by about a half inch border of seed stitch with a 4 inch area of stockinette. To determine needle size, I use a spinner’s control card to get an idea of the WIP (wraps per inch) which I can then translate to the standard yarn language of lace, fingering, sport, dk, worsted, etc. That gives me an appropriate needle size to use for my swatch. If I start to knit and find that the needle size isn’t quite right, I simply take note of that for my swatch tag and change the needle up or down.
So when you see my gauge on the labels that is your jumping off place. Each knitter has their own “gauge” as well. Are you a tight or loose knitter? So you throw (English) or pick (Continental)? After some time knitting, you will know your knitting “handicap”. At the trunk show recently, a group of knitters came into the shop. They began to talk about going up or down a needle size (or two) from the posted gauge of a yarn. I haven’t gotten to that point yet. I do know I’m on the tighter end of knitting.
I hope you are inspired to do some swatching before starting that sweater or using that luxury yarn like our Zephyrette. What have you learned about your knitting style through swatching? Do you have a swatching (or not swatching) story to share? I’d love to read your stories and learn for you too!!