It always surprises me when people tell me they don’t like to swatch, because I love to swatch! Knitting a gauge swatch is like watching a movie trailer for a movie you just can’t wait to see. It is an opportunity for you to make sure your chosen yarn will work for your project. It’s like holding auditions for yarn and needle size.
One of the main issues that creating a swatch tackles is gauge. Finding the right gauge is so important. There is nothing worse than investing hours into large project like a sweater to then discover that it will not fit. A swatch at the beginning could save you hours of work. It is a lot like the story of “Goldilocks and the Three Bears”. If the gauge is too loose your project will be too big, and if it is too tight it will be too small. Taking the time to do a gauge swatch at the beginning could save a lot of heartache later on. I was heading to North Carolina on vacation. I was working on what was going to be my first sweater… it was not. I was on the way back home when I realized that it was huge, and it was not going to fit me. I unraveled the whole thing before we got home.
Your pattern will give you a needle size-size 13. This is like the pirate’s code in “Pirates of the Caribbean”, it’s more of a guide line. That needle might not give you the gauge you want. For me the suggested needle never gets me the size I want. I am a loose knitter, so I usually end up using the next size down. Your pattern will say something like:
10 stitches equals 4 inches
Cast on 10 stitches and knit a few rows. If you have a 4 inch wide swatch, congratulations you are done! If not then swatch again! If the swatch is too big, use a smaller needle. If the swatch is too small use a bigger needle. You can leave the swatch on the needles, and unravel it after measuring to save yarn.
This one is too big! Use smaller needles!
Size 10 1/2
This one is too small! Use larger needles!
This one is just right!
A swatch will also tell you how the fabric will feel and drape. This gives you the opportunity to make sure that you have the right yarn for your project. Even if you have the gauge the fabric could be so tight that it is difficult to knit, and has no drape. It would probably not be something you would want to knit a shawl in. Then you have the other end of the spectrum, where you have the gauge, but the stitches are too loose and open. This would probably not be something you would want to knit mittens in.
Taking the time to knit a swatch (or a few swatches) can make your knitting project more enjoyable. It will help you find the perfect combination of yarn, and needles for your next project.