Do I really have to swatch?
The short answer? Yes! The long answer has something to do with wanting to make sure that the finished product comes out the right size, the yarn works for the project and that you ensure that things aren’t going to go awry (at least as much as you can). The answer that you hopefully come to is that you WANT to make a gauge swatch.
First off: gauge swatches can, and do lie, but it is not entirely their fault. If you are swatching for a project while solo parenting 5 children and it is near the time that most of them typically expect dinner, your gauge swatch might be a little different than if you are knitting while enjoying a cup of tea while chatting with a good friend. Same can be expected it you are knitting following three shots of espresso, a night of no sleep, while watching a scary movie, you get the picture? Situations can change our stress level and have an impact on our actions. Thus, your surroundings are going to have some sort of impact on how tightly, or how loosely you are knitting. So, keep this in mind when you are swatching.
Also, attitude is everything, right? If you are approaching your swatch without enthusiasm, you are going to be knitting differently than the project you are chomping at the bit to finish. So, loosen up, have fun and look at this as an opportunity to get to know your yarn and pattern. If you are going to be knitting in the round, why not purchase an extra skein of your yarn and make a baby hat for a swatch? The great thing about this is, you can practice out the stitch pattern on a much smaller surface than an entire cardigan. You can work out any issues you have with the directions and try them out in a smaller, more manageable space. The next time you get a last minute baby shower invitation, or a baby shows up earlier than anticipated, you will be ready, your handy “swatch hat” will earn you brownie points with the new parents!
Since you were smart and read through your pattern before casting on, you noticed that this piece will have pockets attached after finishing the sweater. Or that the sleeves are knit separately and then joined in the round at the yoke. Both of these give you an opportunity to make a gauge swatch without making a gauge swatch! Pockets, especially ones that you sew on to a sweater, are essentially, a big gauge swatch. Go ahead and follow the directions, knit the pocket, give it a nice soak (that way you can see if the yarn bleeds, if there are any special precautions you need to take to ensure the fabric doesn’t stretch, etc.) and then block the pocket. Once it is completely dry (yes, completely!), measure the pocket, and check your gauge. Do you have the right amount of stitches per inch? Does your pocket come out to the specified measurements? If not, you can try again, moving needles sizes as necessary to either create more or less stitches per inch as needed.
If you are working the sleeves separately those are also a good gauge swatch. You can even work about 4 to 6 inches of the sleeve, put the knitting on waste yarn, give it a soak, block, let it dry and then measure to make sure you are getting gauge. Again, this is a nice, extra step you can take to make sure that you are getting the fabric that you are happy with and to ensure that the piece is going to fit in the way you intend. All before you start on the body and put in a lot of time on something that might turn out the way you want. Just because the pattern is written in a particular order does not mean that you have to follow it in that order. Sleeves make excellent gauge swatches and are a good way to check to make sure that nothing is going wonky between your knitting and the pattern instructions.
Hopefully these tips will help you to start to view swatching as a more beneficial and necessary step. When we look at things as work, or a task that is standing in the way of our “fun” we tend to let that influence our work- either by skipping that step, or giving it so much negative energy that the results are not up to standard. If we can shift our focus and find something useful and joyful in it, that should translate to a more reliable and dependable swatch. As far as swatching while solo parenting 5 kids at dinner time, I cannot recommend that, nor can I recommend working on a sample for publication under those conditions either -- unless you want to have to rip back three days worth of work because it was knit at a much tighter gauge, which resulted in a size skirt three times larger than the publisher requested. Yes, gauge woes can plague all of us, so beware and mindful! Above all, remember, you are knitting for fun, whether that fun is in the knitting itself or in the pleasure of gifting your knits to someone you love.
About the storyteller:
Jessica Anderson likes to design fun and quirky knitting patterns that are easy to finish. She enjoys being home with her 5 children and her supportive husband, and coffee. Lots of coffee. To find out more about her work and many adventures- in knitting and homeschooling, you can find her at: www.allinadaysfun.blogspot.com, and on Ravelry as MonkeyButtBabies.