January 28, 2019
Raise your hand if you know what a swatch is. Now keep them up if you like to swatch. How many hands are still up? My guess is probably 0-1 hands still in the air. And why is that?
I can definitely say that swatching was never my favorite part of a project. I just thought it was sort of a guideline anyway, once I even learned what a swatch is. But within the past year I have learned to appreciate swatching for certain projects, and even enjoying the process! What changed, you ask? I saw a video by Amy Herzog, knitwear designer, where she was stressing the importance of swatching, but also explaining better why and how to swatch. So here is my takeaway for what it's worth.
First and foremost, knitting a gauge swatch comes before casting on for a project to make sure you are matching the gauge of the knitter who designed the pattern. There are many different ways to knit and how loosely or tightly you tension your yarn will affect the size of your finished project. If you are knitting a baby blanket or a shawl, matching the gauge is only important for making sure you have enough yarn, but if you are making something that needs to fit, like a sweater or hat, swatching is vital to the success of your project.
But not all swatching is equal. When reading a pattern, there is usually a Gauge listed that looks something like 21 sts x 28 rows = 4" (10cm). That means that when you knit in stockinette stitch for this pattern, you should have 21 stitches and 28 rows in a 4" square. What it does NOT mean is "cast on 21 stitches and knit 28 rows and you WILL have a 4" square." The best way to measure your gauge is to start with the recommended needle size and recommended yarn or an equivalent substitute. Amy Herzog suggests casting on anywhere between 35 and 50 stitches, knit a few garter rows for an edging, keep a couple of stitches on each end in garter stitch, and knit in stockinette until you are fed up with knitting on this swatch. Then knit a few garter rows and bind off. The reason for this is that by the time you are tired of knitting those 35-50 stitches back and forth, you are finally working to your normal gauge. At the beginning of the swatch you are trying to be careful and match the gauge in the pattern. After about 2" or so, you will relax and settle into the gauge you would be knitting that 195 st sweater that you are swatching for. She also recommends when you start the stockinette section to knit in the number of eyelets that represents the needle size you are using for the swatch, i.e. (k2tog, YO) 5 times if you are using a US 5 needle. After binding off, wet block the swatch and let it dry flat without stretching it out. Once it is dry, pick the area of the swatch that is a little closer to the bind off end that looks like a good representation of your gauge. You can measure just 4" across, or you can measure a wider area of even stitches. Either way, divide the number of stitches by the total measurement you took with your ruler or knit gauge. If you are lucky, your gauge will match the pattern exactly and you can now cast on. If you have more stitches than you are supposed to have, you need to try again with a larger needle. If you have fewer, try with a smaller needle. Do not try to knit tighter or looser. You will eventually fall back into your regular gauge and your project will not end up the right size.
So all of this is a sort of tutorial on HOW to swatch. But I really want to tell you WHY to swatch. One reason is what we just went through - to match the gauge in the pattern - but there are several other, more fun reasons to swatch.
1) I'm not supposed to start my KAL project until Tuesday, but I really want to cast on NOW! Hey, why don't I do a swatch! (True story!)
2) I've never tried this stitch so before I cast on 186 stitches and knit 4" of ribbing and then TRY the stitch, maybe a smaller swatch would be a good idea.
3) I wonder what these colors would look like together (see colorwork swatch above)
4) I have never worked with this yarn before. I'm not sure if it will shrink or grow, or drape, or be stiff, or if it will even look good in this stitch pattern.
I'm sure there are probably lots more reasons to swatch, but of the 4 listed here, I have used 3 of them just in the past week. I found it exciting to see how my colors looked together for a sweater we will be teaching later this year, and to see how the Rose Plank stitch pattern would look in my chosen yarn. Tonight, while I was supposed to be writing this newsletter, I started swatching a Bamboo Pop sweater to check my gauge and see how the colors will look together. I got a pleasant surprise in the process. While I have worked with Bamboo Pop several times, I have never worked with one of the heathered colors before. I am using the Granite colorway as the main color in the sweater and found that the yarn just shines in the broken rib stitch pattern as well as in stockinette. Now I'm even more excited to cast on my sweater! (If you're counting, yes, that is 3 different projects I'm casting on at the moment. No judging!)
So even if swatching still isn't your favorite part of a project, I hope that this information at least helps you understand the importance of taking the time to make a swatch before casting on your project.