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Why Do We Swatch?

18 July 2008
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This is a cross-post from Knit-A-Gogo.

Bad Sweater #1The question I ask myself every time I have an exciting pattern and delicious yarn: why do I have to start with this stupid gauge swatch?

There are several answers to that age-old question:

  • 1. Because Maggie Righetti (rav lnk) and the Yarn Harlot (rav lnk) tell us to;
  • 2. Because everyone else says so, too;
  • 3. Because it’s tempting the knitting universe not to, and personally I find the knitting universe always smacks me on the nose when I think the rules don’t apply to me.
  • Fundamentally, when I don’t swatch it’s because I think I’m smarter than the yarn, the pattern, the designer, or all three. I have a huge ego to go with my tiny self-esteem, and I love to pretend I am smart enough not to have to walk before I run. “Gauge swatches are for sissies,” I tell myself, and then I end up with a sweater that is somehow wrong and will not fit a human being without surgical intervention.

    I’m sorry to say that this has happened several times.

    Bad Sweater #2When people design patterns, they knit up the item using the needle size that they feel is the best for the yarn, in terms of drape and stitch space. Then, after they have finished the item, they knit a gauge swatch using the same yarn and needles, and that’s how they figure out the gauge for the project. So when you are knitting a gauge swatch you are trying to find a way to compensate for the differences between your natural style of knitting and theirs. Me, I knit tight, but I think I knit loose. Doubly dangerous.

    “But, look,” I used to think, “if I don’t quite match the gauge I’ll just have a [sweater/hat/sock] that’s a little [larger/smaller] than I expected.” Sadly, this is not always true, and here’s why:

  • The knit stitch is not perfectly square. Therefore, your item will not [increase/decrease] the same amount lengthwise as widthwise.
  • For me, not knitting a gauge swatch meant the two sweaters pictured in this post (rav lnk1; rav lnk2) were much wider than they were tall. I looked like a snowwoman who wanted to show off her belly. Not a good look for me. Not a good use of my time. [Let’s not talk about my yarn choice for that second project; it’s like a Cosby Sweater!]

    So — here endeth the lecture. Hope your swatches are coming along well; we cast on tomorrow!

    Kathleen

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