At the shop, I say “You’ll have to swatch it and see,“ at least fifty times a day. That guidance is always met with a groan or at least a heavy sigh. Knitters hate to swatch. I get it. We want get started NOW, because the project is going to take a while, and swatching feels like a waste of precious knitting time.
Casting on a big project without swatching is like marrying someone we met at the bar last night. It might work out great, but maybe not, and it could be a while before we figure out that it was a horrible mistake. By then, we’ve already invested so much time and energy that we’re tempted to just soldier on and hope it gets better and turns out okay. It doesn’t. As painful as it is, just cut your losses and head to the frog pond – Rip it, rip it, rip it.
Love it or hate it, swatching is important, and here are five things to help you do it better, if not actually enjoy it.
Have a few dates: Swatching is a way to get to know the yarn. Sure, it’s gorgeous, but do you even like knitting it? Is it easy going or high maintenance? If it’s a lot of trouble to knit, will the end product be worth the effort? (Think most 100% linen yarn) The way the yarn looks in the skein is often nothing like the way it looks and acts when you’re knitting it. Best to know whether or not you like it early on.
Choose your tools: What needles go best with your yarn? Some yarns are slippery, others are sticky, and the needles you use can significantly affect your gauge as well as your knitting pleasure. Your swatch gives you a chance to try out different needles to find the one that’s the best fit for your yarn.
Play to the strengths: Some yarns have great stitch definition and really showcase fancy knitting. Other yarns are so textures or variegated, or just plain dark, that they overshadow all your hard work. Your swatch gives you the chance to see if your yarn should take the lead or play a supporting role. to your stitchwork. needs to be center stage- If you’re doing a plain project and need a yarn that will take center stage, great, but not so much if you need more of a supporting cast member. The swatch allows you to figure out that out early.
Get muscle memory: If your project has a fancy stitch pattern, a swatch lets you figure out and practice that pattern – develop the muscle memory and the mental rhythm of it across all the rows before you embark on that same pattern across a hundred stitches.
Check care instructions: Many yarn labels these days advise you to dry clean, when we know that many, if not most, yarns are perfectly happy being hand washed, or even washed in the machine. Your swatch is a perfect place to experiment with washing options. If the label says dry clean only, try handwash. Try tossing a handwash yarn in the washer on gentle. Dry flat? See if it can take a tumble in the dryer. Then you’ll know for sure.
As you swatch, relax and be yourself. If you’re a tight or loose knitter, it’s tempting to tell ourselves that we can change. We can’t. We are who we are as knitters, and the way we knit is just right for us. Rather than vowing that you’ll loosen/tighten up, relax and knit your swatch naturally, wherever you plan to knit your project. If that’s on the sofa in front of the tv, that’s where you should knit your swatch. A comfortably knit swatch is a much better indicator of your actual gauge than one done on your best behavior. Plus it’s more fun.
Does that make swatching any more palatable? I hope so! Looking foward to seeing you in the shop soon! You are always welcome here.