It's that time of day you can finally sit down, settle in, and get some knitting done. You're excited because you finally got that gorgeous yarn you've been lusting after to make that perfect project. You just want to get going! Swatching seems like a waste of time and yarn! It's not though. Keep reading to see when swatching is important and how I use it in designing my patterns.
Let's start with what a swatch is. A swatch is a bit of fabric you knit to get your gauge (the number of stitches and rows in an inch of fabric). This is how you will calculate the final size of your project. Frankly, sometimes it's more important to swatch then others. If your scarf or blanket is half an inch shorter then you wanted it likely isn't the end of the world. However on a fitted project a good swatch can be the difference between your new sweater fitting perfectly or being unwearable. Imagine your favorite sweater half an inch smaller in every direction, it probably wouldn't be your favorite anymore. This step is even more critical if your knitting a seamed sweater. If you have three body pieces (left front, right front, and back), and each of these is a half inch too narrow you'll wind up with a sweater that has two inches less ease then you intended (1/2 *4), and your sweater with 2 inches of negative bust ease suddenly has 4 inches of negative ease. Thus taking your sweater from flatteringly hugging your figure to sausage casing. Tragedies like this can be avoided by accurately determining your gauge.
But this isn't everything a swatch can do. Knitting a generous swatch will give you a preview of what the fabric of your project will look like. This gives you the flexibility to change this fabric before you've invested a lot of time and yarn.
When I'm planning a project I knit at least two generous swatches. The first I knit with my base stitch. I make it at least 40 stitches wide and 40 rows high. I usually knit with at least two sizes of needles. Unless I'm wanting either very dense or very loose fabric I will start with the needles suggested on the ball band for the first 20 rows. I then make a barrier of garter stitch and switch to a different needle size. I'm a bit of a tight knitter, so I usually then go a size up, but which needle you switch to here is an individual choice. I then knit 20 more rows and then bind off and block.
But how, after I block this, do I know which side i knit with what needle? I have a trick of course! About an inch from the top I will purl the same number of stitches as the needle I'm using. For instance if I'm knitting with a size 10 needle then I'll purl 10 stitches in the swatch. This way even after I block I'll know what needle I used!
My second swatch is a sample of any special stitches I plan to use. This allows me to see if the idea in my head can be made into reality in yarn. This also allows me a design short cut by being able to check the width of any cable panels. Then in deciding the width I can use the formula bust- cable panel=number of stitches to cast on.
You can see in this swatch how I was playing with the cable and then also tried seed stitch to see if I liked it for in between the cable panels.
So tell me, do you swatch? Comment below with your swatching stories.