Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Those dratted swatches!!

As a new knitter, I used to hear that swatching is important before casting on for a new knitting project. :) I frankly thought they were a waste of my time. I mean, I was ready to start on my new project with my newly purchased scrumptious yarn, and then I read "Take time to check your gauge". Grrr!! Suffice it to say that I went for a few years as a knitter without ever knitting a gauge swatch.
Gauge Swatch for my Wrapped in Clouds Shawl pattern
Then I started designing. And that's when I realized how important making a gauge swatch is. It isn't just a waste of time and yarn. It's like a little mini-prototype of whatever project you will be working on. And that little square of knitting gives a lot of information.

How so? Well, let's say I'm designing a simple scarf using worsted weight yarn. I cast on between 20-30 stitches and work about 20-30 rows of the pattern I'm going to be using. Then I block the swatch like I would the real scarf - if it's wool I would soak it in a little solution with wool wash; if it's acrylic, bamboo or cotton, I would steam block, then pin it out until the design looks like I imagined. (Some designers even poke, prod and manhandle the swatch, hoping to imitate how the item would be used in real life, to see how it holds up. I'm not that advanced yet. :) )
Gauge swatch for the Long Way Scarf pattern
By knitting a gauge swatch and then blocking,  I can measure and figure out how many rows will give an inch so I know how many rows to knit to get the scarf as long as I want it. Also, I will be able to get how many stitches to cast on to get an inch for the width of the scarf. Commonly, the gauge of a pattern is given in 4 inches, with the needle size also stated e.g. 10 rows and 13 stitches = 4 inches/10cm on US #10.5 needles in  stockinette stitch. With this information, you can also figure out how much yarn you need for a project.
Gauge swatch for Sunehri Shawl pattern
Anyway, why this long ramble about swatches? Because I was looking through my photos and realized I have quite a few swatches (a box of them actually), and I wanted to share them with you. I must confess though that unless I'm knitting a piece of clothing like a sweater where gauge can make or break the item, I very rarely make a gauge swatch. Over the years I've realized that I knit very loosely, so if it's a scarf or shawl, I'll probably go down a needle size to get close to the gauge. 
Picture taken with phone camera of Destiny Cowl swatch
The moral of this post then, is that you should check your gauge, especially when knitting garments and items that require an exact fit. For scarves, well...I'll leave that up to you. :) Have a great week!

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