7 Guidelines for Swatching

I love starting new projects! The newness and the excitement of another experiment in yarn (which they all are in reality) propel me forward. I can’t wait to jump in and start inching my way through the pattern. As the year ends and I’m finishing most of my UFOs and I’m starting to work on my “wedding” knitting, I find myself in swatching h*ll.

What I hate is the preliminary chores needed to get to that point! In particular, I’m referring to swatching. Don’t get me wrong – I do swatch (which may surprise some of the members of my knitting circles.) Despite my adherence to this process, I always find that the actual knitting seems to take a different form.

Mind you, it’s never the math that scares me off. In fact, I’ve gotten downright pissed off at the yarn store clerks who have told me that I didn’t know what I was doing because I should just change the size needles to get gauge. What’s the difference if I know my way around a calculator?

I’m the queen of changing materials or substituting different fibers. Because let’s be realistic-many designers use fancy fibers that far exceed the budgets of knitters who must buy their fiber at retail. I’ve been fortunate that my finished products always end up wearable and to-date I’ve only had one washing disaster! Here’s what I’ve learned:

  • Try to use a similar fiber content to the pattern. With non-wool fibers, err on the side of going smaller or tighter since they will stretch. Remember this can happen regardless of whether the piece is handmade or store bought.
  • Test a variety of size needles. It can be helpful to knit one piece using garter ridges to separate the sizes.
  •  Make sure that you have a sufficiently wide swatch. Understand that this size swatch can be very long and far exceed the amount included for swatching. Therefore keep the piece as back up in the event that you start to run short on fiber.
  •  Don’t pull the swatch so that it fits the “stated” gauge. Remember like cars, your mileage may vary!
  •  Wash the swatch. Mind you this is a step that I often neglect at my own peril (which will proably bite me in the future.) That said, I’m beginning to get religon on this step.
  •  Know the person for whom you’re knitting and how they like their garments to fit. Then make allowances for this modifications. I have found that family members are often the most particular  and least ammendable to getting measured.
  •  Do the math based on the size and the swatch. Don’t let this step scare you off! All that’s required is multiplying, dividing, adding and substracting. You learned these skills in elementary school!
  •  (Bonus) Knit a few inches of the pattern and check that your swatch and math are on track. This is the critical point where you may need to make adjustments and rip. (Growl.) Remember it’s up to you whether the finished item has any resemblance to the original pattern.

Of course, you can do what I used to do when I first started knitting three years ago which is to throw caution to the wind and just start knitting. In that case, I hope that you’re good at praying. Because you’ll probably need it. Your finished piece may not look the way that you thought it would!

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