Archive for May, 2016

Okay, so maybe not eternal, but frequent and the subject of much debate.  I’m not sure that I can add anything new to the conversation, but as I become more experienced as a knitter, I do more research into techniques and fiber, and I pay more attention to the technical side of knitting — how needle size and fiber content and ply affect stitch definition, drape, and gauge.  When I ran across this post from Love Knitting, I felt compelled to add my two cents’ worth of input to the conversation.

While I see the value of a swatch, especially for a garment which needs to fit, I don’t think that it is the be all and end all. It needs to be a guideline because a 4×4 inch square is only going to tell you so much.  If there is more than one stitch pattern involved, make a swatch for each because your gauge may vary significantly.

Washing and blocking the swatch gives you some indication of how much the piece might grow, but it doesn’t tell you what the sheer weight of the fabric will do to your gauge or how long term wear will affect the item.

If it’s a cowl or scarf or shawl, maybe I don’t want to match the gauge in the pattern. Maybe I want something tighter or with more drape. I take it on a case by case basis.

When the gauge on a pattern matches the gauge listed on a yarn’s ball band, I get a bit suspicious.  Did the designer really match the yarn’s ball band gauge exactly?

The real reason for knitting a gauge swatch — or otherwise determining gauge —  is that each knitter’s gauge is unique.  And the knitter is not the only variable.  Needle material and shape, yarn weight and fiber content, and the combination of the two are all factors.  (Therefore, I’m not sure how much sense it makes to compare worsted weight knitting on square wooden needles to fingering weight knitting on round metal needles, as was done in the aforementioned post, unless it was to make that same point.)  In addition, each knitter’s preference is unique.  You might get the recommended gauge and not like the fabric.  If so, find a gauge which gives you a fabric you do like, keeping in mind that it may mean making other modifications to the pattern (i.e. stitch count or yardage requirement) in order to end up with a pleasing (and properly fitting) finished object.

While I am far from an expert knitter, my advice is this: do what makes you the most comfortable and yields the best personal results.  Don’t be afraid to experiment.  Realize that not all experiments will be successful.  Be prepared to try, try again, whether by ripping out and re-knitting or starting a new project.  Practice, practice, practice.  With or without a gauge swatch, your knitting will definitely improve with practice and persistence.

ETA: Shortly after I finished this post I came across Jill Wolcott’s thoughts on the subject of swatching and wanted to include them because she has lots of interesting things to say about knitting.

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