She stormed into the yarn shop complaining about ill-fitted garments she’d knit and raging, ”Don’t tell me to do that thing! Don’t tell me to do that thing! I quickly deduced what she meant. “Of course not” I said, attempting to defuse the situation. “I know exactly what you mean - knitting a swatch - everyone hates knitting a swatch. Why, I myself never used to knit swatches…….Of course, I did knit quite a few elephant sweaters which were way too big for my husband to wear, and he was a pretty big guy.” Her friend laughs in the background. She seems to soften a bit. “ The thing to know about swatches is this: They are the only way to assure that your sweater will be the size you want it to be & fit the way you want it to fit.” She grimaces.
Why is that? Is it truly necessary to spend all that time and use up precious yarn? You’ll notice on a pattern, there's always reference to gauge. The gauge is expressed as stitches x rows which is the number of stitches going horizontally across your work, counted by the inch, x the number of rows running vertically from top to bottom & visa versa. The pattern will also tell you the weight of yarn and size of the needle to use when knitting your swatch, and a specified pattern (often stockinette stitch, knit one row, purl one row) . After you knit the swatch, it is recommended that you wet the fabric, block it by pinning, and let it dry. I admit I never wet a swatch. I pin to block and use a steam iron, then let it dry. Good enough, tho some may argue.
Now that the swatch is prepared, use a knit gauge tool (It has an L shaped cut out) and lay the tool on your swatch with the vertical edge of the L aligned with your rows of knitting, and the horizontal part of the L just under the stitches. Count the number of stitches (shaped like an upside down V) across in one inch & count the number of rows upward in one inch. Do your numbers match the required gauge? If not, you may need to make adjustments by using larger (less stitches per inch), or smaller (more stitches per inch) needles.
Let’s say your pattern calls for 6 stitches per inch but you have 5 stitches in an inch and the 6th stitch kicks into another fraction of an inch. That doesn't seem like much but multiplied out for every inch in the circumference of your work and…...you guessed it…..elephant sweater! So, the next time you want to scream in rebellion,
“Don’t tell me to do that thing!”, think about the investment you’ve made in beautiful natural fibers, the time you will invest in knitting, and how you want your finished garment to fit. Then ask yourself, “Is it worth my while to swatch?” You tell me.
MYFS Yarn Shop Manager