To swatch or not to swatch?

Swatching is one of those things that knitters either love or hate. I think it depends on the kind of projects you knit, and how often you’ve been burned by bad gauge. If you knit scarves or things where gauge is largely irrelevant, then probably swatching isn’t a big part of your knitting life. But if you knit sweaters or things where fit is important, then it only takes one ill-fitting sweater (and all the days or months that went into knitting it) to make you see the value of swatching.

For my Lanesplitter skirt, gauge is important. I don’t want my skirt to fall down while I’m wearing it, and I’d prefer it to end just above my knee. I’d also like it to be long enough to be legal and to fit without looking like I’m wearing a striped sausage casing. Tall order, eh?

Lanesplitter SwatchHaving worked with Noro’s thick-and-thin yarns before, I know that I tend to prefer them knit up at a slightly tighter than normal gauge. I also don’t want this skirt to stretch all out of shape while I’m wearing it, so that’s another reason to work to a tighter gauge. The pattern calls for size 10 needles; I would ordinarily start with size 8 needles for this yarn. I started my swatch with size 7 needles. As expected, the fabric was drapey and had lots of stretch. Too much stretch, actually, which indicated I should go down a needle size. So I changed to a size 6 needle.

This time, I decided to experiment with reversing the angle of the stripe, by beginning the row with an increase and ending with a decrease. Another aspect of swatching that I didn’t really appreciate when I first started knitting was the opportunity to play with the pattern, to try out new-t0-me stitch patterns or techniques. Which increases would look best? Which type of buttonhole? How wide should the button band be? I can play with all of these in a small swatch, instead of getting 6″ knit of a sweater and then deciding that I don’t care for the hem treatment. (Okay, that still happens, but swatching helps minimize some of the ripping and frogging and cursing that often accompany my knitting!)

I liked the fabric from the size 6 needles, but I wasn’t as happy with the look of the increase/decrease edges. So I went back to the original pattern and down to size 5 needles. This fabric felt a bit stiffer than the size 6 swatch. If I had stopped here, I probably would have decided to go with the size 6 needles. But I’ve knit with Noro before, and I’ve found that yarns with silk in them tend to grow and relax once they’ve been washed and blocked. So into a Eucalan bath the swatch went. (I don’t cut my yarn before washing my swatches. I bind off the top section, pull the last loop out a few inches and pass the ball of yarn through, so the swatch won’t unravel. Then I pop the swatch in the water and set the ball of yarn beside it on the sink. This way, I can simply undo the bind off edge and pull my swatch apart when I’m done with it, and I don’t have a small bit of yarn– with extra ends to weave in– if I need the yarn to finish my project.)

As I expected, my resulting swatch was much softer and had more drape after a bath than it did when it first came off my needles. I’ve decided to go with the size 5 needles.

So tell me…

Next up: Winding my Noro and planning the stripe colors. And talking about why swatches sometimes lie! 🙂

About Laura

Avid knitter!

Posted on February 15, 2012, in knitting, projects, techniques and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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