Friday, November 9, 2012
Making a Gauge Swatch
I have to be very honest here. Gauge swatching is one of the most boring things ever. I don't like doing it, sometimes my projects are still the wrong size after I make a gauge swatch, and a lot of times I don't make one at all. I like to live dangerously. Let me rephrase: I like to live dangerously when a baby sweater comes out too big and I've saved myself some time by making a five-year-old sweater. The rest of the time, I get pretty disgruntled and then I vow that I'll never crochet or knit something without making a gauge swatch ever, ever again. Loads of people much smarter and more eloquent than I am have talked about gauge much more clearly than I can. But I'm going to write about it anyway because it's important and I've been thinking about it a lot lately.
Your gauge is the number of stitches you knit or crochet per inch. But a lot of patterns have different ways of telling you how to find that. You've probably noticed little notes in patterns, or even some yarn labels, saying something like "20 stitches and 32 rows = 4 inches". This is the most common way of finding your gauge, and it just means that you need to cast on 20 stitches and knit them in whatever stitch your intended pattern requires, and once you've knit 32 rows you should have a swatch that measures 4 inches by 4 inches. If your swatch is bigger than that, you need smaller needles--and maybe even a lighter yarn. If your swatch is too small, you'll need to move up a needle size or two. The most important thing to remember when making a gauge swatch (after you convince yourself that you really do need to do it) is that you just need to knit like you normally would.
Sometimes I catch myself rushing through a swatch, which gets me a fairly large and messy swatch. At other times, I try to knit 'nicely'. I'm a loose knitter, but I actively dislike that term to the point that I'll try to knit neat and small stitches in an attempt to be 'good'. The only problem is that I'll relax somewhere in the middle of the project and it balloons to ridiculous proportions. I also stumble a little when I crochet because I always forget I'm not a loose crocheter, and sometimes I'll automatically go down a few hook sizes and wind up with a very tight and very unpleasant project. I'm going to have to remember to crochet swatches as well, before I do something really awful to my knuckles.
A few days ago, I decided to be a good little knitter and knit a swatch. I've just now learned to knit cables, and I discovered that I really liked sitting on the couch during naptime and knitting something just for the sake of learning a new technique. Even though cables weren't nearly as scary as I'd feared, I still don't want to mess up a project after I've made myself get nervous. I wanted to knit the Lucky Horseshoe Hand Warmers. So I pulled out some cute yarn, and the appropriate needles (ignoring the voice in my head that reminded me "You knit pretty big" in a sing-song tone) and watched some post-election coverage online while knitting my swatch and waiting for my daughter to wake up.
It was way too big. I mean, it was out-of-control big. I need to move to a Size 0 needle, which I don't have. I went through denial and thought that maybe I could just make the warmers bigger and give them to someone with larger arms than mine, while ignoring the fact that I would definitely run out of yarn. I resented the pattern for reasons that made sense at the time. I thought that maybe I could make it work, but this was before I took what was supposed to be a back panel for one side of my arm and wrapped it almost entirely around my wrist.
After that, I had no other choice but to unravel the swatch and feel grateful that I'd only used up an hour or so on the project instead of a few days before finding out that it wouldn't work.
Swatches will probably never be my favorite thing, but it saves me a lot of time and frustration down the road. It keeps me from wasting time and yarn, and it helps me get an idea of whether or not I really want to make this project anyway. If I can't handle a certain yarn or pattern repeat long enough to make a little swatch, then I'm never going to finish that project and I really don't need any more half-finished projects sitting in the shadows with their judgement. I'm running out of places to hide them.
So treat your swatch like any other project. Sit down in front of the TV if that's what you normally do. Listen to some music if that's what you normally do. Take it to a knitting group if you think you won't be met with cries of "Pfffft! Gauge." That way, if you have to rip back and start over with a different needle or hook, you've listened to a book on tape or watched a movie or caught up with friends. If your pattern is in the round, make your swatch a smaller version of the project and mark off a four-inch section to check your gauge. Some books might not call for it, but I know plenty of people who swear they knit a different gauge when they knit in the round. And I don't know if the same holds true for crocheting, but I don't see what it could hurt.
"I don't see what it could hurt" pretty much sums up my approach to swatching. Even if you're pretty confident that your knitting and crocheting will be fine (JUST FINE!) with a pattern, go ahead and make the swatch. I don't see what it could hurt, but I can definitely see where it would help.