The Swatcher's Manifesto
Hi, my name is Clara and I'm a serial swatcher. For the last 14 years, I've swatched almost every day of my life. I swatch in bed, I swatch at the kitchen table, I swatch on airplanes and subways and boats, in buses and cars, in doctor's offices and cafes, anywhere that provides enough physical space for me to hold yarn and needles in my hands.
When Yarn Whispers
But there's more. If you quiet your mind and tune into your fingers while swatching, you'll actually hear the yarn talking to you. "Too tight!" it might say, or "Ouch, those pointy needles scare me!" Or it might ask, "Hey, want to see me turn a cable? I can do it really well. Want to see? Please?"
Like drawing a bow across violin strings, as you move the yarn along the needles you'll feel different vibrations, hear different pitches within the fibers. One yarn may make prettier noises on bamboo, another might prefer steel. Without swatching first, you'd never know.
I may be exaggerating just a little, but swatching is that special time when the yarn gets to tell us what it can do. If we embark upon a project without ever swatching the yarn first, not only are we playing Russian roulette with our gauge, but we're taking a serious gamble that the yarn will get along with our hands, our chosen needles, and the rigors of the pattern itself. And when it doesn't, a perfectly good knitting experience is doomed to failure.
If you can move beyond perceiving swatching as something keeping you from having fun, and see it as a grounding and rewarding experience in itself, I promise you—promise you—that the rewards will be many.Waste vs. Woe
Some knitters view swatching as a waste of perfectly good yarn that could be used for something else. If forced to swatch, they'll knit a very small square until they get gauge, then unravel the yarn and cast on for their project.
We've all done this at one time or another. Such abbreviated swatching only tells us one thing: What gauge we got when knitting those particular stitches, in that particular needle size, using those particular types of needles.Washing and Wearing
If we don't wash that swatch, however, we'll never know how that yarn will actually wash or wear. We don't know if it will bleed, fade, shrink, or stretch, or if it will pill after just a few wears. Unless you plan on folding up your project and stuffing it in a drawer right away, you need to wash your swatch. Failing to do so would be like judging a bread recipe by its dough and never bothering to bake it. The Swatch Mitts
What's that you say? You still don't feel comfortable knitting anything that doesn't have a functional purpose? I've got the answer: With just a few extra stitches, you can knit two swatches that become a pair of simple, pretty fingerless mitts (shown here).
The pattern for Swatch Mitts requires just 80 or so yards of any worsted- or Aran-weight yarn. Because we tend to knit tighter in the round than when knitting back and forth on a flat piece, I've written the Swatch Mitts pattern with both options. You can knit the mitts flat or in the round, depending on what kind of swatching experience you need to simulate.
Do you have 110 yards of worsted-weight yarn for your swatching pleasure? Use it to whip up a pair of Maine Morning Mitts. Perhaps you're thinking of swatching a 120-yard skein of bulky yarn? Use it to knit a Hill Country Hat or perhaps a simple Shoemaker's Hat.
Another worsted-weight swatching idea for somewhat generous skeins: Make a quick feather-and-fan scarf. Feather-and-fan is one of my favorite stitches for swatching because it shows how the yarn depicts stockinette, yarn-overs, and garter stitch, three tests in one.
Any of those projects would take just a few hours to complete. When you've finished, you can either give it away as a gift or wash and wear it yourself. At the end of even one busy day of wearing mitts, a hat, or a scarf, you'll have a fairly realistic idea of how that yarn will behave.
Think of it: By giving swatching its due, you can experience the immediate gratification of a finished project and the satisfaction of learning about a new yarn. Not bad for a day's work, eh?What's your relationship to swatching?