I have a confession to make. I don’t always swatch.I know I know I know. How can you trust a knitting shop keeper who doesn’t always stick with the (swatching) programme? In my defense my swatch-knitting slackness is mostly confined to projects with yarns that I’ve used before or things where the size doesn’t really matter that much.But in the course of the last month, I’ve watched a swatching story unfold which has taught me to renew my faith in swatching..It was the Side by SIde Knit Along which prompted us to prepare a set of DK weight swatches to help prospective KALers choose which yarn to use. We bound the swatches together with metal rings to make a little book of slightly bigger than 10cm square knitted pages. The book has lived on the shop table ever since it was finished about a month ago.
Since then I’ve watched as knitters – KALers and non-KALers alike – leaf through the pages of the book, reading with their eyes and their finger tips. Unlike this chatterbox shopkeeper, the book unveils all manner of details about feel, flop and stitch definition without the use of any confusing knitting terms or long-winded explanations. The swatches speak to knitters in the language of fabric, telling a story that doesn’t need a ruler or a calculator to make sense. Gauge is there playing its part but its where it should be in the background with the stitches themselves explaining what fabric they’ll make for you if you want to use them with this yarn and this needle size.What our little book has taught me is that however central gauge is to the knitting story, it’s real meaning lies in the fabric that it determines. Our normal focus on stitch and row counts against centimeters knitted, misses the point of why we need to swatch. Those numbers will tell us what adjustments to make needle-size-wise to get things right, but its the fabric of the swatch that we really need to read and listen to. For its the stitches of that fabric that create the texture, the firmness, the drape and the feel. Take the time to swatch and you get a backstage pass – to meet the fabric of your sweater before you make it and properly understand the stitch gauge which feels just right for you.