I have a small admission to make. I started this new sweater without swatching. I know I always say you should swatch, for lots of really, really good reasons, some of which have nothing to do with fit, and to be completely honest, I thought about not mentioning that I didn’t swatch. It wouldn’t have been a lie or anything, just an omission. Then I thought that maybe it would just be better if I told you why I didn’t, and why I’m okay with it, and maybe someday you would get to skip a swatch too.
Reason to swatch: You need to swatch to get your gauge, so that things fit properly, and because the only way your project will use the amount of yarn that the pattern says, is if it’s the gauge the pattern says.
Reason to ignore this: I am making a top down sweater without a pattern, and I can make it fit. If things aren’t coming out right, I’ll adjust. I am the master of my destiny. Also, no pattern, no yarn amount. I’m guessing. If I’m wrong, swatching won’t help.
Reason to swatch: You need to know how many stitches you’re getting to the inch if you’re making a top down sweater without a pattern, because you need to know how many to cast on.
Reason to ignore this: I am a good guesser, with lots of guessing experience.
Reason to swatch: It’s not just about gauge. It’s about how the fabric feels. How will you know if it’s too loose or too tight or too sheer or, kinda strange? Do you want to make a strange sweater?
Reason to ignore this: I never assess that in the unwashed swatch anyway. It’s pointless to like the unwashed swatch. Read on.
Reason to swatch: You need to knit a swatch so you can wash it, because gauge, and what the fabric feels like can change drastically after knitting has had a bath. You want to know that before you knit a sweater that comes out as a freakin’ surprise after you wash it.
Reason to ignore this: I admit, that’s pretty compelling. I can’t totally ignore that. What I can do is start my sweater, knit for a while, then wash and block it on the needles to see if there are any surprises.
I’m glad I did. The gauge did change enough that I would have had an ill fitting sweater, and I actually thought I might be knitting this too tightly, but I love the washed fabric. That’s a step I’ll never skip. If I’d have based this sweater on my unwashed fabric, I would have had a sweater that was too big, and too loosely knit. I would have been seriously annoyed.
Reason to swatch: If you’re making something where you do something every certain number of rows, then you need to know your row gauge so that things end up the right length.
Reason to ignore this: I’ll try it on a lot. If it’s getting too wide before it’s long enough, I’ll screw with the rate of increase. (It’s kind of getting too wide now. I’ll skip some decreases so it gets longer without getting wider now. Especially in the back. I’ll keep some extra width in the front. It’s where my breasts are.)
Reason to swatch: Something I’ve forgotten to control for that a swatch would have totally revealed that will rise up later and bite me hard on the hind parts.
Reason to ignore this: The worst thing that can happen is that I’ll have to pull the whole thing out and start again. I can live with that, because I’m not the kind of knitter who wouldn’t. Some knitters won’t rip things out, not even when they aren’t very good, and it’s those knitters who need to swatch the most. If you don’t have it in you to take the whole thing back to the beginning when you took the risk, you’re better off risking less.
Knitter, know thyself. Then skip a swatch, if you can.
(PS. This will really, really not happen very often.)
(PPS. I really think you can’t skip the washing part at all.)
(PPPS. If this sweater looks a little familiar, it should. It’s inspired by the Easy Raglan from the The Green Mountain Spinnery Knitting Book . I have heavier yarn, and want the sweater to fit a little differently, but I loved the cable details.)
(PPPPS. Thanks so much for your sympathy for Sam’s wee Hedgie. She’s feeling much better, and the funeral was lovely – or so I hear. The service was private, which was fine. The deceased was very cute, but dreamed of nibbling yarn, and we weren’t close.)