Monday, June 25, 2012

Swatching Is Stupid

Today I'm going to talk to you about swatching. You know, that stupid thing all thepatterns think you have to do? Knit a square in whatever stitch pattern the garment is in, and then measure it to find out the stitches per inch? And how, supposedly, this information is useful in some way? Well I'm here to tell you it is all a lie. As you've always suspected, swatching is stupid. And here is why:

First of all, we all know that everybody knits at exactly the same tension all the time no matter if they knit English, Continental, or some mixed style. So, if the designer of a pattern says she used a size 6 needle, all you need is your size 6 needle and you're good to go! Furthermore, nobody's gauge changes just because they switched fromplain stockinette to fair isle or ribbing, and your gauge is going to stay exactly the same whether you are knitting flat or in the round. You also don't have to worry about changes in your knitting over time, because our hands don't adapt to learn easier and faster methods of knitting that look different than the clumsy stitches we started out with. Also, the knitting you did while you were visiting with your best friend is guaranteed to look exactly the same as the knitting you did while arguing with your spouse. Since people are all made exactly the same, and we all use the same movements to make our stitches- like machines- we just don't need to bother with this antiquated idea of swatching.

I know a lot of people who say gauge swatches are good because you get to practice the main stitch pattern, but what kind of a silly idea is that? I mean, as a knitter you can do any technique without trying it out first, right? From steeking, to entrelac, to celtic cables and estonian lace- it's all just knitting and you are an expert who cannot benefit from practicing. It is so much easier to cast on 170 stitches for the body and realize that the stitch pattern makes the fabric so stiff it stands up like body armor after you've knit 5 inches than to try it out on a tiny 20 stitch square first. And when you're working your lace pattern and you drop 18 stitches in the middle of your shawl, it is a lot easier to pick them up again without ever having knit the pattern before in your life than if you had worked a gauge swatch first and have familiarity with what is going on. Besides, the glaring mistakes in the first three inches of your piece add to its charm.

The people who want you to swatch are just trying to delay your gratification when we all know it is better to just cast on immediately. That way, you get to knit the entire garment before realizing that it will not, in fact, fit you. At all. But it doesn't matter if it doesn't fit you! That's actually another reason swatching is stupid: It doesn't mater what gauge you get because the article will fit someone. After investing $72 and 3 months of time on that sweater- the one you really wanted, in the green that complements your eyes perfectly- it just makes sense to give it to your sister when it ends up the wrong size, even though you know she might accidentally throw it in the dryer next week.

Swatching takes forever, anyways. The act of knitting a tiny 4” X 4” square takes so much time compared to the hours and hours you are going to put into your sweater: you might as well get started without bothering to find out if it is going to take up more yarn than you have and end up big enough to fit your linebacker boyfriend. When you make that second return trip to the yarn store and find that they've run out of your dye lot and you admit to the friendly yarn store assistant that you didn't swatch and that your sweater is looking, “A little big,” she will wave your concerns aside and assure you that swatches are a waste of time.

And another thing, have you met those crazy swatch nazis who tell you that you have to wash and block your swatch? Or even to clip it up with a bit of weight hanging off of it to “mimic gravity?” We all know that all fibers stay exactly the same when they are introduced to soap and water, that no yarn has ever surprised us by bleeding color everywhere, and that every super-wash wool can indeed go through the washer and dryer without a problem. And as for gravity, it has never caused a perfectly normal hip-length alpaca sweater to stretch to the knees.

Besides, swatching is a chore. This is really the most important reason. It is not fun because, unlike a garment where you have to stick to a set of rules and make something that actually fits, you're JUST knitting. I mean, look at it this way: instead of knitting, you're knitting. How is that anything like what you do for fun?

And now, some links*. Click 'em to see the results that you, too, can achieve when you refuse to do a gauge swatch!

*please note that I am not at all making fun of these lovely knitters. I have had some pretty awful gauge experiences myself but neglected to document them.

In all seriousness, you guys, knit your gauge swatch. Knit them in a box, with a fox, in the park, in the dark. Knit them for information, knit them for practice, and knit them for fun. We've all heard the old adage, "Swatches lie," and it's true. So measure your garment as you go as well!
Today I'm swatching for fun.

How about you?


  1. I knitted my first sweater with a bulky yarn (the pattern suggested size 5) And I knitted the swatch and it didn't turn out to be the right size at all! Then, I went back to the store and got super bulky yarn and the swatch was exactly the gauge the pattern suggested. One pretty lacy sweater later, the whole sweater was way to big, even though all the measurements were supposedly going to end up my size. The one time I knitted a swatch, it didn't work out. So I haven't done one since, and had much success! :)

    1. Out of the 20 most recent sweaters I have made, I managed to get a perfect fit without swatching once- my Owls Sweater( And technically that was only because I had swatched with that same yarn & needles previously for another sweater.
      The rest- with an emphasis on the ones I designed for myself and for my mom- required swatching, sometimes both in the round AND flat.
      You are very lucky to have had so much success.
      Personally I am a very loose knitter with even looser purl rows and I have come to respect the swatch. Especially after I made my beautiful Central Park Hoodie (I got gauge and immediately cast on) and it fit perfectly- until I washed it!

  2. I am so with you on the no swatching thing! I have never swatched, probably will also never do it. I don't see the big hype about it either. A couple of months ago I did consider it because everyone was chatting about the importance of it. What I do is check out the little diagram on the side of the wool label and see how many stitches and rows they needed for their gauge, then I check the pattern. If it is a similar gauge I cast on immediately, if it is off slightly I get hubby (who is wonderfully mathematically inclined)to work out how many more stitches I would roughly need to get a similar gauge and then I am off. So far none of my WIPs have been off (touch wood) Hubby's jersey that I knitted for him and I cast on quite a couple more stitches to make the gauge turned out perfectly!


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