The other day I was talking about knitting (is anyone surprised?) and my friend said that I hated a certain project. I could not recall having that sentiment at all and I realized that since my friend is not a knitter, she doesn’t get it. Every knitting project has a more or less boring part in it. It could be swatching, struggling with a bad written pattern, a yarn that doesn’t want to play nice, weaving in ends, sewing buttons, button bands, blocking, picking up stitches, sewing, ripping out, having to re-do the cast on because you misjudged the length of your long-tail cast on end. It can be a lot of things, and you never know at the beginning what will happen.
Sometimes these boring elements goes by so quickly you don’t even notice them really but other times they can be a mountain impossible to conquer. That’s why knitters try to get out of doing it and yes, we will complain about the boring things as well. That’s why we have seamless sweaters and tricks to have as few ends as possible to weave in and so on. I know a lot of knitters saying that it’s unnecessary to block things (yes, they’re in denial) and that they don’t bother doing it. The sock-in-progress in the picture, for example, is at the fun part, the striping, and the cuff is tolerable which is okay since it leads up to the fun part, but one socks also has no less than 14 ends to weave in. That’s way too many in one little sock.
For the most part though, people are trying to get out of swatching. I’m no exception to this but I’ve learned the hard way what could happen if you don’t so I always swatch when it comes to bigger things like sweaters and cardigans. I don’t usually swatch for shawls and socks and such. Neither for baby clothes, I figure it will fit in a few months time or the I could just as easily give the too small item to another baby.
For the past few months I’ve had the privilege to have the mandate to advice people to swatch and you wouldn’t believe the excuses people come up with. My personal favorite is “Nah, I’ve been told I knit faily evenly so I don’t have to swatch.” Honey, you can knit as even as you want but since there is no fixed standard for gauge it won’t help you. Gauge is all about how the designer knits but once you figure that out, it can actually help you. I have a shawl designer whose pattern I’ve knit from a lot and I know that I need to go up a needle size with all of her patterns to get the shawls as big as I want them. Do you remember when I’ve spoken about gauge before? Yep, the shawls in that post are knit with the same size needles, the same pattern but by two different knitters and they are not nearly the same size. Also, you can knit even and still end up with a too big or too small shawl, to knit evenly only means that you keep your gauge through the entire project, not what gauge you had to begin with.
The same goes with excuses like “No, I think I knit fairly normal.” What does that even mean? To knit normal? What is that? And more, what it not normal? Again, no fixed standard for gauge, you can’t use that excuse because you have no idea how the designer knits.
What I find fascinating about all these excuses is that people really seems to believe them. “I don’t have to swatch becasue I’m a good knitter”, or something like that. I never argue with the excuses but keep insisting that they make a swatch, especially if they are about to change yarn and needle size. The thing about excuses are that the Knitter can blame the pattern when the sweater turns out too big. “I knit evenly so there must be something wrong with the pattern.” The things is, knitting is a hobby or most people and there are no life rules when it comes to hobbies. You can stick to the fun parts, and only the fun parts. If I don’t want to weave in those 14 ends I don’t have to, but it will be a bit tricky if I want to actually wear the socks one day. If you don’t want to swatch you don’t have to, it’s totally up to you, but if you don’t swatch you can only blame yourself. Not the pattern, not the yarn, not your local yarn store, nothing. Stop with the excuses, they are unnecessary, just admit you don’t want to swatch and then take responsibility for that decision.
I was a non-swatcher for many years, but then I learned the hard way why it’s a good idea, especially when it comes to sweaters and cardigans. The reason why I’ve stayed with swatching (and yes, it’s boring as hell, espcially if you need to block the swatch too) is that I discovered that instead of changing the needles to get gauge, I can just change the size I’m making with the use of some simple math. (The patterns states 18 stitches for 10 cm, you get 16 sts per 10 cm, you divide the chest measurements of “your” size by the gauge the pattern states, in this case 18 sts, to get the amount of decimeters, then multple that with your actual gauge sts (16 in this case) and you get a new chest measurement which might be closer to another size and you can follow the pattern for that size instead.) Most often I find that I have less stitches to 10 cm than the designer intended which means I can go down a pattern size (less stitches to knit!) and still get the same size sweater. It’s awesome! Sure, if you don’t like how your fabric looks you can start changing needles but then you need to make multiple swatches and, you know, why?
So yes, every knitting project has a boring element to it, and swatching is definitely one of them, but stop making excuses not to swatch, if you don’t want to, you don’t want to, and that’s it. No one will force you to swatch but gauge is not to be trusted and it’s always safer (but not completely safe) to swatch than not to swatch. With that knowledge it’s totally up to you what you decide to do. After all, it’s your hobby.