Before you begin, the instructions for your awesome new knitting pattern say to make a gauge swatch. This step is one of the most boring things to do. There you are, waiting to dive into a new project, but first you are supposed to make a useless scrap of knitted fabric.
That useless scrap may save you time and frustration as your craft project takes shape. What purposes do swatches serve? Are they important enough to justify the time they take to make?
1. Size Matters
Making a gauge swatch, or a small sample worked in the pattern, is the way to see if your finished work will turn out the same size the pattern specifies. This is always a good reason to take the time to make that deadly dull swatch. If your craft project turns out to be too small for its intended owner, skipping a step to save time was a bad call.
2. Swatches are Sneak Peaks
If you are working with an unfamiliar pattern, the swatch is a great place to see if it will turn out well. It’s better to find out that you don’t like the results of a knitting project after making a 4 X 4 inch sample than after you’re 5 hours into it. A swatch is also a great place to learn that a new stitch combination will work up quickly, or look cooler than you imagined.
Changes in tension or tools can ensure that your project ends up being the correct size. Making these changes in the middle of a craft project effect the finished piece’s drape and sizing. Nobody wants to wear a sweater that looks ‘slightly off,’ even if it was a lovingly made gift. It’s better to make any needed adjustments in a sample swatch.
4. Size Matter, part 2
There is no pain like pulling a shrunken project from the dryer. Not all washing instructions seem to be grounded in reality. Before risking the fruits of your labor based on the recommended care instructions, try them out on your sacrificial swatch.
5. What Color Is This Again?
Many yarn labels say that items made from their product can be washed with like colors. What it seems they really mean is that you should only wash these things with other items made from the same brand and color of yarn. Never trust the label without proof to back up its claims.
Soaking your “useless” swatch in the sink is a good way to see if your handcrafted item will be colorfast. Check to see if any dye bleeds into the water. If so, then your project may end up a few shades lighter than desired after a wash or two.
Use your swatch as a guinea pig instead of the project that took months to complete. Take care not to wash your finished craft item with other pieces that might be ruined if your swatch fails this test. Be sure to include the accurate care instructions when giving the item as a gift or when you sell it.
6. New Yarn Type
Each different type of yarn has different amounts of stretch, give, or springiness to it. A quick tug isn’t enough information to be able to tell how a yarn will act in an actual project. Making a sample will quickly let you know if your new yarn find is suitable for a given project. New yarn options are coming onto the market all the time, so we need to test them first, even if it isn’t fun.
As you can see, most of the reasons for checking your gauge with swatches have nothing to do with your skill level. Is it worth the time to check your gauge? Only if you want your project to turn out as anticipated.