This year’s knit list includes a sweater or two because I haven’t made very many of them, and I want to change that. I’ve only knit 1 sweater for myself in the *ahem* decade+ since I first learned to knit. It was the Amiga sweater, and it was cute and just the right size until I blocked it. Afterwards it was still cute, but had turned into an oversized cardigan. I definitely wore it, but it wasn’t what I set out to make or wear. I did all the things the knitting police said you’re supposed to do: knit a big swatch, used the same needles, and blocked the swatch the same as the finished sweater. I got gauge, or so I thought, but the swatch didn’t tell the truth. So for this first sweater of 2018, I’m taking a more rigorous and experimental approach to swatching. Instead of making just one swatch, I made three.
For swatch #1 I cast on enough stitches to equal 4” and a little extra for a garter stitch border. I added stripes as in the pattern and a section of 2x2 rib knit on smaller needles. Then I washed and blocked the swatch the same way I would the finished sweater. The square was a little uneven at the sides so I pinned it out to straighten the edges. This first swatch answered a few different questions.
Would the dye bleed between the different colors? No.
Would I like knitting the fabric on the needles I had? Yes.
Would I like the fabric after washing and blocking? Yes
Did I like the stripe pattern? Yes
Did I have the right needles to knit the ribbing at a tighter gauge? Yes.
Did I get stitch and row gauge? No, my gauge was off on both counts.
With swatch #2 I was only trying to answer the gauge question. So I went down two needle sizes and tried again. Same stitch count. Same garter border. Same blocking method. This time my gauge was too tight. And I didn’t like the finished fabric - too stiff - or knitting it.
I didn’t cast on for swatch #3 right away because I didn’t have the right size needle. My needle collection has been lacking a 3mm circular for years and this was project the first reason I had to buy one. In between refreshing the package tracking, I happened to read this article on how to knit accurate swatches and how to keep them from lying to you. Contrary to a lot of what I’d read up to this point, the advice was to skip the garter stitch border and not pin the swatch at all during blocking. The article is definitely worth the read and explains the why’s behind all of these tips.
So I switched things up and followed the advice in the article: skipped the border, worked 6” worth of stitches instead of 4”, and plopped a swatch of stockinette in the sink to soak. I didn’t pin it out or even try to control the roll as it dried. Know what? I finally got both stitch and row gauge. The fabric was nice to knit and has good drape. Win win.
So why do I “trust” this method of swatching to tell the truth? It’s given me numbers and measurements that didn’t require pinning and pulling on the fabric. Plus, the accuracy for swatches knit with borders and pinned is far from 100%. There’s no reason to not try it out. And if the sweater does grow, at least it’s a baby sweater and a little extra room isn’t a bad thing.
Since it seemed like I made an accurate swatch, I finally cast on for that sweater. It’s the Pacific Coast baby cardigan by Gabrielle Danskknit. It starts at the neck with a bit of ribbing before moving on to the stripes and raglan increases. My gauge is spot on. There’s still a lot of knitting to do before this beauty gets the blocking treatment, but I’ll let you know if gauge swatch #3 lied or told the truth.