Last week at WHMU(WHSKAL), I swatched. Which is something that happens pretty rarely around here, so I thought I'd babble about it a little bit.
Usually I don't swatch. My gauge is usually pretty close to the recommended gauge on ball bands, so for things like socks I don't swatch. I don't swatch lace. I don't swatch for scarves or mittens or hats. In fact the only thing I do swatch for occasionally is a sweater.
Typically I'll start with a sleeve if I'm worried about the gauge and check that after a few inches. But if it's something that for which gauge is really important, I'll do a swatch. Or a yarn that I have no information on for appropriate gauge. Or if I'm not sure how the yarn and the pattern will work together, I'll do a swatch.
I've been wanting to do Manon for a while now (Rav link). And since it's another Norah Gaughan funky construction type of thing, I figured swatching would be in my best interests. So I threw the newly dyed Italian yarn into a bag along with three needle sizes and headed for Whole Foods.
Three needles sizes you ask? Yup, three sizes. Because nothing pisses me off more then knitting a gauge swatch with a particular size and then finding out that it's wrong. So I use multiple sizes on the same swatch and then pick the one that works best after washing/drying.
For this sweater the pattern calls for US size 9 needles. Usually I would try to bookmark the needle size (i.e. use one size smaller and one size larger), but I couldn't imagine that I would need a US 10 for this, so I took US 7/8/9 as my needle range.
Recommended gauge for this project is 18 st/24 rows for 4 inches. I cast on 26 stitches with the 7s, knit about 4 rows in garter stitch and then started working in stockinette stitch, keeping 3 stitches on each edge in garter. After a while, on a wrong side row, I knit 7 stitches. After a while more, I figured I had enough to be able to check the gauge, so I knit one entire wrong side row, and then switched to the 8s.
The process proceeded as above except that instead of knitting 7 stitches in the middle of that stretch, I knit 8, and so on (9 stitches with the size 9s). This makes it very easy later on to figure out what needle size I used for which section of the swatch, without having to rely on an easily lost piece of paper. The swatch is finished with several more rows of garter stitch. I finished this one easily that night, and tossed it into a cold bath when I got home (although I did start the sweater before measuring the blocked swatch - thankfully the gauge didn't change!).
I'm happy to say that, not only was my gauge spot on with the US 9s, but the swatch didn't bleed at all, proving that my improvised solar dyeing/steam setting of the dye worked pretty well. It is slightly variegated, which looks just gorgeous when knitted up. And I've got a gauge swatch that tells me how the yarn works on 7s and 8s too, just for future reference.