After a hiatus of several months I am climbing back onto the blogging horse.  The number of spam comments is astonishing; almost enough to make me abandon the whole idea.  I finally figured out how to completely ban comments unless I approve the commenter first.

Back to knitting.  I have been engaged with a knitter on Ravelry about swatching: how we do it, why we do it, and how much we love it.  Does that make us knitting geeks?

I am seriously math challenged, plus I often knit swatches way ahead of starting projects. I find it easier to count stitches while casting on rather than after a swatch is knit so I have standardized my non-specifc swatching.   Here is what I do when trying out a yarn that isn’t for a specific project.

Most of the yarns I like to work with are knit on a US size 8 or smaller needle.  If the suggested needle size is 7 or 8,  I cast on 30 stitches using the suggested needle size.  I knit 2 rows for a stable bottom edge, purl 1 row, then work a row with YOs and K2togs to show the needle size: one YO/K2tog per needle size (7 holes for a size US 7).  If the needle size is a half size (3 mm equals about a 2 1/2 US) I knit 2 YO/K2tog combinations plus a purl stitch on the right side to indicate the half size.

I knit for 20 or so rows in stockinette after the marking row.  I lay the swatch flat and measure, then divide the width by 30 to get stitches per inch, and the height of the swatch by the number of rows I knit to get rows per inch.  For finer yarns on smaller needles I cast on 40 sts and knit for 40 rows. For really fine yarns or when I am swatching for a specific project I knit in pattern – casting on enough stitches to do at least 3 pattern repeats plus a few extra stockinette stitches on each side.

If I don’t like the fabric because it is too flimsy or too dense I purl a row on the right side, switch needles and knit another 30 or 40 rows.

Then I wash the swatch according to yarn directions, lay it out flat to dry, usually pinned in shape, and re-measure after the swatch is dry and has relaxed a couple of hours. It is the blocked and dried swatch numbers I use for a sweater, but if there is a difference in row gauge between blocked and unblocked, I count rows instead of measuring. Then I attach a hang tag  (if I can find my box of hang tags in the stash) showing the gauge before and after blocking, and with the needle size and type of needle – metal, rosewood, ebony, bamboo, etc. The kind of needle can make a difference in the gauge, especially over 44 inches of a sweater body.

Being one of the rare knitters who loves to swatch, I allow myself the treat of swatching a new yarn after completing a particularly tedious bit of knitting. I also measure my work to check on gauge after a couple of hours just to be sure the yarn isn’t being sneaky.

Do you have to swatch? For a sweater or other garment that needs to fit properly you only have to swatch if you want the sweater to fit.   For shawls and other non-fitted items, I swatch only to be sure I am getting a fabric I like.  And for socks – which I use as a mindless plain stockinette project – I don’t swatch.  For sock/fingering weight I use a size 0 or 1, cast on 64 stitches and carry on.  I knit a lot of socks using sport weight – for these I use a size US 1 1/2, cast on 60 sts, and carry on.