Swatches Are Lying Bastards

They may look innocent, but do not believe their lies.

I don’t swatch as much as I should. I know this. Most of what I knit is lace, where you don’t really need to swatch unless you’re worried about running out of yarn. I swatch for socks, but knitting a whole 4-inch swatch always seems a little crazy for something so small, especially since it takes so many damn stitches to come up with 4 inches in sock yarn, so I usually make mini 2-inch swatches, and this usually works fine (in part, I’m sure, because sock patterns are generally designed to be stretchy, so gauge isn’t critical as long as it’s in the right ballpark). But when the yarn arrived for Carol Fellers’ Leitmotif Cardigan, I decided I was going to be uncharacteristically virtuous — I wanted to ensure that this sweater would fit well, so I was not only going to knit full 4-inch swatches, but I was going to wash and block them just like you are supposed to.

Now, I realize that the above are still not as large as swatches are supposed to be. I know that you are supposed to knit a few stitches wider than the number of stitches that is supposed to give you four inches, and I know that you are supposed to knit them all the way square. But I felt so damn virtuous from my plans to wash and block that I figured I didn’t really need to knit them quite that big. And in fact, I’m not convinced that doing so would have averted the sorrow I experienced.

The recommended needle size was 8, so I started there (the swatch with the orange marker). It rapidly became clear to me that the gauge was way too tight, so I cast off and tried size 9 needles (the unmarked swatch). The gauge was still too tight, so I tried 10s (the swatch with the green marker). Bingo. I dutifully took notes on the measurements of these swatches, put them in to soak, and lay them out to dry. While they were drying, I wrote a Wise And Experienced comment on Izznit‘s blog easing her fears about swatch-blocking, assuring her that as long as she treated her swatch the same way she planned to treat her garment, its gauge ought to be accurate.

A few hours later, I checked on my swatches and noted that their measurements didn’t change much in blocking, but I was still a little hesitant to actually knit the sweater on size 10 needles. I thought, I am a Wise And Experienced Knitter, and I know that the gauge will actually open up a little bit under the garment’s own weight, so I will knit the sweater on size 9 needles. You can’t trick me, swatches!

Then came about two hours of struggling with the damn cast-on. The pattern calls for an invisible provisional cast-on, which I’d never done before — and the diagrams looked confusing, so I thought I’d outsmart the pattern and use Judy’s magic cast-on, which I learned for my Lady Green Shrug and am now totally in love with. So I cast on all 111 stitches this way, only to discover that Judy’s magic cast-on requires you to start on a right-side row, and the pattern wanted me to start on a wrong-side row — and I am not clever enough to figure out how to adjust for that, given that there are cables and such to contend with. Damn. So I ripped it out, and then spent about an hour failing to comprehend all the diagrams and videos on the entire internet for the invisible provisional cast on. This is the video that I finally managed to learn it from, and only after rewatching it six or seven times and pausing it at crucial moments so I could examine exactly what was happening. I successfully cast on all 111 stitches at last, and knit away happily while Pat and I watched Gigi, which is a surprisingly awful movie for something that is allegedly a classic musical and that won a million academy awards.

The next morning, I measured the gauge on the cardigan so far, and found that it was way too f*&#cking big. What the hell? I knit swatches! I blocked those swatches! I even anticipated that the swatches might lie to me and I tried to correct for it, but apparently I did not correct far enough. Apparently the damn size 8 needles were the right choice after all, despite the fact that the swatch I knit with them came out a whole inch too small. Why should I ever swatch again? WHY?

So I ripped that whole night’s work out, and started over on size 8 needles, and now it’s coming along fine. Here’s a shot of cabley goodness:

Sigh, I love cables. I basically never get to do cabled knits here in southern California because the fabric they create is too dense for the warm climate. But these are more for decoration than warmth, and they’re paired with these lacy ladders between them, so I think this should work out fine. And can we talk about how gorgeous this yarn is?

This is Madelinetosh Vintage in the “Ink” colorway. Dark blue is basically my favorite color (though green is a close second), so it’s a little weird that I don’t have more dark blue knits. But that is changing…. now.

In conclusion, swatches are lying bastards and knitting sometimes makes me swear like a sailor, but I guess it’s all part of the learning process. You don’t get to be a Wise And Experienced anything without making a few thousand mistakes.

6 thoughts on “Swatches Are Lying Bastards

  1. I am glad you got t sorted in the end it looks great and i love that yarn!

    Look forward to seeing more, and by the way that comment you left on Izznit’s blog helped me out on something i was doing at the time with a scarf.

  2. I too have failed the swatch test, however, I have also failed to swatch with equally devistating results. For many years I simply knit a project and then looked for someone to fit the result.
    To swatch or not to swatch….that is the question.

  3. Pingback: Simplicity and Complexity «

  4. Pingback: Pompa «

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