This is a controversial point of view, I know, but I don’t care about tension swatches (US gauge). It’s very rare that I swatch. I didn’t swatch for my Granito sweater and I didn’t swatch for my Ola Yoke cardigan, and indeed, I actually can’t remember the last time that I knitted a swatch to check my tension before casting on for a garment. I knit swatches quite regularly to use in video tutorials to demonstrate a technique, but I have such limited knitting time that I try to ensure that every stitch I do knit has an absolute purpose.
However, I care deeply about my tension.
And at the end of the day, the only tension that really matters is the washed and blocked tension you get in the final finished project. I worry that when we talk too much about swatching, there’s a danger in thinking, “well I got gauge in my swatch”, without remembering that a garment isn’t always the same as a swatch. The body may have a large circumference, or may be knitted back and forth, sleeves generally have a smaller circumference, and you may or may not knit them on the same sort of needles as the body. And if, like me, you work on a project over a long period of time, your state of mind may change, or you may adjust your knitting style for one reason or another. There are thousands of reasons for your tension in a small swatch to be different from your tension in the finished item (regardless of what that item is), and at the end of the day it’s the finished item that actually matters.
But this does make things difficult doesn’t it? To be sure that something is going to fit, you need to stop work from time to time and pop your stitches on waste yarn and wash and block them. Checking your tension as you work on the project is the only way to be certain you’re going to get the correct result at the end. A quick Google search for “my swatch lied” brings up a lot of very talented knitters whose finished projects don’t match the information they got from their initial swatch.
So what is the solution? Well either you just keep knitting and are relaxed about the fit of the finished item. This is absolutely my approach when I’m knitting hats – the finished hat will always fit someone! Or, you need to keep an eye on the tension you’re achieving as you work on the project, by washing and blocking as you go, or by measuring the unwashed tension and using a knowledge of how that tension will change when it’s washed and blocked, to work out whether you are still on track.
Whether you swatch, or don’t swatch, the responsibility is on us as knitters to understand the consequences of not keeping an eye on these things as we work on a project!
And on that cheery thought, here’s my in progress Granito sweater…
I’m thrilled with how it’s looking so far, and I just possibly might manage to finish it in time for Edinburgh Yarn Festival… I have three weeks – wish me luck!