I'm Joining Team Swatch

Posted by Tammi Williams on Oct 6th 2022

When the sweater I'd been working on furiously over several months ended up too big to wear to Rhinebeck, it was time for me to take a hard look at the decisions that led me here.

For as long as I've been knitting — over 20 years — I have never swatched for any project. Ever. Impatient by nature, I always want to get right to knitting the thing so I can wear it proudly and proclaim, "why yes, I did make my sweater". But a statistical analysis of what was actually made vs what was actually worn after being made would show that 6 out of 10 items knitted by me were either gifted or stuffed into a drawer, rarely to be seen again. My stats are worse if we only count the sweaters. Honestly, 9 out of 10 sweaters I knit end up in the drawer because I don't like the fit. 

I blamed my body for the bad fit but the real blame lands squarely on my failure to swatch. I approached sweater knitting by picking the size I think I wear, using whatever yarn I want and needles recommended in the pattern. Sometimes, I'd remember to do a gauge count after knitting several inches of the garment and if it was way off, I'd rip it out and start again, but most times, I didn't bother. This worked for me when knitting the Ixchel sweater. I got most of the way through the yoke but it looked like it was turning out too small, I did a count and decided to rip it out and go up a size. That sweater turned out great and I wear it every winter. Nothing else has worked out this way.

The first sweater I ever made (I don't remember the name of the pattern but it was from one of the Rowan magazines) turned out to be entirely too big. I kept the sweater at my office to wear when the AC was cranked up too high. I love this sweater. It's cozy and roomy, the sleeves are stupid long, and I've never worn it outside. Other sweaters have turned out too small. My Beyla, for example, is too small at the yoke but fits well in the body. With Beyla, I knit the yoke, counted my gauge after knitting most of the yoke, but when I saw the sweater was turning out too small, I went up a needle size instead of ripping it out. I thought I could block it into shape, but it just fits weird so I don't really wear that sweater.

My Rhinebeck Sweater is the latest project destined to the Drawer of Misfit Sweaters. I was knitting the Studio 54 Wrap using DK weight cotton (the pattern calls for wool) and I thought it was turning out ok, but once I knit the sleeves and tried it on, I realized it's way too big. And one sleeve is knit looser than the other, likely because for one sleeve I used Addi Flexi Flips and for the other I used a circular wood needle. The Flexi Flip sleeve is perfect. The circular knit sleeve is a loosely knit mess. Another lesson learned. Use the same tool for knitting both sleeves if you want them to come out looking the same. 

On my needles now, I have the Gramma's Medley Sweater. I am at the point where I am to split the front from the back. I didn't swatch before casting on, but last night I counted my gauge and I'm getting more stitches to the inch than the pattern says. That means the sweater will be smaller than the finished size in the pattern. Since this sweater has a fair amount of east and I'm sure I chose a size that is too big for me anyway (another bad habit) it might end up fitting me fine. It's knit from the bottom up and looks like it's fitting well over my mid-section when I hold it up, but it could go off the rails. I guess we'll see because I'm going to forge ahead.

The next sweater I cast on will be the Grace Notes pullover. I made a swatch! Before blocking, my swatch is 2 stitches less than the gauge the pattern calls for using the suggested yarn and needle size. That means the sweater may be too big. I will see what happens after I block my swatch and figure out my next step from there. If I'm still getting fewer stitches, I guess I'll try going down a needle size or choose to knit a bigger size. Is that what I'm supposed to do? Where's my old copy of Stitch and Bitch?

Whatever happens, from now on I'll be swatching before knitting sweaters. I may even extend that to scarves and shawls. My shawls always end up being smaller that the finished size in the pattern. Oof and hats. I have only ever made one hat that fit my head and I lost it ages ago — so yeah, maybe I'm swatching everything. After 20+ years, I am joining Team Swatch. I will need the guidance and support of my fellow swatchers. I hope you'll have me.