Almost every knitting technique or knitting pattern book advises knitters to knit a sample swatch before beginning to knit a project. This is certainly sage advice, and some advice that it seems many knitters ignore. One of the biggest steps toward achieving professional quality results any knitter can take is to take the time to knit a swatch. Not only will the swatch let you know if you need to make adjustments to get the correct gauge for your knitting, it also allows the knitter to;
*try out any new techniques or stitches before including them in the finished piece. For example, you can try cabling in a your swatch before doing it in your finished piece. This is a good way to make sure that the new technique will be practiced before it is knit in the project.
*let the knitter know if the substitutions for yarn or color are likely to give the desired effect. Substitute yarn may not have the proper drape or show stitches to their best effect Color substitutions may not have the right pop in a fair isle pattern.
*See how different edges affect the knitted fabric. If you want to change ribbing to a picot edge, your swatch will let you know if the new edge will produce a flat fabric or curl. I four swatch stretches or curls, you can find a suitable edging.
*Let you try out blocking techniques. No one would want to spend 30+ hours knitting a sweater or afghan only to ruin it by using the wrong blocking method.
In order to knit up a proper swatch. You need to begin by casting on enough stitches to make a swatch at least 5 inches wide. Be sure to use the same cast on and stitch patterns you will use in your project. Knit the swatch until you have at least five inches of length, then bind off- again, you want to use the same technique you will use in your actual project. Now, add any edgings you are planning to add to your project. Try to add any additional touches to your swatch - for example, if you are going to knit a buttonhole band for a cardigan, add an edge band with a few buttonholes.
Taking the time to knit a detailed swatch gives you far more information than just your gauge. In the next article, we will explore how to use your swatch - measuring gauge, trying blocking methods, and troubleshooting.