A Lesson In The Need For A Gauge Swatch

I’ve said many times here on this blog that I really dislike swatching for gauge. And today I’m here to tell you I still dislike it, but I’ve been schooled in the need for it.

To me, swatching feels like wasting time and I just want to get to the knitting of the project.  I do know, however, that there are times when it really is necessary to do a swatch.  For example, when you are making a sweater or something else in which it is important for the item to fit correctly, you really should do a gauge swatch.  You really, really should… but often, I still don’t.

I think my knitting is “average” in the gauge department, meaning I’ve done swatches with the suggested needle size before and have gotten the right gauge, so why should I keep doing it, right? And for projects like a shawl or cowl, however, gauge is not as important because it could fit just about anyone and often there is only one size anyway, right?

That first question really is just pushing the issue and you really should do a swatch anyway for a project in which size matters.  That second question is what we are here to talk about today.

I started the Diamond Tempest Cowl with the wonderfully soft Baby Llama Chunky (both by Cascade) last week.

It was going along swimmingly.  The yarn was wonderful. The square needle was feeling great in my hands.  I was doing a little at a time and was creating this pretty pattern:

But then, I started looking at my ball of yarn and it seemed to be getting awfully small.  I had this gnawing feeling I’d be playing a game of yarn chicken.  Yarn chicken is when you are pretty sure you don’t have enough yarn to finish your project but you are really hoping you do have enough so you keep knitting, crossing your fingers and toes that you will have enough.  Then it’s just a game of seeing  who wins, you or the yarn.

With two pattern rounds and a bind off still to do:

The yarn won. !@#$%^&.

The pattern called for just one skein so why did I run out?  I thought about it for a bit and then I knew.  It was the needle.  I had done some reading about square needles and how they are supposed to be easy on your hands.  I also read that because of the squareness, the actual gauge the needle gets might be different than a round needle and many people have to go up a needle size in order to get the right gauge. So I chose one size larger for this project.  The project calls for a US 10 and I used a US 10 1/2.

You would think that a half millimeter difference in diameter would not make a difference but it does.  And you would also think that given the uncertainty of how these needles get gauge that I would check it –it was many people, not all people who had to go up a needle size.  And you would be thinking wrong because I blindly trusted that statement and didn’t give it another thought.

Please take this as a lesson that doing a gauge swatch is important! Sometimes it is important so your knitted fabric will look right — not too tight or not too loose.  Sometimes it is important because you want the item to fit correctly.  Sometimes it is important because you might run out of yarn. And sometimes it is important when you are using a new kind of needle and have no idea how it will perform.

Once I realized my mistake, I put that cowl right into time out until I could stop being mad at what it did myself.  And then I started this:

The Almost Lost Washcloth which will be an upcoming class at The Spinning Room this spring.  More about that when it’s done.

So, I’m now off to the ball winder to unwind the whole project and start again by doing a gauge swatch with a size 10 needle. [It’s really kind of ok, though, because if you look closely way back near the beginning, just after the ribbing, there is a weird section that I think I knitted wrong and I was trying to ignore it.]

While I’m doing that, take a look at what the Thrummed Mitten class came up with on Saturday:

Do you have a gauge fail that you’d like to share? Or something you’ve been “schooled” in regarding knitting?   Tell us about it in the comments!

11 comments on “A Lesson In The Need For A Gauge Swatch
  1. Libby says:

    Many, many gauge fails in several different ways. I have swatch fails, too. I won’t even start ‘splaining.
    Why did you start over and not tink in order to finish? Because you are teaching a class and the FO must be just so?

    • lizytish says:

      I thought about taking out a few rows but then the diamond pattern would have looked “off”. Plus there was the mistake at the beginning anyway….

  2. Beatrice Legere says:

    Thanks for the gauge reminder Liz! (FYI: I had to check your spelling on that word to get my spelling correct!). I, like you, have hated to take the time to do a gauge swatch, but shall remember your words of wisdom, especially when I knit my pullover, if ever. Oh those thrummed mittens look warm! Sorry that class was filled up, so I couldn’t take it.

  3. janabanana58 says:

    But wait, if you go DOWN a needle size, won’t you use more yarn to get the same dimensions? Or are you going by number of rows as opposed to cowl length?

  4. Donna Lawrence says:

    Great advice, Liz!

  5. Linda Peterson says:

    Spot on.

  6. Ceil Broady says:

    I usually skip the gauge knit too. I want to start the project and not “waste” the time knitting a gauge. I figure for a shawl, or wrap it won’t matter. I just started The Wolf Moon shawl using a size 11 needle instead of 10.5 , using a bulky yarn, It’s looking like I’ll lose the yarn game too; will have to figure out how to get more of the yarn I’m using!

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  1. […] Button Lesson #1: I recently lost a game of yarn chicken, running out of yarn with just 2 rounds and the bind off left to knit on my Diamond Tempest Cowl. […]

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