I swatch a lot more now than I ever used to before designing. I’m certainly not a convert though. Friends who knit with me will tell you that. More than once they’ve seen me hold a strand of yarn to my forehead, pronounce what needles I need and what gauge I’ll get, and move on.
It doesn’t always work. But it’s just knitting, I can always rip something out and try again.
With sweaters, and other large garments it’s nice to have a little idea of where to start. So I took the mini-skein from Dirty Water Dyeworks and knit a mini-swatch.
As I suspected, size 5 needles seem to give the fabric I want, dense enough it won’t pill instantly, but still with some drape – this is a pretty cardigan, not a working gansey style sweater. I’ve also learned (or been reminded) that I should do the ribbing on needles a size smaller. I can also see that the cables will pop on the stockinette background wonderfully in this yarn.
Before I can cast on for the sweater itself, I need to sit down and figure out some numbers*. I will get an approximate gauge from this little swatch and write up the sleeve directions first. Starting here gives me a chance to work a bigger swatch (or as some might call it, the first sleeve) to check that I’m right about the fabric. I’ll start on the plain, uncabled sleeve which gives me a chance to work out the cap shaping and all the details. Then I’ll chart the cable and plug it into the second sleeve. The trick here is that cables make the fabric pull in, so the second sleeve will need more stitches than the first. Asymmetrical patterns are tricksy that way – unless you want asymmetric sleeve shapes as well, which I don’t.
*for a magazine I’d write the pattern, minus the numbers, while I wait for the yarn to arrive. Then I knit a decent sized swatch (because I probably don’t have time to rip later) plug in the gauge, and start knitting with the hope that very few changes will be needed.