The DNA scarf knitalong begins on September 5th, so I am swatching. This is not cheating and beginning early — I am really just swatching.
Here’s the pattern: http://noodle.pds.k12.nj.us/june/HelixPattern.html .
Here’s the knitalong: http://knitting.xaviermusketeer.com/index.php?cat=6
“Swatching” means knitting up a piece about 4″ square with the yarn, needles, and stitch pattern you plan to use for your project. You then check the gauge by measuring and counting stitches. You compare that with the gauge called for in the pattern (for the DNA scarf, 6 st to the inch in seed stitch). If it matches, then you go ahead. If it doesn’t, you switch to another size needle and start over, repeating the process until you get a match. Or, if it doesn’t match before it gets ridiculous, you choose another yarn or another pattern.
Many people do not swatch. I used to be a non-swatcher myself, so I know what they are thinking. They are thinking that they will be able to tell after a few inches, and can just frog it if necessary. Or adjust the pattern. They are thinking that it is not a fitted garment, so it won’t matter much. Or — my personal favorite — it’s bound to fit someone (granted, this one works better for people with large families). They are thinking that they have used this weight of yarn a lot before and they know what their gauge will be. Some of them are thinking that it will be a waste of yarn to swatch.
I frog my swatches and use the yarn in the project, so this doesn’t affect me, but some people find it heart-breaking to pull out good knitting. Some gather up all their swatches and sew them together to make an ill-planned and ugly afghan that can never be washed. Some just make a pair of socks or some other little thing and consider that the swatch. I understand all these approaches.
The only really stupid take on swatching that I have ever encountered is the idea that the writer of the pattern is responsible for guessing correctly about your personal style of knitting, and thus recommending the needles and yarn which will result in the correct gauge end of the world amen. Occasionally in amazon.com reviews of knitting books you will read things like “My gauge is always spot on, and the needle sizes given in this book were just wrong.” I’m sorry, but this is silly. No two knitters knit exactly alike. No two yarns knit up just alike, and sometimes two different shades of the same yarn will knit up differently. That’s why you have to swatch. And why it is probably unwise to get your heart set on a particular yarn before you swatch.
Whatever your personal approach to swatching, you might like to read the swatching adventures of the DNAalong hostess. She knit multiple swatches and then washed them — repeatedly, in varying combinations. Anyone who washes and blocks his or her swatches impresses me. She also found that she couldn’t get the gauge in her chosen yarn. At this point, we are supposed to give up and use something else. However, her refusal to do that is giving me courage to refuse likewise. The scarf as designed is only 6″ wide, which is a bit narrow for my tastes. And I can always do a few rows and see how it works. Alter it if necessary. And, hey, it’s not a fitted garment so it won’t matter much.