I began knitting about 12 years ago, and in the beginning I remember thinking that swatching wasn’t necessary. At all. What a silly thing to waste wool on. Of course, at the time I was making scarves with uneven stitches (not to mention the holes… oh the dropped stitches!), and starting and frogging the same hat three or four times.
If I ever decided to make something that I felt like, just maybe, should have some sort of fit, I would exasperatedly knit up something that measured about 8 stitches across and 6 or so rows, measure one inch quickly and then rip it out so that the precious wool could be used for the project, not the silliness that is swatching. I really did feel like it was a waste of wool. So naturally, the swatches never gave me a true gauge and my hats were nearly always too big or too small. If the fit came out alright, it was purely by accident.
Over the years I read more about knitting. I graduated to knitting actual garments and I began to finally see the need for a good, blocked swatch. As my knitting matured so did my attitude about swatching. I’m still a bit stingy with my wool, especially if there’s only a skein or two to work with. But instead of spending hours knitting a sweater that isn’t going to fit, I’ll actually take the time to knit a proper swatch, usually measuring about 5×5 inches. Stockinette knits up pretty fast, and a garter stitch border makes everything neat and tidy, and lay a little flatter.
Designing knitting patterns of my own has really taught me to value a good swatch. Its one thing for me to fudge something that I’m making for myself, but another story all together when I am putting a pattern out there. Imagine all the angry emails. No thank you. It can be a vital part of the design process, too. I love to flip slowly through a stitch dictionary, and test out patterns, textures, manipulating them just to see what becomes of the wool if I do this, or change that. I’m not telling anyone what to do, but perhaps next time you find yourself rolling your eyes about a swatch, you’ll reconsider and make nice.