Swatching may well be one of the best parts of knitting. you get to try new yarn, new needles, new patterns, new techniques, all without having to commit to a big project.
I don't usually have the yarn specified in a pattern, and when I try to find a substitute yarn with similar characteristics, I might not get the approved gauge. So I swatch to A) find out what size needles will make a fabric I like B) make sure that this yarn really will work for the pattern, and C) figure out my gauge so I can adjust the pattern accordingly.
Trying out new techniques on a swatch? Very fun. Latest discovery is Tubular Cast On. Wow! It rocks! How does it work? I have no idea, but I followed the simple instructions on knitty.com and swatched away. Now I want to start every project with K1P1 ribbing so I can go tubular. Makes me itchy to start another CeCe. or a Pippa. But I have two non tubular sweaters to finish first.
We are in sweater-knitting land around here. As I said before, I want to make Franz a sweater. My first thought was a nice dark green Silky Wool sweater with a little accent color in the (tubular) ribbing. As much as I like this, Franz is...eh.
I thought about the Cambridge Jacket in Summer 2006 Interweave Knits. Zach had said he liked it and it's made with Cascade 220, completely non-objectionable, affordable, easy to use yarn. Franz agreed that it's a nice sweater design. Yup, I guess Ann Budd really does know what men will wear. Only she suggests knitting this sweater on US9s and getting 19.5 stitches/4 inches. Yuck. Zach swatched on US9s and got this gauge and the swatch was really floppy --- not at all what we wanted. So I reswatched in US8s and US7s until we were happy with the fabric. Both Zach and I get 22 stitches/4 inches on US7s and we all like the result. So there it is. With all the sizes calculated for the pattern, it wasn't hard for us to find which ones work with our gauge/desired fit. Alas, no K1P1 ribbing, no tubular casting.
A trip to two yarn stores got us the right colors. With over a hundred choices of colors in Cascade 220, Franz decided on Charcoal Grey. It's really a nice grey, and it's a traditional color he will wear, and that's what matters. Zach thought long and hard about using the bold orange as shown in the magazine; in the end he chose a heathered blue/green.
The cream colored swatch in the lower left is really greenish yellow --- some discontinued "mellow yellow" Rowan wool cotton I purchased from a destasher. The swatch is for Bonne Marie Burns's Ribby Cardi for me. I didn't get gauge, but I did get a fabric I liked, so I just have to adjust which pattern size to use. I think I have enough for the sweater, but I might want to get a contrasting color for the sleeves, just to make sure, and because a two color sweater will be fun.
The silky wool? Still destined for a tubular cast on , V-neck cardigan, but probably for me. Zach and I are in disagreement about the contrasting stripes in the ribbing though. I'll have to swatch.