Hand on your heart: Do you knit a gauge swatch every time before starting a new project? Or do you –like I did for many years– not feel like investing time and yarn in a knitted square that only stops you in your tracks and that you can't seem to do anything with later?
I usually was too impatient and preferred to start knitting straight away. True to the motto "It will surely fit". Annoyingly enough, this was often not the case. So much effort for a sweater that turned out to be too small... So I finally learned my lesson, and today I am a model knitter who swatches before every new project.
Meanwhile, I really like doing it. On the one hand, I have learned to appreciate the advantages of swatching: It is indeed helpful to be able to assess one's own knitting “handwriting”. And trying out yarn and patterns in advance is fun and gives you the confidence that yarn usage and fit will turn out as expected in the end. (If you want to learn more about how to knit a gauge swatch, you can read our Good-to-know article on the matter).
On the other hand, over time I have discovered that there are many beautiful ways to use the gauge swatches beyond their actual purpose. And that has made the subject even sweeter for me.
By now, I have gotten into the habit of labelling my gauge swatches after washing and blocking them. I write down all the important information about the yarn, needles, design or the pattern on a small card. And, of course, the number of stitches and rows per 10 cm. I then attach these notes to my gauge swatch together with the yarn label. This is how I preserve the knowledge I have gained and then keep it together with the other swatches in a nice box. A real little treasure!
Over time, I have found my favourite yarns that I knit with over and over again, and also patterns that I particularly like. For example, there is a children's sweater, the Anker's Sweater by PetiteKnit, that I’ve been knitting repeatedly with Lovely Merino Treat in different colours and ever-larger sizes for my children. So once I have the correct gauge for this design, I can reuse it and get straight into the actual knitting fun for the upcoming kids' sweaters. Over the years, I have accumulated a number of gauge swatches. Especially those in stockinette stitch are worth their weight in gold - because that's how I often knit. They give me a good idea of which yarn and needle size I can use to achieve the desired gauge for a design. That way, I can also see whether the yarn recommended in the instructions can be replaced by another one that I have at hand. So in many cases, I don't have to swatch again and can choose my yarn freely and flexibly.
However, if I don't keep a close eye on my treasure chest, my gauge swatches disappear into the children's room. Because the miniature knitted pieces fit perfectly into every imaginative play. They have been used as little mattresses and blankets for dolls and as little carpets to embellish every home - whether for wooden dolls or Duplo figures.
My daughter enjoys using the little knits in play as all kinds of clothing. It is especially helpful when the beginning and end threads are not woven in, allowing for interesting wrap-around looks and tie-up dresses. One morning in November, I watched her re-enacting the story of Saint Martin: A blackberry-sorbet coloured swatch served as the warming cloak for the good-natured rider. Luckily, she didn't go quite so far as to cut the sample in two.
But we grown-ups can also get creative with our gauge swatches. Especially the samples in beautiful lace, cable or structured patterns can be used wonderfully for decorative purposes. My dear colleague Katja gave me the idea of putting swatches into an embroidery hoop, thus creating a unique little work of art. She was kind enough to lend me the corresponding stitch samples from her Let it Fall sweater. Luckily, her gauge didn't fit straight away, so that I had two pieces in the same lace pattern for my little decorative project. And it occurred to me that a simple picture frame can also perfectly show off the knitted beauties.
So I pulled a thread through the outer edges of the two stitch samples and stretched them over the inner ring of the embroidery hoop and the glass pane of the picture frame. I fastened them with a knot at the back - and my little craft project was ready.
I particularly liked arranging the pieces: The two knitted pictures, a bit of colour in the vase, and my favourite corner with my knitting armchair had received a whole new look. The icing on the cake was the little plate with chocolate placed on another gauge swatch in a cable pattern. Basically a knitted version of the doily - only much fresher in my opinion. I really enjoyed this cosy, stylish little place and hate to return the beautiful stitch samples. I should probably try lace knitting again – if only because of the lovely swatches.