I have always been against swatching. Swatches are those small squares of fabric that you knit to verify that you are using the correct size knitting needles. If your pattern is yarn you haven't worked with before, if the designer is new to you, if you are about to knit something you haven't knit before, then common wisdom says you should pick what you think is the correct sized needles and knit some of the pattern to verify. If the swatch turns out to be the wrong size, you pick different needles and knit it again. I have always steadfastly refused to do this. Why should I waste my time? Why should I waste the yarn? I want to get going on the scarf/shawl/sweater!
The problem with my approach is perfectly predictable. The sweater is miles too large or way too small. The scarf is miles too long or way too short. Of course, you might be lucky and pick the correct size knitting needles and end up with a garment that fits perfectly. That has never happened to me. I gave up knitting items that had to fit about 30 years ago. It was just too depressing to always have the item be the wrong size. I'm not sure how many stitches there are in a sweater but it's at least thousands. That is a huge investment in time, money and yarn, to have it turn out wrong. Until this winter, the most recent garment I knitted was a sweater for my brother. He's a big guy and I followed the directions exactly. I sent him this beautiful sweater which he promptly returned to me. It was at least 3 or 4 sizes too large. Exactly. Somehow, the choice to start swatching wasn't obvious to me.
I knit loosely so I have always gone down at least one size knitting needles from what they tell you in the directions. Peggy knits tightly so she tends to pick larger needles than what the directions say. Everyone is different. That's the reason you can't trust the designer's choice of needles to be the right ones for you.
Last April, at the beginning of our Covid 19 lockdown, I started to knit the Wave Cardigan by Toshiyuki Shimada and Grace Williamson. I ordered the sweater kit along with the book (Knit Real Shetland from Jamieson & Smith, Wool Brokers) from Denise Bell of Lost City Knits. I'm not going to talk about this sweater here. It's at least a whole blog all by itself. My list of errors and omissions is monumental. Suffice it to say I did not swatch and I was not happy with the results.
I have been reading various essays and blogs by Kate Davies of Kate Davies Designs in Scotland. She strongly suggests, encourages, basically demands that any serious knitter must swatch. With every single project. Well, shit. OK. Maybe I should try it once.
My next project was the Barry Hiking Vest by Denise Bell. I ordered the yarn and the pattern and when it came, I did not cast on. I swatched. This may have just rocked my world. There is no going back now.
This is the first time in decades that I knit something that needs to fit me and it actually fits me. Holy cow. When I look back on all those sweaters I knit for myself in the past, a couple of things stand out. I was much thinner then and the sweaters I chose were chunky and loose fitting. It was much easier then to blunder through the project and get something at the end that I was willing to wear. Not so much now. I want the sweater to fit me more exactly than I required back then.
If you google how to knit a gage swatch you will get lots of information and lots of rules on how to do it. Full disclosure here - I did not knit a full size square swatch that was 6 to 8 inches in size. I have never been very worried about the number of rows in 4" - maybe I will worry about it going forward but not right now. On the other hand, the number of stitches in 4" is remarkably important to me since I know I knit large. For the Barry Hiking Vest I had to go down not one or even two but three full needles sizes to get the right number of stitches per 4". That's one hell of a difference.
So now I'm a swatching convert. I still don't buy into the idea of knitting a 6" by 8" swatch but I will do a 6" by 4" swatch for sure. And by googling the process I learned how to do a swatch that's knit in the round. I followed the rules - I washed each of my swatches and blocked them without stretching and measured them after they were dry and had had some time to relax.
My current project is the Land 'o Cakes Cardigan by Kate Davies. Yes, I've swatched it. I'm working with needles on the waistband that are 2.25 mm rather than the pattern suggested 3.25mm. Then I'll go up to 2.75 mm for the body of the sweater. I feel so accomplished. We'll see how the sweater turns out.