If you knit you've probably read "Take the time to save time, check your swatch" somewhere at the beginning of a pattern. When I was a beginner and rebellious knitter, it took me a few months to first understand what a swatch was, then why I had to make one when the pattern told me what size needles to use?
I was a stubborn knitter and didn't think the swatch was something essential to do. Until I decided to knit a cardigan for my mother. I spent hours and hours with her to choose the perfect model (she chose the LEAH LOVELY CARDIGAN ), my father financed the wool, almost $100 between material, customs and delivery costs. Three weeks later the package arrived and I was ready to start. That day I went to see Céline, very excited to show her the yarn and the pattern. She thought it was all very beautiful but when casting on my stitches, Céline asked me:
– Have you already made your sample?
– No, I never make samples, the size of the needles is always indicated on the patterns…
The rest of this conversation had the effect of a shower of cold water on my enthusiasm and my excitement to start my project:
– You can't get into an adult cardigan without checking your blood pressure! Everyone has their own way of knitting, a looser or tighter tension corresponds, in the end, to a smaller or much larger cardigan. You can't do without it...
– Alright (extremely upset in my teenage crisis)
"Do you really want to take that risk?" You cast on 30 stitches you knit in stocking stitch up to 10 centimeters and you fold off. At home, you let it soak in a bowl with lukewarm water for a quarter of an hour and then you let it dry flat on a clean towel.
– I have to do all this?!
– You just spent over $100 to make the cardigan, do it right!
I then decided to stop my teenage crisis and knit this 10×10 square just to prove to Céline that it was not necessary because the size of the needles is always indicated on the patterns. Sample knitted in 3.25mm as shown, washed, blocked and tah-dah(!) it was (really) too loose. I then adjusted the size of the needles, made another sample to end up with 2.5mm needles for 29 stitches and 38 rows at 10 cm. Very far from the 3.25mm needles at the start. I put my tongue in my pocket! You don't argue with Master Yoda about knitting.
This experience taught me the critical importance of checking blood pressure. A successful sample is the first step of a successful project. Even for more experienced knitters with a more stable and even tension, there is always a chance that the fiber will react differently to the wash.
Does she relax or does she not move at all? If she relaxes? How many meshes when dried? The sample is our first contact with the fiber, how does it behave? Is it elastic or does it have a lack of elasticity? Does it need freedom and flexibility or more frame and structure when knitting it? Is it rather soft or rather more rustic? Is this an error tolerant thread?
The sample allows us to answer all these questions before investing in long hours to complete a project. It's like a trial period to avoid tears and broken hearts a few months later.
So ladies (and gentlemen) before saying: "Go to your needles", check first if you have the right ones!