Although there is a segment of the knitting community that feels that knitting a swatch for every project is superfluous, we support swatches and understand the benefits. Knitting a swatch at the beginning of your project may add a bit of time to your project, but is essential, even for experienced knitters.
If you don't feel the need to swatch, maybe you haven't considered the reasons below.
The most common reason that knitters swatch is to check their tension. It makes perfect sense since the only way to be sure of the garment's final measurements is to make sure that your stitches are the same size as specified in the pattern. Imagine you are building a custom home and you want the exterior wall to be a specific length. Your builder knows how many standard concrete blocks it will be to achieve that length. If your builder decides to use a different size concrete block, your wall will no longer be your specified length. The same concept applies to your garment. If your end goal is to knit a garment that fits, knit a swatch.
Every time we cast on for the first time in a project, it is like meeting a new friend. In the beginning of a friendship, we get to know each other. We feel each other out a bit. The swatching process is how you get to know the yarn, how it feels, and how it moves. If you are following a pattern, perhaps after knitting the swatch you decide that you prefer a different gauge. How does the yarn look with the stitch pattern? If you swapped out a different yarn than what the pattern calls for, how does it look? Will it work?
If you are knitting a large, wearable garment, we recommend knitting a larger swatch. Once your swatch is complete, feel it against your skin. Is it silky soft or super scratchy? Will you be able to comfortably wear this garment? It is best to find out now before you invest too much time and money.
The final way to experience your fabric is to put it through a stress test. Is this pattern or this yarn prone to pilling? Will your finished garment withstand wear and tear? Some knitters wash their swatch to get an idea of how it will withstand laundering. Expose your knitting swatch to the same level of abuse that you put your blanket or sweater through. Only then will you know whether you should change your yarn or gauge.
We knit to relieve stress, to feel productive, and because it makes us happy. Knitting a swatch is a little like a movie trailer. It gives you a sneak peak so that you can decide if you will have fun with it. Is there too much cabling? Does the yarn cling too much? Is it too advanced? Too basic? All of these things can be decided while knitting a swatch. Nothing is more maddening that investing in a bunch of yarn and spending hours of your free time to be miserable while knitting your project.
There are many other reasons to knit a swatch, but these are our favorites. Do you knit a swatch? Why or why not?