What is the one thing that every knitting book stresses over all others when tackling a new project?
Swatch, swatch, swatch.
I know this. I understand, fundamentally, why it is so important. Yet, because I usually never work with delicate fibres or knit anything that actively requires blocking, I tend to skimp on the mechanics of swatching. If I'm about to try out a new sock pattern I'll swatch to make sure I have the right amount of stitches per inch for the needles I'm using, to ensure a good fit, but that's about it.
I have never really thought about why it is important to swatch in a particular pattern, nor have I really given any thought to actually blocking said swatch, until this weekend.
As you might recall, I am knitting Eloping for my friend Jo for her wedding. The wedding that is a little less than three weeks away. I have been trying to get it done for so long, but I keep running into walls on it. Part of it is my inability to knit back lace, especially lace so fraught with double yarn-overs (I will get five inches into it and then drop something and not be able to find my way back, for e.g.), and part of it is my fear of working with beautiful fibres. It may even have something to do with fear of accomplishment. And because I can't go to the wedding in person, this garter is standing in for me - I want to make sure I have contributed something beautiful, like nothing else I have ever been able to do for my wonderful friend. I want her to know how much I love her and her husband-to-be, through my handcraft. So this Saturday I finally sat down and knitted all the length I thought I needed, according to the pattern (1" less than leg circumference). It was incredible: not one mistake! I took little breaks to ensure my wrists wouldn't tire and my morale wouldn't sag. I kicked that garter's butt! Then it was time to block.
The garter grew SIX INCHES after a brief soak and a very gentle roll in a towel. I panicked. After I put the measuring tape over it I literally clutched my hands to my mouth and stared at it in horror. I couldn't speak. I couldn't tell my husband what was wrong when he looked over in confusion. I took a deep breath. I made some measurements on my craft foam and tried to pin it out as best I could, but it was so obvious that, even taking the vertical measurement into account, it was going to be way longer than needed. It looked bunched up and awkward. To my credit, I didn't cry. I didn't throw anything (as I have been known to do in moments of knitting-related distress). I just left it to dry and thought about what I could do to fix it, if anything. Nathan suggested booking a help-session at the LYS; maybe we could tear it back with their help. I think this was a wonderful idea, but I wanted to start over, even with all of the start-overs I've already had.
So tonight I swatched up. I did two - one that measured 2" unblocked, and another one of 4" unblocked; that's 5 and 10 pattern repeats, respectively. I blocked them out and they both blossomed an extra 1" per 5-pattern repeat. So I now know, definitively, how much I need to knit. I also practiced threading the elastic and the ribbon through. So I'm all prepared for that stage of the process. My sincere hope is that if I work hard tomorrow (I have the day off), I can have it in the mail on Tuesday, or Wednesday at the latest. Express mail, because I have to send it to Australia!
Wish me good luck and Godspeed, fellow knitters. And rest assured that through all of these gaffs and the many times I have now knitted this lace, I have absolutely, 100%, learned the value of swatching and blocking a swatch. Don't let this happen to you, my friends! Swatch, swatch, swatch AND BLOCK!