The way I see it, swatching is like a flirtation on the bus: Exciting, new and carefree. There are no risks, but there’s the possibility of a beautiful (and flattering) future relationship. And if things don’t work out, you’ve still spent some pleasant time with somebody (or something) charming, or at the very least, identified and screened out a jerk.
Once you’ve swatched, knitting the project is like the first few years of a good marriage– still exciting, but with the confidence borne of experience that together you and your yarn are making something beautiful. You’re going somewhere together, a team, playing to each others’ strengths.
On the other hand, if you don’t swatch, knitting the project is like a first date. You’re nervous, you don’t know how your date will react to anything you do or say, you’re watching nervously for those little signs of incompatibility and braced for the BIG signs of incompatibility. You wonder if this is a waste of your time. Sure, everything could go just great, but it’s hard to relax and enjoy the anticipation and possibility with that hard knot of anxiety in your chest.
Now, I wasn’t always in love with swatching. Time was I’d rush head-long into bed with a project without doing a single swatch. I’d grab the closest yarn, nearest needles and cast on blindly, so eager for the knitting rush and that final, tantalizing project that I told myself I didn’t care about the consequences. I was sure it was going to go right! But then, like a woman counting the days after her period following an unwise one-night stand, I would begin to doubt. Doesn’t it look too big? Too small? Are the cables squishy enough? Do I really like this yarn with these needles? I’d end up spending more time measuring and tugging and peering anxiously at my knitting than actually knitting, and while my results were sometimes okay, they sometimes… weren’t. A honeymoon cami built for two was the failure that finally put me on the train to swatchdom.
And really, what could be more fun than those first moments of getting to know a new yarn, sliding it through your fingers, looping it over the needles, seeing those gorgeous garter ridges gather and gape– I love my first experiences with a really, really nice yarn, a smooth round merino, crisp vivid cotton, airy-light mohair or the finicky precise sheen and slide of silk. I love it, and I don’t want to be distracted during those first moments by concerns that the pattern and yarn might not suit. I don’t want to plan or read instructions. I just want to knit, our craft distilled to its purest form, the pleasure of forming stitches, the meditative rhythm, the flowing fabric.
Swatching no longer bothers me. In fact, I enjoy it. So many of the things in our lives have consequences, need to be done right the first time and quickly, leave no room for the leisurely exploration that is the pleasure of creativity. I am determined that my swatching shall be a break from those things. A little vacation from the big, bad world.