With some time between projects, I decided it was time to make a gauge swatch for my own upcoming version of Elizabeth Zimmerman's "Very Warm Hat" pattern (from her book, Knitting Around).
How I hate these gauge swatches. I consider myself a slow knitter, and here I am knitting something that I will rip once done, using up my precious new yarn, possibly splitting it, making it all crimply looking,
Of course, EZ recommends to start a hat as a gauge swatch, or you could buy more yarn and leave the swatch as part of permanent records. I decided instead of making a swatch library I would use ravely and make a note in my yarn stash every time I determined a new gauge. Sometimes I simply know I'll be short on yarn and there's no point in keeping it.
(on a side note, I believe an exception must always be made for sweaters. Buy more, make a big swatch, cast off, measure, wash, measure, block, measure, throw it around the apartment, measure, wash again, measure, block, measure, have supper, measure, etc.Should you absolutely need the yarn then you can unravel it months later.)
But today I finally decided to test something I've wanted to do for a while. I'm a relatively tight knitter, and I have doubted my gauge would significantly be altered whether I was making it in the round or just plain back and forth. I know I've read everywhere that it makes a difference, but I had to see it for myself.
So I did one of each this morning. No small task considering how I absolutely despise swatching. But I have learned a lot to make my life easier from now on,
First, it makes a difference. With fingering yarn, I got 30 stitches in the round and 28 stitches on the flat gauge, which is consistent with the body of literature out there on this subject.
But doing a gauge in the round takes twice as long, and how awful that is. (Of course, you could work on a dpn, slide your work across it, and carry a long strand in the back to continue knitting and producing stockinette, but what if you have misplaced your dpns in a certain size? :)
It made me realize however, that on small projects, this effect is negligible. Perhaps that is why my LYS sometimes would give me needles and yarn and say in confidence I could start my sock without a gauge swatch, as long as you know you're close, the difference really doesn't matter. (IF the item is stretchy and can accommodate a certain margin of error.)
I wouldn't use this logic on a sweater or perhaps anything wider than a hat.
Doing some math (maybe improperly, but the point is valid), here's how much of a variation you'd have had you not made the proper swatch.
Sock: Had I made a sock with a 2 stitch error in my gauge I would have had a sock whose leg with would be 6.5 inches instead of 7 inches.
Mitten: Almost about the same. Had I made a mitten with a 2 stitch error in my gauge I would have had a mitten that is 7.5 inches instead of 8.
Hat: A hat of a width of 18" would instead be 16.8 inches.
Sweater: A 42" waist sweater would only be 39"
Potentially disastrous for the sweater, but I think if you know your knitting in the round gauge will be slightly smaller than a flat gauge you could estimate for it. I don't think a 2 inch difference for a hat or .5 inch difference for a sock or mitten would make it unwearable if you're allowing a decent ease to begin with... could end up proving myself wrong with experience!
Better yet, just chuck up and make that gauge in the round (or sliding on a dpn) and knit on with confidence... Make yourself a drink (or many) to help you get through it...