Let me start by saying that I'm not a very experienced knitter. I taught myself to knit (left-handed) from a book a long time ago when I was in college. There was no internet then and knitting was considered to be something grandmothers and hippies did. I liked it because it gave my mind a much needed rest in between homework and exams. But I didn't have anyone to help me with my knitting or to stress how important it was to make sure you have the correct gauge for the pattern. In my first year of knitting I somehow managed to knit a baby cardigan with matching pants and two adult-sized vests without ever worrying about or knowing about gauge. But gauge did bite me on other attempts. I tried to knit myself a sweater with an argyle pattern across the chest and after finishing the front realized it would maybe fit a child but certainly not me. Later I had visions of a chunky knit cowl-necked sweater in black and white (it was the 80's, ok?). This time I used the yarn called for in the pattern but ended up frogging it (rip-it, rip-it) a few times when it became obvious that the front would again be too small. I can't recall if I checked gauge first - you'd think that I would but I guess I didn't. I recently found the still-unfinished sweater and frogged it once again.
So today I am starting to embark on a new sweater project and this time, I am checking gauge. My first try on US 8s resulted in 17 x 24 over a 4" square. I found a pattern in the latest Vogue Knitting that called for this gauge and began to knit. My gauge changed. I guess I must have knit looser when it was "just a swatch." That was dumb. I tried again on US 7s just to see what I'd get and it was 20 x 28. I couldn't find anything I wanted to knit or had enough yarn for in that gauge so now I'm reswatching on US 9s. This is frustrating. And time consuming. But everything I read now stresses how important the right gauge is - and of course they're right.
But swatching to find the right gauge is at least a little easier now that I have a range of needles. Because I'm not an experienced knitter, I have a mish-mash of needles, mostly cheap plastic or metal ones from the craft store. Oddly, I was lacking in the size 6-9 region. So I stopped at my LYS to buy some new needles but I wasn't sure whether to buy straights or circulars and at what length. At $12-$15 a pair for nice wood or bamboo ones it would be rather expensive to acquire a variety. And then I took my husband's advice. Yes, my husband had advice on buying knitting needles. A while ago he accompanied me to the yarn store where he saw some Denise interchangeable knitting needles. He encouraged me to buy them, rationalizing that it seemed like a good deal to buy all the sizes at once. But I scoffed at them, thinking that a) they were too expensive and b) they looked like cheap plastic. But faced with my dilemma of buying multiple sets of needles so I could do multiple swatches I found myself looking at them again. Three sales clerks saw me pondering the purchase and each gave the set high marks . So I bought them and a) they were not too expensive when you consider it's equivalent to buying only 3 sets of wood or bamboo needles and b) the plastic is not cheap - the yarn slips easily when knitting and they're nothing like the cheap plastic craft store brands like I thought they'd be. So getting gauge is a now a little easier. But just a little.