Here's what I've learned from swatching for this sweater.
Here we have a mess o' swatches.
At upper left is Misti Alpaca Handpaint Baby Suri Silk. in Marino. It is far lovelier than it looks here. It's a dream to work with, but IMHO not a dream to look at in this pattern. The hand-paint looks pretty blotchy. It did give me the idea that I want to work with a hand-paint, but one with less color going on. At upper right is KnitPicks Shine Sport. Love this! And: It has Perfect Gauge. But I was already bitten by the color-change bug. (I will be using Shine Sport in Sky to make the Ocean Pearls Cardigan out of for my daughter—cropped & with short sleeves.)
At the lower left is Ester Bitran Linares in 501. When I saw this yarn in my LYS, I knew it would be just lovely. And it is.
I worked one swatch with a G / 4 mm hook, as suggested in pattern. Then I worked one with a 7 / 4.25 mm hook. (btw, be sure to read my blog about the recommended type of hook.) When I worked up the swatches, I really thought I would be working the sweater with the 7 hook. It just felt right.
But then I did the thing you must do with swatches: Block them.
I put the squares on the ironing board and blasted them with steam from the iron. Then I smoothed them out and let them dry. (For a really thorough and useful expose on the methods of blocking, check out Lily Chin's Crochet Tips and Techniques pub by Potter Craft. This new, Flamie-Award-winning book really should find a home on your shelf.)
When I blocked the Linares swatches, the fabric really opened up:
The swatch done with the 7 hook (on the right) was way more open than it should be. Floppy fabric. Not good.
So I focused on the G swatch. My gauge tool showed me that I had 16 st / 4 inches, or about 4 st / inch. The pattern calls for 19 st / 4 inches or 4.75 st / inch.
If I made the sweater according to the pattern, it would be too big. How much too big? I did a little math, dividing the number of stitches by my gauge, and found that it would be two sizes too big. I divided the number of stitches for two sizes down by my gauge and came up with the right number of inches. So I worked the number of stitches for two sizes down and lined it up with a favorite sweater than I wear a lot:
And this looks just right.
So I'll be following the pattern for two sizes smaller than I thought I'd make. Because this is a really unscientific method, I'll be measuring a lot as I go along, holding the pieces up to this well-loved sweater to keep my crochet in check, especially as I move into shaping.
(And, because I know you want to know: Yes, that sweater is knitted. It is the February Lady Sweater. If you dabble in knitting sports, it is a lot of fun to make. The yarn is Reynolds Odyssey)
Let us know how your crocheting is coming along!