I thought I was all set! I decided I wanted an oversized wool cardigan, and after browsing through Ravelry I settled on Schnee. I bought the pattern and then started looking for wool, finally deciding on Sweet Georgia DK. It's superwash, semi-solid, and comes in quite a few colourways. What took me so long was picking a colour I don't really have in wardrobe but that I would wear often (in that it would go with most of the clothes I already own). I am usually really attracted to turquoise and grey, so I already have a few sweaters in those colours. I chose the Black Plum colourway, which I feel will go with all the grey and turquoise in my closet.
When the yarn arrived from Urban Yarns (I had an order big enough to get free shipping, and they managed to squish an impressive amount of yarn into a plastic envelope), I started swatching right away. That was probably a month ago, and I'm still swatching. Granted, I've been working on other projects since then, but still...
So this is what happened. The sweater is knit in moss stitch, so I decided to use that for my gauge swatch. I started with 42 stitches across, all knit in moss stitch, and partway through I could see the swatch was biasing: the left edge was leaning conspicuously. Never mind, I thought, it will all come out in the blocking, and I kept knitting. When I bound off and the swatch was off the needles, it wasn't square -- in fact, it was distinctly trapezoidal.
I wasn't sure whether the leaning, called biasing, was due to the yarn or to my knitting style, so because the edges were so distorted, and because I remembered Deborah Newton mentioning in one of her books that she usually does two stitches in stockinette at the edges (to make seaming easier, but in this case I thought it might also stabilize the knitted fabric), I tried another swatch in moss stitch, this time with two stitches at each of the left and right edges in stockinette. As you can see below, it was still biasing -- less, than the first swatch, but still biasing! I did a bit of Googling (Margaret Radcliffe has some good tips here) and found out that if your stitch pattern is balanced (i.e. made of knits and purls, like moss stitch is), and your knitted fabric is still biasing, it could be due either to the way you knit or to the yarn being unbalanced. However, unbalanced twist in yarns is far, far more common with single-ply yarns, and since Sweet Georgia DK is a two-ply, I didn't think unbalanced twist in the yarn was the problem. However, to make sure of this, I embarked on my third swatch: a plain stockinette swatch.
The stockinette swatch, not surprisingly, turned out just fine and square, and so I had to conclude that it was my knitting habits that were causing the biasing. Amy Herzog's blog post was instrumental in starting me down this avenue of thought. Thus, I began a fourth swatch, in moss stitch, with two stitches in stockinette at the two side edges, and this time, I formed my stitches in a more consistent way.
Miraculously (or maybe not, it's really just physics!), the fourth swatch came out square and neat, and right on-gauge. All that time, it was the way I was knitting.
The swatch saga is complete! This seems like such a cumbersome process, but I am discovering more and more that it's the work you put in before and after the actual knitting of the sweater that makes the biggest difference to the finished product. It's a lot of work to knit so many swatches (and I think I'll have to frog them to have enough yarn to finish the sweater), but it's still less working than reknitting the sweater pieces.