I don't always swatch for hats-- almost never for a ready-made pattern or a plain hat, unless I'm using an unfamiliar yarn-- but since I've waded into the fascinating waters of knitting design, I'm doing it a lot more... and since I typically make hats in the round on circular needles, I use an unusual method of making a gauge swatch. I hesitate to say I invented it, since anyone with average intelligence and a bit of knitting experience could probably figure it out on their own-- in fact, I'm sure they already have-- but that's no reason to keep it to myself, right?
The idea came to me a little over a year ago when I was having gauge woes over a sweater and feeling like Fortune's fool. I knew a flat swatch would give me a less-than-accurate prediction of in-the-round gauge, but I didn't have the patience to make a huge swatch. I tried this method for knitting a circular swatch flat, but I found it unappealingly messy.* DPNs were also not an appealing (or accurate) option. I initially dismissed the idea of making a small tube on two circulars because I didn't have two circular needles in the same size. And then it hit me: I could use DIFFERENT needles and test gauge for TWO sizes simultaneously!
The delight over my own cleverness faded as I realized that I do not enjoy knitting on two circulars... at all. But the method has endured in my repertory because it has a number of advantages:
- The swatch lays flat for ease of measurement. I help it along a bit by slipping the first stitch on each needle every other round-- this creates fold lines that divide the two sides of the swatch.
- It's a heck of a lot easier to knit (and swatch) stranded colorwork in the round.
- Did I mention that you can test two different needle sizes AT THE SAME TIME?! This really does work, by the way. In the snowflake swatch, I used sizes US 2 and US 3. The gauge is ever-so-slightly tighter on the US 2, but enough to make a difference in how many pattern repeats will fit around a 21" hat.
Now you can stop staring at your coworkers' hats in an attempt to memorize the pattern-- they will thank you for it.
*TECHknitter recently published an improvement on this method-- brilliant. Though probably extremely tricky to work in two colors.