So ... I started my vest after doing a gauge swatch. I'm getting 5 stitches per inch with size 5 needles; it's a DK weight yarn, a bit on the heavy side, but it is ok. It's kind of thick and thin, which is funky feeling, but that's ok too. I think he's going to like the resulting fabric. It feels good and it's got some interest.
The yarn is Farmhouse Silk Blend (DK weight) -- 34% silk, 33% cotton, and 33% American-grown lamb's wool. It is 350 yards per 4-ounce skein, and I have 5 of them, or 1750 yards. Presumably, that's enough yarn ... but just in case, I have a back up plan to buy more, hehe. It's really nice to work with, and I'm loving it. I wish I had appreciated it more when I sold it. I'm making up my own pattern; it's just a simple V-neck vest, so gauge was really necessary to planning how many stitches to cast on.
How many people just start knitting without doing a gauge swatch? I was always amazed when someone would come in all teary-eyed and say, "It's too big!" -- or too small, and then say, "Oh, I never do a swatch, it just seems like a big waste of time" ... or my favorite, "I always knit to gauge!" Duh. Like their gauge being off is somehow reflective of their ability to knit. Well, it isn't. It's how that particular yarn acts with their tension, and if the size determined in the pattern is going to be the size they want, they better have the sensibility to see what size needle to use to get the same results as the designer did. Pretty basic.
Except ... what if people don't know how to test their gauge? One of the things that became really clear to me when I had a yarn shop was that people who have been knitting for years really didn't know how to check their gauge, or they were afraid to because it was Math and Measurement and Science and stuff, therefore to be feared. The relief I'd see on their faces when I'd say, "Just knit a little piece about this big--" showing with my fingers about a three inch square -- "and bring it in; I'll check your gauge for you" told me this was something they hated and feared. They didn't hate knitting a gauge swatch ... they hated not knowing what to do with it after they had knit it.
When they came in with their swatch, dutifully washed if possible, I would mark off with pins the number off stitches per inch they were supposed to get, and measure between the pins. If the number was right, they had the right gauge and could knit on with a clear conscience, sure that they had gotten the gauge right. If it was too small, less than an inch, they had to make the stitches bigger by using a bigger needle. If it was too big, measured more than an inch, they had to make the stitches smaller by using a smaller needle. Usually one needle size makes a half a stitch difference per inch per needle size. I could tell them what size needle would probably get the desired gauge, but I told them they should knit another gauge swatch. Sometimes they did, sometimes they didn't. They always left happy, though, and they could finally get the gauge thing. It wasn't scary anymore.
And no, I didn't wash my gauge swatch, so he only gets to wear it if it comes out of the wash ok. Doh!