We try to have a sample of every yarn we sell, whether it's an elaborate sweater hanging on the wall, or just a few inches of garter stitch tucked into the basket with the yarn. A swatch can tell you a lot about a particular yarn. How's the stitch definition? How will it drape? Where will the colors fall in a variegated yarn? Does it soften after knitting? Sometimes we knit up an entire skein, which can give a tangible sense of how far a skein goes. Most importantly, but hardest to describe, swatches can give you a sense of just how it knits up.
Swatches teach the knitter other important lessons, too, which are not immediately apparent from a finished swatch. Does the yarn have a tendency to split? How does the skein behave on the ball-winder? Is it a more delicate yarn, or a tough one that can take a few rippings-out? Another big reason for us to swatch our yarns is to answer these kinds of questions for you. I can't have knit a sweater out of each yarn in the shop, but most yarns either Anne or I have at least swatched with, so we can tell you a little something about it that you might not otherwise know.
The triangular kerchief above is one I knit as an oversized swatch of Queensland Haze, a dk weight blend of cotton and corn viscose. One 100 gram skein goes quite a long way, as you can see. It's a simple construction, but for whatever reason I started and ripped out at least five or six times before I got a shape I liked. Haze more than survived all that ripping out. On the sixth start, the yarn was just as smooth and sturdy as it was on the first. It's these kinds of things we learn from swatching. If you're curious about a particular yarn, don't hesitate to ask one of us just how it knits up.