I have to confess, despite being an avid knitter, I almost never pay attention to gauge, nor do I ever do gauge swatches. In fact, I rarely ever knit an entire pattern word for word. Maybe it's the rebel in me, or maybe it's some kind of ADD, but I just can't seem to ever stick to them. For one thing, most patterns call for a very specific kind/brand of yarn, usually of the expensive variety. And of course, I'm a total cheapskate, not to mention the fact that I already have soooo much yarn that I cannot possibly justify going out and buying any more (not that this stops me from randomly buying yarn because it's pretty). So I usually will just sub in whatever I happen to have on hand. In the early days, this was usually cheap acrylic yarn that was way thicker than what was in the original pattern, so no amount of sizing down needles was going to get me the right gauge. And as time went on, I was more willing to buy nicer yarn, but I'm still not willing to drop $10/skein, especially when a pattern calls for 4-5 skeins.
The one time that I knitted a gauge swatch, got the gauge right (or at least, what I deemed to be as close to right as I could get), and knitted the pattern exactly as written? I made baby booties that seemed to be about 3 sizes too big. And yes, this was even using the fancy expensive yarn that the book recommended. Grrr.
As time went on, I also found that most patterns were never exactly what I was looking for. And those that were, cost money (again, the cheapskate thing comes into play). Gradually, I started just looking at pictures of stuff that I liked and winging it. So far, it's worked out pretty well for me. The only real downside is that I sometimes have a hard time replicating things I've made in the past. I'm trying to be better about it now and force myself to write down what I'm doing, but I inevitably lose whatever little scrap of paper I've written it on.
I should also mention that my disdain for patterns and knitting to gauge hasn't stopped me from collecting a crapload of patterns (mostly of the free variety, of course). I've realized that when it comes to knitting, I kind of do the same thing as I do when cooking. Search the web for recipes, come up with a million variations, narrow it down to about a half dozen or so that sound good, and then make my own amalgamation of the three or four that I think will work best. So far, it seems to be working out in my favor, both in knitting and in food.
Anyways, all this rambling stems from my latest little project. I've recently become fixated on making a hat for E with skulls on it. And in all my research, I only turned up a couple patterns that seemed suitable. But the this one from Hello Yarn was too awesome to pass up. It calls for wool (again, not something that I normally have due to the expense), and has two layers so the stranding doesn't show. I ignored both of these though and decided to see if I could just make a roll brim hat out of thin mercerized cotton yarn.
Well, so far, I'm about 1/4 of the way done. This is actually my first real attempt at Fair Isle knitting, and man, is it slow going. At the rate I'm going, it'll be done sometime next month. Oh, and there is no way that it is going to fit E's head. I think it might fit my head, although I have a gigantic melon, so it's hard for me to say just yet. It makes me sad that I may have to give this one away.
I'll try to get a picture up of the what I have so far.