You may hear swatch for a shawl and think 'what's the point?' But why put all that work into a shawl only to block it and and find out that the pattern and yarn just don't go together or the stitches are too tight or loose. Also it will help to answer the question of whether you have enough yarn. I answer almost all of the pattern support messages we receive and a question that comes in quite often is: 'is the yarn amount correct on x shawl? I ran out of yarn'. After some correspondence back and forth the majority of the time I learn that no swatching occurred.
A looser gauge uses more yarn
If you've swatched and your gauge is looser, but you like the fabric created that's fine, it is your knitting. But remember you are going to use more yarn than specified in the pattern. I know that I have a tendency to knit slightly looser so I generally swatch with a needle one size smaller than called for in the pattern. For this particular pattern I have the advantage of having knit it before so I used a 3.5mm needle for my swatch.
The other nice thing about swatching for shawls is that you'll be able to hold the swatch against your neck/face and find out if it is a fabric that you're going to want next to your skin.
If you have Ysolda's book Little Red in the City you may want to take a look at the part on swatching. The section on Stitch Patterns on page 29 is especially relevant, and you may have noticed that the mesh pattern used in Laika is same one used in Sherilyn. Perhaps this explains the addictiveness of this pattern! All three of us have also knit more than one Laika.
How big should the swatch be?
You're going to want to make your swatch large enough to be able to measure 4" / 10cm in the centre — avoiding any distorted stitches at the edges. In the photos below I show the before, during and after sizes of the swatch. If you're comfortable with making your swatch then cast on and knit away. If you are a little unsure of what part of the shawl directions you should be using to swatch the mesh stitch, then refer to the Making the Swatch directions below.
Making the swatch
To get a swatch big enough to measure the gauge accurately I suggest casting on at least 27 stitches. To make things easier on yourself use a multiple of 3, since that's what is needed for the mesh pattern.
Cast on 27 sts
Knit 2 rows.
Next row (RS): k3, (yo, sl1, k2tog, psso, yo, k3) 3 times, yo, sl1, k2tog, psso, yo, k3.
Next row: p.
Next row: k3, (k3, yo, sl1, k2tog, psso, yo) 3 times, k6.
Next row: p
Repeat the last 4 rows 10 more times.
Knit 2 rows, bind off very loosely.
Wet block your swatch and pin it out to dry, just like you would for your shawl. Once you've unpinned the swatch let it relax and then measure your gauge.
Measuring stitch gauge
You may find it easier to count repeats instead of individual stitches, but that is completely up to you. You're aiming for 16 sts for 4" after unpinning the swatch and letting it relax.
Measuring row gauge
Next you need to measure the row gauge — 28 rows for 4".
If your gauge is off you may want to swatch again especially if you aren't keen on the fabric. Go up a needle size if your gauge is too tight (more stitches or rows than called for) or go down if your gauge is too loose (fewer stitches or rows than called for).
You have plenty of time over the week to swatch for you shawls. Monday we'll be casting on. I will be posting a tutorial for the cast on and some tips for working the edging pattern. If you have any questions leave them here in the comments or in the Ravelry thread.