Have I scared you off yet?
Now I'll admit, I -despise- swatching. I can't stand it. It seems like a waste of time and yarn.
But I've also discovered that I kind of have to swatch.
Now, there are some things, that, as a knitter, you may not have to swatch for. Anything that isn't fitted, for example (scarves and shawls), gauge is less important; because being a bit tighter or looser isn't going to result in something that is unwearable.
But even then: yardages for scarves and shawls is calculated by whoever designed it with the assumption of the same gauge. Alter your gauge and you need more or less yarn. I have, in fact, run out of yarn on a shawl, because I was knitting at quite a different gauge.
So where does the other hated concept (math) play into this?
Math is useful if you want to alter patterns, or if you want to design your own. But to use the math, you need your swatch.
Then, it's not that hard (I promise).
Take your swatch, measure out how many stitches and how many rows you have per inch (I find it helpful to use the blunt end of a needle to help me count stitches, but you might not need that) If you don't want to work by inches, you can also work by pattern repeats.
Then divide, multiply, and estimate. That's it. No algebra, calculus, or trigonometry, I promise. :)
For example: I just finished up the swatch for a new pattern of mine over the weekend. My swatch told me that each pattern repeat (9 stitches), was 2.75 inches wide. So, to get my plans for the cowl I wanted, (24 inches, approximately), 24 inches, divided by 2.75 inches, gives me the ugly number of 8.72 (repeating infinitely. Ugh). But it still gets me close to where I need to be.
Ok, so 8 times 2.75 inches is 22 inches, while 9 times 2.75 inches is 24.75 inches. I'd like the cowl to be a bit bigger rather then a bit smaller, so 24.75 inches it is!
So, 9 times 9 is 81. There's my cast on.
See, I promise. Not that hard.
But what does it matter if you're not ever going to design a knitting pattern?
Well, knowing how to do this lets you do things like make a knitted object wider or thinner, or to add length to something knitted sideways. It's actually really useful to be able to use math to adjust your knitting, and the satisfaction of having something perfectly knit to your exact body is incredibly comfortable.
So while swatches may seem like a waste of time, they're not. I promise.