I think my idea of what a knitted fabric should look like has changed. I've noticed that in some of the newer patterns the gauge called for, and needle size, is larger than what it would have been a few years ago. Last night I cast on to make a gauge swatch in some yarn I got from a bargain basket at one of my local yarn shops. ( The yarn is from Pingouin and in called Menestrel. I have no idea how long ago the yarn was discontinued but the plastic bag it came in is very stiff and brittle.) Anyway, the label stipulated a size 10 US needle and a gauge of 15 stitches and 16 rows per 4 inches.
So my swatch seemed okay, gauge wise. I didn't much care for the stiffness of the swatch but went ahead and wrote a pattern for a vest. After I had started the vest and had worked what should have been three inches I checked my gauge again and found that it had changed significantly. (I hate it when that happens.) I would have needed more yarn than I have to complete the vest and the fabric was even stiffer than it had been in the gauge swatch.
So this morning I made a new swatch on a size 11. I like the way it looks much better than the one from last night. It's much looser and the hand is softer. So I'll recalculate the pattern and start over. Even though I lose some of the time I spent on it I'll be much happier with the knitting and the look of the finished vest. So, it seems, a gauge swatch can tell you more than just whether you have the right number of stitches. Deborah Newton was right.