Why you should always make a swatch

To review what is stated in our Gauge Guide, just because you are using the same yarn and needle size suggested by the pattern doesn’t mean you are going to achieve the desired results. When you’re rearing to go on a new project it can be challenging to get yourself to spend the time checking gauge.

Consider the following horror story:

Jane Doe decides to knit a sweater. The pattern states that the gauge should be 5 sts/inch and suggests a size 8 needle. Jane decides she doesn’t want to spend time making a gauge swatch and dives right into the sweater pattern, casting on 180 stitches to make a garment that she thinks will be 36″ around. She busily knits and labors for months creating the sweater, dreaming about the day she’ll finish and put it on to the delight of her friends and family. Little does Jane realize that her gauge is off. It’s off by a lot. She is a tight knitter and is actually achieving 6 sts/inch rather than the required 5. What does this mean for Jane and her ill-fated sweater? It means that her garment is actually 30″ around and far too small for her to wear! This tragedy could have been prevented by knitting a gauge swatch and discovering the need to switch to a larger needle before she began the sweater.

Now that you have been struck to the very core with fear, you should be ready to make your swatch. Now, lets go through the process of making a gauge swatch. Read on for tips and handy suggestions.

How To Swatch

You probably know already whether you knit tightly or loosely. Look at your yarn and choose your needle size based on the suggestions. If it suggests that a size 8 needle achieves 5 sts/inch and you know you are a tight knitter, choose a larger needle size such as 9. If you knit loosely, you might test your swatch using a size 7 needle. If your knitting is usually right as rain or you’re not sure of your style, go ahead and begin with the suggested size.

Create your swatch

Create your Swatch

Using the indicated gauge, cast on six inches worth of stitches; if the indicated gauge is 5 sts/inch or 20 sts/4 inches, you will cast on 30 stitches, for example. Knit the first inch in garter stitch (knit every row) to prevent the swatch from rolling at the edges and make it easier and more accurate to measure. Change to stockinette stitch (alternating knit and purl rows), or the stitch pattern indicated in your pattern, for five more inches, knitting the first and last few stitches on the wrong side to make a garter stitch border and prevent the edges from curling. Switch back to garter stitch and knit one more inch. Bind off loosely so that the bind-off doesn’t pull in and affect your swatch gauge.

Wash your Swatch

Launder the swatch as you will the finished item. Wash it and dry it according to the yarn care instructions and then block it approximately the same way you will be blocking your item. This is important because the washed and blocked gauge can be significantly different from the unblocked gauge.

Measure your swatch

Measure Your Swatch

Lay the swatch out flat on a hard surface without stretching it. Place a firm ruler (wood, metal, plastic) across the swatch horizontally and mark the beginning and end of a four inch section of stitches with two straight pins. Count the number of stitches between the pins: this is your stitches per 4 inches. Divide that number by 4 to find the number of stitches per inch, if you need to. Do not ignore fractions of stitches! You now have an accurate measure of your gauge with the yarn and needles you used to make the swatch. If this number matches that which is listed on your pattern, you are ready to begin your project. If the number doesn’t match the necessary gauge, you will need to increase or decrease your needle size to remedy the situation. Too few stitches per inch? Use a smaller needle. Too many stitches per inch? Use a larger needle. With your new and improved needle size in hand, make a new swatch, or take out the bind-off of your first swatch and knit a new five-inch section with the new needle size, then one more inch of garter stitch. Wash and measure again and continue this process until you have achieved the desired results.

What to do with Your Swatch

Create your swatch

Your completed swatch can be just that – a swatch – or it can become something more. Once you’ve figured out the needle size you need, you can frog the swatch and use it for your project. You can also tag it and keep it for reference in your swatch library. Bind it off and use it as a pocket for your next sweater. If you’ve got some extra time and yarn to spare, knit your swatch in the round and finish it off as a simple hat when you’re done measuring.

Swatching can be fun as well as being a knitter’s lifesaver. Come on in, the water’s fine!

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