Let’s tackle the subject that annoys everyone: swatching for gauge!
Making a swatch is one of the most important things to do when you start a garment or accessories where measurements are really important such as a sweater, socks or a hat.
It will allow you to become familiar with the yarn you are using, it will allow you to know how it behaves at blocking, it will allow you to know if the swatch matches with the one required in the pattern you are going to use, it will also allow you to know if you like the fabric and how it looks or if it matches what you would expect for a sweater or any other knitted piece.
This will save you a lot of frustration and time wasted unravelling a sweater that, all things considered, does not suit us because the measurements are not correct or simply because the result is not what you would have hoped for!
Do you need even more arguments to convince you to swatch? Yes ? Let’s go !
1. It saves you time!
If you’re a product knitter*, it’s sometimes difficult to give time to swatch because you only want to do one thing: casting-on stitches to start knitting!
*Pure product knitters only care about the finished item. They might not even really like the knitting itself but only the end result. On the contrary a pure process knitter likes to knit for knitting’s sake and therefore no matter what project they are doing (a sweater, swatching or a blanket)
However, this step is very important and it will save you time later as it will avoid you having to unravel because the sawatch turned out to be inaccurate or because the yarn, however beautiful it was in skeins or balls, was not the wool intended for this project.
I therefore advise you to devote one hour of your time for swatching, washing it and leaving it to dry until the next day. I understand that this can sometimes be very frustrating but believe me it is worth the effort!
2. How to swatch?
The purpose of a swatch is to ensure that fabric is as close as possible to what you expect, but also that the number of stitches and rows corresponds to the required gauge in the pattern you have chosen.
So how to swatch according to the rules of art?
It is important to knit your swatch under the same conditions as you are going to knit your project, i.e. the same needles of the same material (using metal or wood needles can affect your gauge).
It is also important to wash and/or block your swatch in the same way as you will care for your handknits: if you machine wash it, put your swatch in the machine or if you steam block it, steam block your swatch.
Then for a flat swatch, I advise you not to limit yourself to the recommended measurements of 10 cm * 10 cm (4″ per 4″).
Indeed, often the edge’s stitches are slightly deformed, so this can affect your gauge.
A swatch of 15 cm * 15 cm (6″ per 6″) or 20 cm * 20 cm (8″ per 8″) is preferable. If you are afraid of running out of yarn, remember that you can always unravel it to get more yarn!
To get something fairly representative, I advise you to make a few rows of garter stitch before starting the stitch pattern recommended in the pattern and which you will use to determine the number of rows and stitches as well as to make an edge in garter stitch or 1*1 ribbed stitch.
Once your swatch is finished, do not measure it yet, resist the temptation to measure once the stitches have been binded off!
Let it take its ease and block it / wash it!
3. How to swatch with circular knitting needles?
But how to make a sample when the project will be knitted in the round?
Will a flat sample could be ok for a knitted-in-the-round project? Well, maybe yes, but definitely no!
Knitters often knit differently in the round than they do flat, and this is important to know because if your knitting requires you to knit flat (for example for the body of a cardigan) and also in the round (for the sleeves), your sleeves may be too narrow or too wide.
To knit in the round, you will proceed as follows: casting-on your stitches, knit one row but you will not join in round.
You will slide all your stitches back onto the right needle so that you always knit on the right side (you will never turn your work).
A long thread will run behind the swatch, make sure you don’t pull the thread too much so that you get a flexible tube.
The stitches along edges will often be deformed, do not hesitate to pull on the thread to make the stitch tighter.
You will then cut at the back of the sample in the middle of the floating threads.
If you are afraid of running out of yarn, then I advise you to knit in round so that your work forms a tube with a circumference of 25 to 30 cm (7 to 8″). You will bind off the swatch as usual, block it / wash it as before.
4. How to block your sample?
Then block your swatch as you will block your finished project: with an iron, steam or by washing it.
You will then lay it flat to dry and if necessary you can use blocking cables, T-Pins or blocking combs.
Let it dry completely and once again resist the temptation to measure it. Especially if your yarn is quite bouncy.
This is because this type of yarn tends to shrink on itself and therefore this will affect your swatch and your finished project.
It is best to knit the swatch and wait until the next day to measure it.
5. How to measure your swatch?
Once the sample has been blocked, washed, dried falt and left to rest, it is time to measure it.
To do so, you will place it flat on a flat surface. Use a stiff ruler or a tension square gauge like this one:
You will count horizontally the number of stitches per 10 cm (4″) and vertically the number of rows.
If your sample is repeats of a lace or cable pattern, I advise you to measure an entire repeat (for example: 24 stitches of lace for 12 cm-4¾” and 45 rows for 15 cm-5.9″). You will then divide to obtain your sample of 10 cm per 10 cm (4″ per 4″).
For our example, this will give you a sample in stitches of 24 m / 12 cm-4¾ x 10-4″ cm, which gives you 20 stitches. And a sample in rows of 45 rows / 15 cm5.9″ x 10 cm- 4″ which gives you 30 rows. So you will get a sample of 20 m / 30 rows for 10*10 cm (4 per 4″).
6. How to compare, adapt and adjust your swatch?
Once you have obtained your swactch, it is time to check whether it corresponds to the required gauge.
If it does, you have used the right needles!
If not, what should you do? There are several cases to take into account
- the number of stitches in your swatch is higher than the required gauge. You will therefore need more stitches to make 10 cm – 4″. This will affect the size of your finished project. For example, in a pattern, you are asked for a gauge of 20 stitches and you have 180 stitches for the chest, your chest measurements will be 90 cm – 35½”. If your gauge is 22, you will only have 82 cm – 32¼”! So one size smaller than the size you are knitting!
- the number of stitches in your swatch is less than the required gauge. You will therefore need more stitches to make 10 cm. This will affect the size of your finished project. For example, in a pattern, you are asked for a gauge of 20 stitches and you have 180 stitches for the chest, your chest measurements will be 90 cm – 35½”. If your gauge is 18, you will get 100 cm – 39½”! So one size above the size you are knitting.
- the number of rows in your swatch is higher than the required gauge.. So you will need more rows to make 10 cm – 4″. This will affect the size of your finished project. For example, in a pattern, you are asked for a row gauge of 30 and you have to knit 60 rows for the raglan, your armhole measurement will be 20 cm / 8″. If your row gauge is 32, you will only have 18.75 cm – 7½”! So one size smaller than the size you are knitting!
- the number of rows in your swatch is less than the required gauge.. So you will need more rows to make 10 cm – 4″. This will affect the size of your finished project. For example, in a pattern, you are asked for a row gauge of 30 and you have to knit 60 rows for the raglan, your armhole measurement will be 20 cm / 8″. If your row gauge is 28, you will get 21.5 cm – 8½”! So one size larger than the size you are knitting!
You can therefore see that respecting the required gauge is of fundamental importance in the realisation of a project.
In this case, how to make the swatch gaug match to the required gauge: if you have less stitches than required, you will use smaller needles and increase your number of stitches and rows per 10 cm / 4″.
if you have more stitches than required, you will use larger needles and decrease your number of stitches and rows per 10 cm / 4″.
You can of course also play with the material of the needles used, the material affecting mainly the number of rows (depending on whether the needles are slippery or not) or sometimes add one or two rows if only the row gauge does not match but this will depend very much on the pattern in question (in some patterns, the row gauge is fundamental).
And if, despite all your attempts, you don’t get th required gauge, it is either time to choose another yarn or to call on your adventurous soul and adapt the pattern!
With these few tips, I hope you’re ready to start a little more ambitious projects. And remember, it’s never an idea not to make a sample!
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See you soon,