image of orange yarn with needle on table

Make Swatching an Enjoyable Part of Knitting

You might be sick of the mantra ‘make sure to swatch’. If you’re really eager to start knitting, you probably resent it and just want to jump straight into the project!

BUT did anyone tell you it doesn’t have to be a chore?

Swatching can be an enjoyable part of the knitting process where you learn about the yarn, get a feel for the texture and how it moves on your needles and it allows you to make educated decisions about your project.

As we are starting on our Laminarus KAL journey, it seemed like an excellent time to talk about the swatching process. How to swatch, how to block, and most importantly, what to do with the information you learn from your swatch.

This is a long post and I know some of you are going to want to save it and reference it for your next projects so use these links to skip to the section you need:

How To Swatch

Do needle types matter?

Are you working your swatch flat or in the round?

What size should my swatch be?

How to block your swatch.

How to measure your swatch.

What do I do with my swatch?

How to adjust your pattern for gauge.

Are you ready?

Let’s talk swatching:

How to Swatch

When you get started with your swatching, you need to have your yarn (a similar fibre and weight to the pattern yarn ideally), a range of needle sizes (pattern needle and sizes both above and below that size), and the stitch pattern directions for your pattern.

You may already know that you will need to try a larger or smaller needle size if you have a particular knitting style. Very tight knitters frequently need to ‘size up’ their needle, and looser knitters may need to size down. If you are unsure, just begin with the pattern needle suggestion.

But have you ever thought about needle types?

They can and often do make a difference, especially when you seem to have exhausted all other options to getting gauge.

Do needle types matter?

pile of circular needles
Wooden, or metal?

Believe it or not size isn’t everything.

When it comes to needles it can be just as important what they are made from.

If you have a very slick, smooth yarn you may find that it slides around on a metal needle, giving you a looser gauge as you don’t have enough grip.

However, if you’ve got a rustic, nubby yarn, a wooden/bamboo needle may be too ‘sticky’ creating looser, uneven stitches.

If you’ve worked with a particular yarn before you’ll have a pretty good idea what works but if the yarn is new to you, make sure you swap around to a few needle types to see what works.

Amazingly you may find that the same size needle with different materials can achieve very different gauges!

Are you working your swatch flat or in the round?

If you are working a pattern that will be worked in the round, you may want to do your swatch in the round. This is because sometimes (not always) knitters WS purl row gauge is looser and can impact the tension.

If you want to create a swatch that’s easy to block and measure but uses ‘in the round’ gauge, you can use this cheat method. You’re only ever working the RS row, and at the end of the row, you will slip your stitches to the other end of the row and loop the yarn across the back. If this is new to you, then you can find the full tutorial here.

What size should my swatch be?

pile of knitting swatches

In a pattern, the gauge is generally listed over 4″ / 10 cm. However, you should remember not make your swatch exactly 4″.

Why?

Because you’re not going to get the most accurate result. What you want to do is make it around 6″ / 15 cm square so that you can omit the edge stitches which can be a little looser.

If you are swatching pattern stitches or cable stitches, make sure you record how many pattern repeats you’re knitting. I find that it’s much easier to record the number of pattern repeats and then calculate the gauge from that. I’ll give you a handy little calculation to use down below.

How to block your swatch.

Once you’ve knitted your swatch you need to block it. This is a step that many knitters leave out but please don’t!

I’d suggest using the same method that you plan on using for your finished knit, that way you will know exactly how your project is going to react to blocking.

My preferred method is wet blocking, soaking, removing moisture and then pinning and laying the swatch flat to dry.

Once you have unpinned your swatch, give it a shakeout and ideally let it sit for a few hours or a day or two to allow it to adjust to being unpinned.

If your final knit is going to be very long and you’re worried about vertical stretch you can hang your dry swatch vertically with some clothes pegs on the end to simulate vertical weight.

How to measure your swatch.

swatch with ruler and pins to measure

When you measure your swatch, make sure you measure at the centre of your swatch and avoid the looser edge stitches. It’s also a good idea to measure in a few different places to ensure you do not measure stitches that are a little uneven.

Measure each ‘stitch’ and each ‘row’ within the 4″ / 10 cm.

If you are working with a pattern stitch, you can use the repeats to measure your gauge. If your stitch pattern has a 5 stitch pattern repeat and the gauge is 22 stitches in 4″ / 10 cm, you can work as follows:

  1. Measure pattern repeats. Say I measure 4 pattern repeats (20 sts) and it measures 3.5″ / 9 cm wide.
  2. Now to see how much that measures across 4″ / 10 cm:

[20 x 4″]/3.5″ = 22.85 sts over 4″

Use this calculation to find your gauge when you are measuring stitch pattern repeats rather than just stitches.

What do I do with my swatch?

Once you’ve finished your swatch the next decision is what to do with it!

If you like the fabric and you are close on gauge then there is no further decision. Just pick your size and start knitting!

If your gauge is off, you now need to ask yourself if you like the fabric. Does it move the way you want it to? Does it feel good? If the answer is no to those, then reswatch with a new needle size.

If you do like the fabric and you don’t have a huge difference in gauge, then you can go on (see below) to make little adjustments to the size you’re doing.

However, if you don’t like the fabric and the gauge is very different, it may be best to set that yarn aside for another project and get a yarn that’s more suitable for the project you’re working on.

How to adjust your pattern for gauge

If you want to work a slightly different gauge, you can use your gauge, putting it against the pattern gauge and get a good idea of the finished size you will have working with your gauge.

You can use the calculation below to decide if you want to keep your gauge and work a different pattern size. You will still want to work the lengths for the size you want; the different pattern size would be purely for the stitches.

If your gauge is different you can find out what size you will end up with using this calculation:

[Pattern Garment Size x Pattern Gauge] / Your Gauge = Actual Finished Size


striped knitting with cable and two skeins of yarn in pink and purple shade

You made it!

That was a long post but you now have all the information you need to see the fun side of working a swatch.

If you want to be happy with your finished garment and have it fit and flatter you the way you want it to, then swatching is your safety net. No one wants to spend hours of knitting to have a project that they don’t love, though it’s safe to say that we have all been there at some point!

If you learn best while knitting a project, then why don’t you jump into our latest KAL?

Or, if you’d like a more in-depth workshop looking at fitting your knits, then come join our Fit Your Knits Masterclass.

I spent a bit of time last week on Instagram chatting about swatching for this project. If you missed it, just click on the video replay below:

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