A COMPLETE GUIDE TO SWATCHING
What is a gauge swatch?
It is a small piece of fabric that you knit before you start working on your actual project. The gauge swatch is used to measure how many stitches and rows you need to achieve a certain measurement that is given in the pattern. Most commonly you will count how many stitches and rows you need to get a piece that measures 10x10cm / 4x4".
Do I have to knit a gauge swatch?
Even though you might not like it, the short answer to this question is: YES!
The gauge is the foundation of every pattern. If you want your finished object to have the measurements that are given in a pattern, you need to work the pattern with the given gauge.
There is no other way - besides pure luck - to get a garment to really fit you. You need to make a gauge swatch before you start. Nevertheless in some cases swatching is more important than in others. Here are some examples to give you an idea:
- If you want to make a sweater, cardigan or any other garment, you will definitely have to swatch. There is no way getting around it.
- If you want to make a hat or beanie, socks or a headband, where you work in rounds and need to get a correct circumference, I'd still recommend to swatch.
- If you make a headband that is worked flat and sewn together or a scarf or a wrap, you might get a wearable item without swatching. But even though you might be able to use and wear these items, they will most likely not have the exact measurements that are given in the pattern.
As a rule of thumb you could say: The more fitted the garment is supposed to be, i.e. the less ease it has, the more important it is that you get exact gauge. But that does not mean you can skip swatching when you want to knit an oversized sweater. For complex garments like sweaters a swatch is essential. Trust me on that - I learned it the hard way. 😉
What to keep in mind when knitting a gauge swatch?
There are some things to think of when you knit your swatch:
- Always use the same yarn and the same needles you also want to use in the actual project. Never swatch with a different yarn. Your gauge can be very different with two different yarns even if you use the same stitch pattern and the same needle size.
- Always swatch the stitch pattern of the pattern. If you want to knit a Stockinette sweater, knit a Stockinette swatch. If you want to make a cardigan with a cable pattern, your swatch should have the same cable pattern. If several stitch patterns are used in your project, you need to swatch each of them.
- I recommend that your swatch is larger than 10x10cm / 4x4". The larger the swatch is, the more accurate the stitch count will be.
- When the garment is worked in the round, swatch in the round. When the garment is worked flat, then swatch working back and forth.
- To avoid my flat swatch from curling, I always add a Garter stitch border to my swatch: Three rows before I start working in the pattern, then the pattern with 3 stitches of Garter stitch on each side, and another three rows of Garter stitch before I bind off.
- Treat your swatch the same way you will treat the finished item before you start measuring. This one is really important! If you are going to wash and block your sweater before you wear it, you also need to wash and block your swatch before you count your stitches.
What to do with the finished swatch?
When your swatch is blocked and dry you can start counting the stitches and rows. In order to do that you can use a normal ruler, a tape measure or a gauge measure like shown on the picture below.
No matter what tool you use, the process is always the same:
- Lay your swatch down on a flat surface.
- Put your measuring tool over your swatch.
- Count how many stitches you have horizontally on 10cm / 4" of your swatch to get your stitch gauge.
- Count how many stitches you have vertically on 10cm / 4" of your swatch to get your row gauge.
- If you added a Garter border to your swatch, be careful only to measure over the stitches in the stitch pattern of your project.
What can I do when my gauge is off?
Every now and then you will not get gauge on the first try. But don't worry, that does not necessarily mean that you can not knit the project you wanted to.
Here are some things you can do:
- If you have too many stitches, try swatching with a larger needle.
- If you have too few stitches, try using a smaller needle.
- If you have a perfect row gauge but your stitch gauge is off, changing the needle size will not help. But you could try using a needle of a different material, e.g. wood instead of metal. If this does not help, you have no other option than to swatch with a different yarn.
- If you have a perfect stitch gauge but your row gauge is off, swatching with a different yarn or with a needle of a different material is still the safest option. But in this case you also could have a look at the pattern: If the pattern gives the instructions in cm / inch instead of rows, you might be able to knit it with your gauge.
Just remember that knitting a project with a different gauge is always a risk and might go totally wrong. When in doubt, contact the designer and ask for help.
I hope you found this helpful! Warm regards and happy knitting!