September 4th, 2017

Swatching Series: How To Knit A Swatch

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In our How To Swatch Series, we’re going over why it’s important to swatch your knitting, how to make the perfect gauge swatch, and advanced techniques for swatching.

Now that you understand why a trustworthy gauge swatch is crucial to knitting, we can dive right into learning how to make the perfect knit swatch. You’ll need a few things to get started:

  • The exact yarn you will use for your project (or you might have a few different yarns you want to swatch with to see which fabric you prefer for a pattern)
  • Your knitting needles, usually 2-3 depending on how well you know the yarn and your own knitting gauge
  • Eucalan Knitting Crochet Wool Wash or other wool wash of your choosing

In this post, I’m going to go over how to make a swatch using the stockinette stitch (knitting on the right side of your swatch and purling on the wrong side). A stockinette swatch is standard in most patterns, however, sometimes you will need to make a swatch in a stitch pattern. I’ll go over how to make a swatch in pattern and count your stitches in the final installment of this series.

Knitting Swatch Size Matters

One of the most common mistakes we see in knitters’ swatches is that they’re not big enough. There are a lot of reasons people have for not creating a large enough gauge swatch: a fear of wasting yarn, boredom, impatience, and incorrect or outdated information about swatching.

A gauge swatch should be at least 8” wide by 8” tall because you want to be able to measure several inches of your swatch at once in several different places to confirm that your gauge is accurate across the entire swatch.

How To Swatch Stockinette Knitting

If your swatch is too small, you won’t be able to find your “knitting groove”. Your groove is your most natural, relaxed knitting. Usually you don’t actually get into your knitting groove for a few rows, so if your swatch is too small, it won’t necessarily be an accurate reflection of your knitting which, in turn, leads to an unreliable gauge swatch.

Not only will a nice big swatch give you a more reliable gauge, but it will also give you a better idea of the fabric you’ll be making while you knit. This is especially important if you’re choosing to knit with a yarn that’s different from the yarn recommended by your pattern or if you’re designing your own piece. An 8” swatch will give you a much better idea of the feel and drape of a fabric than a 4” swatch.

The Edges Of Your Swatch

Knitting in stockinette makes your edges curl—like the edges on the swatch in the image above. For a nice, flat swatch that will be easy to accurately measure, you should knit about an inch of garter stitch (knit on both right and wrong sides) to all four edges of the swatch. Because this edge will help your swatch lay flat, you won’t have to worry that you’re stretching out your stitches while you measure which could result in an inaccurate gauge.

How To Swatch Knitting Garter Stitch Border Swatch


To Wash Or Not To Wash

You should treat your swatch the way you plan to treat your final piece. Are you going to wet block your piece and eventually wash it in some way? The same should be true of your swatch. Many fibers will change as a result of washing and blocking. A piece that measures 8” when initially knit could end up being 8.5-9” after washing and blocking. That’s a big difference if you’re making a sweater that you’d like to fit snuggly!

It’s a good idea to get in the habit of taking your gauge both before and after blocking so you can know what the size of your finished and washed garment will be.

Counting Your Knitting Stitch Gauge & Row Gauge

There are actually two kinds of gauge you should be comfortable with as you get in the habit of making gauge swatches: Stitch gauge and row gauge.

Stitch gauge is the number of horizontal stitches in each inch of your knitting. To count your stitch gauge, count each “v” of knitting as one stitch in a straight line to the left and right of your knitting.

Knitting Gauge Swatch Stitch Gauge Example IllustrationRow gauge is the number of vertical stitches in each inch of your knitting.

Row gauge is used less commonly than stitch gauge, but if your pattern references it, you should be sure to check how your row gauge compares to the written pattern gauge. Row gauge is particularly important in knitting stitch patterns and cable patterns that require certain sections of the stitch pattern to be located in specific places of your final garment.

Counting stitches for your row gauge is the same as counting your stitch gauge except this time you’ll count vertically instead of horizontally. Count each “v” of knitting as one stitch in a straight line up and down.

How to count row gauge example swatchDo I Go Up Or Down In Needle Size

This is always a little tricky to think about. You’ve knit your gauge swatch and your gauge is 6 stitches to the inch on US 7 needles. However, you’re pattern is calling for a gauge of 7 stitches per inch on US 7s. As you know, you’ll need to make another swatch with a different needle size, but how do you know whether to adjust up or down?

If you need to add more stitches to your gauge, as is the case in this example (you need to be knitting one more stitch per inch), you should adjust your needle size down. A smaller needle will create smaller stitches, so you would be more likely to knit the correct gauge on a US 5 or 6.

If you need less stitches to reach the correct gauge, you should adjust your needle size up. A larger needle creates larger stitches which means there are less stitches in every inch of your knitting. So if you were knitting at 6 stitches per inch on US 7 needles but your pattern called for 5 stitches per inch, you should try swatching on a US 8 or 9 to reach the appropriate gauge.

Congratulations, you’re now a swatching champion! Stay tuned for our final installment of the How To Swatch Series to learn some specialty swatching skills like swatching in the round and swatching in pattern!


Liz LaBrocca

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