August 19th, 2017

How To Swatch: Why Swatching Your Knitting Is Important

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how to swatch knitting | valley yarns northampton

Learning how to swatch correctly is one of the most important things you can do to bring your knitting to the next level. It’s also the step many knitters are keen to shorten or skip entirely. But often, when we field knitters’ questions about why a garment didn’t work out, the problem could have been avoided if a proper swatch had been worked before starting.

In this three part series, I’m going to walk you through how to swatch to achieve the best possible results in all your future knitting projects. First, we’ll go over why swatching is so important to knitting, especially if you’re knitting garments. In the second part, I’ll cover how to swatch with details about how big your swatch should be and how exactly to count your stitches to achieve the most accurate gauge. And in the third part, I’ll go over some advanced swatching techniques: how to swatch in pattern, how to swatch for colorwork, and how to swatch for pieces that will be worked in the round.

Isn’t Swatching The Worst?

I used to hate swatching, too. I didn’t like to “waste” yarn and all I wanted to do was dive into knitting my sweater. But after hundred of stitches, I would try my sweater on and be disappointed. My sweaters rarely fit properly and my incorrect gauge would even throw off the stitch pattern’s placement around necklines and armhole decreases.  

I eventually realized–especially after taking a few classes at WEBS–that swatching really mattered and I needed to reframe my view of it.

It’s definitely not a waste of yarn. By figuring out a proper gauge I avoid wasting yarn making a garment that doesn’t fit me properly. I also started to look at swatching as practice for my upcoming work: knitting a pattern swatch helps me get the hang of it and develop some muscle memory around the stitches.

I’ve actually sort of grown to love swatching! (Don’t worry, I still hate weaving in my ends!) I pick up an extra skein of yarn and take my time finding the proper gauge whenever I start a project. Sometimes it only takes one swatch, other times a few. If I’m designing, I swatch until I’m 100% satisfied with my gauge and fabric before knitting my first sample.

hot to swatch knitting | madelinetosh tosh sock | malabrigo mechita

Swatches of Malabrigo Mechita and Madelinetosh Tosh Sock I made as I designed the colorwork pattern of a sweater I’m working on.

Why Swatching Your Knitting Important (H1)

The main reason why it’s so important to swatch is to confidently know your gauge: how many stitches fit into one inch of your knitting. If your pattern’s gauge is 5 stitches to the inch on US size 7 needles with a worsted weight yarn, you can’t assume that you will automatically knit the same gauge with size 7 needles and a worsted weight yarn. Take a moment to click on the link for worsted weight yarn and compare the gauges.

Did you notice how much variety there was in our worsted weight selection? The yarns’ gauge could vary anywhere between 4.5 stitches per inch on US 8 needles to 5 stitches per inch on US 6 needles.  

There will even be gauge variation in the yarn itself! Let’s take a look at Malabrigo Rios, pictured below:

Malabrigo Rios Yarn Hanks | WEBS How To Swatch Knitting

We list Malabrigo Rios’ gauge as 4.5-5.5sts = 1″ on US 6-8. Would you be able to knit this gauge at 5 stitches per inch? Definitely! Will it be on the US 7 needles you prefer to use? There’s no way to accurately know without making a gauge swatch.

You might then ask, “But I’ve knit with Malabrigo Rios before and I know what my gauge is! Can’t I just assume it’s still the same?”

The answer is maybe. If you’re going to knit a scarf or a shawl and you know that in the past you’ve really enjoyed the fabric you’ve knit with Rios on US 7 needles, skip the swatch. Just be aware that if you’re following a pattern, you might run into yardage issues if you’re not sure of your gauge compared to the pattern.

But if you’re going to knit a sweater, you should definitely knit another set of swatches. Start with the needle size you think will be right and double check! It’s better to know certainly that your gauge with that particular yarn and needle combination hasn’t changed before knitting a garment that ends up not fitting you properly.

Factors That Affect Your Knitting Gauge 

It’s important to recheck your gauge because so many things can affect it. Anything from how you’re feeling that day to what kind of dye is being used in the yarn can alter the the way you know.

How to swatch Valley Yarns Haydenville

Working large swatches of at least 8″ will help you find your knitting groove and yield a more accurate gauge swatch.

Your Knitting Needles

Different knitting needle materials will yield different gauges from the same knitter. I’ve been knitting with Knitter’s Pride Dreamz for awhile and was reliably knitting about one needle size down from what a pattern would call for. I recently picked up a set of Knitter’s Pride Royale special needles. They have a metal tip but are otherwise the same as Dreamz. This seemingly small difference changed my gauge! On the Royales my gauge is frequently correct in the needle size recommended by the pattern.

Yarn Materials & Dye

A worsted weight yarn that’s 100% wool is going to knit differently than a worsted weight yarn that’s a cotton blend. Even the same yarn you used a year ago could have a slightly different dye component that can affect your gauge. There’s really no way of knowing how a yarn is going to behave on your needles, even if it’s a yarn you’re familiar with, until you knit up a new gauge swatch and find out.

How Much Time You Spend Knitting 

We recommend large gauge swatches for a reason, and it’s really not because we want you to buy more yarn! A large gauge swatch of at least 8 inches helps you get into your knitting groove. If you only knit a 4” x 4” swatch, you’re not really knitting the way you would knit when you spend a couple of hours working on the body of a sweater while binging your favorite Netflix show. We all tend to loosen up a bit as we knit for longer periods of time and a large swatch helps mimic your natural knitting. A swatch that is closer to your natural knitting rhythm will yield a more trustworthy gauge swatch and a more accurate final project.

How You Feel While You’re Knitting

The mood you’re in on any given day can also affect your gauge! If you knit a small swatch while you’re really stressed out after a hard day at work, imagine how much tighter your tension will be than if you knit that same small swatch after a couple of glasses of wine on a Saturday. Neither will be an accurate representation of your gauge! Knitting a larger swatch will help alleviate any quirks in tension caused by any good or bad emotions you might be feeling that day.

A Small Difference In Gauge Makes A Big Difference In Final Project

So we convinced you and you’ve knit a nice big gauge swatch, now it’s time to count your stitches per inch. (We’ll cover this in more detail in the next post.) You realize that instead of your gauge being 5 stitches per inch on the nose, it’s 5.25 stitches. It’s such a small difference, you might be tempted to say that it’s good enough and knit your final project.

But a ¼ stitch difference per inch across an entire garment really adds up. Let’s say you’re making a sweater with a gauge of 5 stitches per inch. If your sweater’s total circumference is 38”, at 5 stitches per inch, the pattern would ask you to cast on 190 stitches. If you cast on those 190 stitches with a gauge of 5.25 stitches per inch, your final garment will actually measure about 36”. You’ll lose two whole inches of circumference from that little difference!

Now, if you really wanted to keep your gauge of 5.25 stitches per inch, you could do a bunch of math to make your pattern fit your gauge. But that’s a post for a different day.

Everyone Knits Differently

This is really important when you’re following patterns. Your gauge with a worsted weight yarn on US 7 needles is most likely different than what the pattern author’s gauge is with the same yarn and needles. Take a look at these two swatches of Valley Yarn Northampton:

Valley Yarns Northampton Swatches | two different knitters

At first glance, you might think these two swatches are knit on drastically different size needles. However, they’re the same yarn on the same needles knit by two different people! It’s the perfect example of why you can’t assume that your knitting is going to match the knitting of a pattern designer.

TL;DR? Swatching is key to insure that you’re knitting at the correct gauge for the pattern you’re following. It will ultimately save you a lot of time and frustration. There’s no better feeling than being able to trust your knitting and follow a pattern without fear that your end result won’t fit properly.

Follow us on Facebook or Instagram to catch the next installment of our Swatching Series!

Liz LaBrocca

Liz LaBrocca

Liz is the Social Media Coordinator at WEBS. She's been knitting for ten years, has dabbled in crochet and weaving, and was even a seamstress during her college years.
Liz LaBrocca

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2 Responses to “How To Swatch: Why Swatching Your Knitting Is Important”

  1. Lee Bernstein Says:

    I loved this article, and I shared it on my Fans of Knitting Is Gluten Free Facebook page. Thanks!

  2. Marykate Says:

    Thanks, Lee! We’re so glad you liked this!

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