How to make a swatch and measure for gauge......

'To swatch or not to swatch - that is the question' 

I have definitely lost count of the many conversations I've had about gauge; getting there, does it matter, getting stitch count but not the row count...there are so many factors to consider - and at the end of the day, it isn't worth getting stressed and upset about BUT for garments I would always recommend it! Recently I swatched and was only maybe 0.5cm away per 10cm - but actually that meant I'd be 5cm smaller across the chest. Knowing that, I went for the next size up as I liked the fabric I'd made on those needles. 

Here is what Tin Can Knits have to say about gauge:

"Gauge describes the size of knitted stitches.  It is a measure of how large the stitches are, and is defined by how many stitches and rows or rounds there are in one inch (or 4 inches) of knitted fabric.
And it’s important because…..
If a sweater pattern was simply written for worsted weight yarn and 5mm needles, then everyone’s sweaters would come out differently – there would be no way to predict finished size."

My good friend Wendy over at YarnSub once got everyone at knit night to make a swatch with the same wool and needles - the different sizes were astounding!! Equating to a difference of 3 dress sizes! It's a fascinating read click through here for the blog post.

I thought an easy guide of how I swatch and measure might be helpful, so here you go. I made a Flax sweater by Tin Can Knits last year, the gauge was 18 stitches and 22 rounds per 10cm/4". I knit a garter border around the swatch which helps stop it curling while you're trying to measure - so I took the 18 sts required and added 3 each side = 24 sts to cast on. I knitted a few garter stitch rows then made my stockinette square. (Remember to check what stitch you need to swatch in - for a cable jumper you'd need to knit a repeat of the cable or what ever it tells you in the gauge info.)

Step 1. Knit a 4" square with garter border in correct stitch for project. Note the garter row - this was an excellent tip from a lovely knitting friend - once you've knitted a few rows you can have a quick measure, if you know you're likely to need to change needles to get gauge, knit a row of garter and just change needles! Genius! No need to make a whole new swatch! 

a knitted square swatch with garter border

Step 2. Soak the swatch in cool water for 10 - 15 mins. 

Step 3. Gently squeeze the water out (no wringing) then roll in a towel.

roll swatch in a towel

Step 4. Let swatch dry naturally - don't pin out.

Step 5. When swatch is dry - measure! (Ensure it's really dry - wool can hold water and still feel dry to the touch) Not including the garter edge, you want to be 4” or pretty close. The stitches width ways are important here - the rounds/rows are too but it doesn’t matter too much if you’re out on the row count. I’ve added a video link here from Very Pink Knits who explains it oh so much better than me - but basically - unless a sweater is knitted sideways - or the pattern is written in rows, for most patterns it doesn’t really matter, as we will be given measurements to knit to. I got gauge with a 5mm needle. SO I used a 4mm for the ribbing and 5mm for the main body.

Things I knit and DON'T swatch for: (but mostly because I'm usually familiar with the wool I'm working with and what my tension is likely to be - I know if I'm knitting colour work then I'll probably have to go up a size to get gauge or things like hats will be too small)

Socks (although we talked about this during our sock class recently and Winwick Mum has an excellent calculator using your gauge to work out how many stitches you need to cast on - and it worked!) I use a 2.25mm as I've tried 2.5mm and prefer a firmer fabric.

Shawls (but be aware that you may run out of wool if you decide not to swatch and your tension is different to that of that pattern. **voice of experience**


And don't waste your swatches! If you run out of yarn at the end you can unravel, wash, dry and use up! Remember to write down in a note book (or I use my Ravelry notes on the project) the gauge you made with which needle. It's really useful and might save you swatching again! If you don't need to use it you could make a blanket with them - I have a lovely collection at the shop so customers can see how different wools feel when they're knitted/crocheted.

Here endeth the blog about swatches. Although I could go on - what needles you use can also affect your gauge - bamboo or metal, small circumference, knitting flat or in the round, etc. But that might be another post! 

For now - plan a new swatch - I mean project and enjoy!