This week, knitter friends, we are having a peek at some key tips and tools for all knitters to keep at their fingertips. Today’s post is about swatches, also sometimes called “gauge swatches” or “tension squares,” depending on your lingo and what part of the world you are from. Knitting a swatch will help you get to know your yarn, and help you get the results you want.
When you’re knitting from a pattern you’ll usually see a note at the start of the instructions about gauge, for example, “20 sts and 28 rows over 4 inches/10 cm in stockinette stitch on 4.5mm needles.”
This note tells you the number of stitches and rows the pattern expects you to have, for a given amount of knitted fabric. It also tells you the needle size the pattern designer used to get it while knitting with the yarn in the pattern. So, there are three elements here – the needle size, the yarn being used, and the knitter herself. If you change one of these things, you might get a different gauge result. So, it’s possible that you could use the same yarn and needle combination as the pattern, but end up with a different knitted gauge.
The best way to find out if you’re “getting gauge,” is to knit a swatch and measure your gauge before starting the pattern. Swatches are small squares of knitted fabric that we make before starting a project, to see if we’re getting the same gauge – stitches and rows per inch of knitted fabric – as the pattern we’re using. If you’re getting a different gauge, your project could turn out too big or too small.
The hardest part about swatching is usually just taking the time to do it! If you’re like me, you often just want to get started on the fun part, and cast on for the real project right away. But, swatches are an important part of the knitting process, especially when you’re making larger items such as blankets, or garments like sweaters or vests that need to fit a large part of your body (or someone else’s body, if you’re knitting them a gift!)
The way I like to swatch is to knit a piece of fabric that’s at least 6 inches wide and 5 inches high. This way, you can measure at least 4 inches in each direction in the middle of the swatch, where the fabric is less likely to be distorted at the edges. Then, wash the swatch and let it dry before measuring your gauge. Use a gauge ruler or measuring tape to measure in each direction and count the number of stitches over 4 inches in each direction, and compare this number to what the pattern indicates. If you end up needing to use the yarn in your project, you can pull it out later on, once it’s given you all the info you need.
In this post we are using swatches done in stockinette stitch, where you knit the ‘right side’ and purl the ‘wrong side’. It’s normal for patterns to use stockinette as a gauge reference, but if they refer to a “pattern” stitch for gauge, make sure to knit your swatch in that pattern (which will be used in the project instructions) in order to take your measurements.
You might also be wondering, why do so many gauge notes use 4 inches (10 cm) as their measurement, why not just talk about stitches per inch? The answer is that the longer the measurement, the more accurate it is likely to be. A good rule of thumb is to measure the gauge over 4 inches, then divide that number of stitches by 4 to get your “stitches per inch” number. Measure over as many inches as you can for best results.
In tomorrow’s post I’ll have a few more swatching tips for you, and also some hints on what to do if you’re not “getting gauge.” Knitting a swatch takes a bit of time, but can be a great help when knitting larger projects.