Knitting swatches for gauge, needles, color, and pattern: It’s important

This week I’m knitting with Universal Yarn Magnolia, which is a super fine weight yarn that blends modal with cashmere to create soft knitted garments perfect for spring. Yesterday, I introduced you to this wonderful yarn. Today I’m showing you some swatches I knitted to measure my gauge to determine the needle size I need for my projects this week. As I mentioned yesterday, the recommended knitting needle size is a US 1-3 [2.25–3.25mm] = 27 – 32 sts x 35 – 40 rows = 4” [10cm] in stocking stitch. Based on the projects I have in mind, I’ll be using 2 different needle sizes to determine the gauge for some of the pattern motifs, and will also play with color combinations.

Universal Yarn Magnolia is available in 14 different colors. My color choices for this week are Frayed Denim, Key Lime, and Citrus Leaf.

My first swatch was mainly to check the recommended gauge and needle size. Since the recommended gauge is stated as a range (27-32 sts x 35-40 R = 4” with a US Size 1-3 [2.25-3.25mm] needles), I opted to use a US 3 [3.25mm] needle. I cast on 35 sts, knit 4 garter stitch rows, proceeded with a slipped stitch edge and 2 garter stitches at each side, and then the stocking stitch for the main field. My results before laundering were 27 sts and 35 rows = 4” and 26 sts, and 35 rows after laundering – Right on the recommended gauge.

The first swatch using Key Lime yielded a gauge of 26 sts and 35 rows after laundering, using a US 3 [3.25mm] needle.

Summer fibers are typically cotton or linen which create beautiful knitwear but can be a little hard on the hands while knitting as there is no elasticity to them. Not so with Magnolia. I found it very easy to work with; not hard on the hands at all. It has more give to it, but it tends to be a little on the slippery side. I debated switching from metal to wood needles, but found my hands adapted to the metal after a few more rows. Before laundering, you could see a slight difference in my swatch, but after laundering, it was perfect, and the fabric drape, gorgeous.

The purpose of my second swatch was to measure gauge and determine the needle size for the pattern of the T-shirt I’m making. There are two different stitch patterns used in the shirt, but I decided I wouldn’t use one of them as I felt it was a little too open for my liking. Instead, I sampled 4 different patterns on one swatch beginning with the Broken Garter stitch pattern.

I used the same number of stitches and needle size (26st x 36R in Broken Garter St on US3 [3.25mm]) as the first swatch since that’s the suggested needle size for the pattern.

Since I didn’t do a 4” x 4” swatch for each pattern section, my gauge is not really a true measurement, but it’s an indication of how the fabric will behave after laundering. My gauge before laundering on the Broken Garter stitch pattern was = 26 1/2sts x 10 rows and 24 sts and 10 rows after laundering. A little off from the pattern, but still workable as it means the T-shirt will have more ease in it for me. That’s OK.

On the garter rib pattern, I achieved 26sts x 9 rows before laundering and 24sts x 9 rows after; similar results to the Broken Garter stitch pattern. The other two patterns yielded similar results, but what I gained from this exercise was seeing the first two patterns beside each other. I really liked the combination, so I decided that’d be my plan for the T-shirt.

Pattern swatch going from bottom up – Broken Garter stitch, Garter Rib, a variation on Broken Garter stitch, and a Basket weave. Broken Garter and Garter Rib patterns are my favorites.

This was a great exercise in playing with different pattern motifs before committing to the project. I, like most knitters, tend to only swatch when absolutely necessary, but I’m really glad I made this one. Now I know exactly what I want to do on my T-shirt project.

For my third swatch, I wanted to change the needle size to see how it affects the drape and to play with color. Part of my reasoning for this is based on the cardigan pattern I’ve selected. The designer tends to knit a bit looser than I do, so I thought I would play a little. Now is the best time to try things out.

This time, I used a US 4 [3.5mm] needle using the same number of stitches and Citrus Leaf colorway. I incorporated stripes using the Key Lime yarn in both stocking and garter stitches to see if I liked the combination. I ended up with 23sts x 35 rows after laundering which is significantly different for the stitch gauge from the pattern gauge. The fabric drape was lovely, but not really appropriate for my project. The color experiment was tremendous. I was really pleased with the results and felt comfortable proceeding with my plan.

Swatch #3 on a US 4 [3.5mm] needle mixing Key Lime stripes with Citrus Leaf

One of my good knitting friends shared a tip to incorporate the needle size into your swatch. This way, you’ll always know what size was used for every swatch you knit. I think it’s a brilliant idea since I always think I’ll remember, and then I don’t. If you look at the lower right-hand corner of my swatch reading from right to left, you’ll see 3 purl bumps followed by 2 knit stitches, then 2 more purl bumps. Since I think in terms of metric knitting needles, the purl bumps signify I used a 3.5mm needle – 1 bump for .25, 2 bumps for .5, 3 bumps for .75. If you think in terms of US needle sizes (US 4 = 3.5mm) then you would make 4 purl bumps in a row. Whenever I need to reference this swatch again in the future, I’ll always know what needle size I used.

On another note, when I laundered my swatches, I soaked them in cool water using a non-rinse soap and laid them flat to dry. I didn’t machine wash or tumble dry since these processes can contribute to the variation in gauge. If I decide to launder my sweaters based on the yarn recommendations, I’ll first do it on my swatches. That’s another reason to knit a test swatch – you want to launder the swatches the same way you intend to launder the finished garment.

I actually enjoyed making my swatches – not something you often hear. I know what pattern motifs, color combinations and needle size I need for my two main projects…far better to learn this on a 4” swatch than a size medium sweater.

I hope you join me tomorrow as I proceed with my T-shirt project using Universal Yarn Magnolia in my favorite summer color, Key Lime.

This is part 2 of 5 in this series

Go back to part 1: Knitting with the NEW Universal Yarn MAGNOLIA

Go to part 3: Knit this super cute T-shirt with the NEW Magnolia yarn (free pattern)

Related posts

Fibra Natura FLAX | A fine natural yarn for knitting and crocheting

Working a hem with a three-needle bind off and I-cord | Eyelet Skirt

Why change needle sizes in a knitting pattern? What does it do?