HOW TO KNIT A GAUGE SWATCH – AND WHY YOU SHOULD!
When you swatch, you’re measuring the gauge of the yarn knit by YOU with your needles. The designer of the pattern you are following may knit completely different from you, so you cannot just use the same size needle listed in the pattern. That is, if you want it to fit. Gauge is a measure of how many stitches YOU have per inch with certain size needles and yarn – the important word being YOU!
I've focused on knitting with this post, but all of these issues apply to crochet projects too - just substitute the word crochet for knit, and hook for needle, but measuring gauge and swatching is just as important for that craft too.
If you are knitting a project where fit is important, then you must swatch. Blankets, scarves, shawl – those are things you can get away with without swatching (for the most part). But here’s an example of how the gauge on a small item, like a hat, can make a difference. Let’s say your hat pattern calls for casting on 80 stitches, and the recommended gauge is 4 stitches per inch. That means that your hat will be 20 inches around. You’re a tight knitter, and your actual gauge is 5 stitches per inch (tight knitters cram more stitches into an inch). That means your 80 stitches will result in a hat that’s just 16 inches around – way too small for most adult sizes!
Every knitter is different. Sure, you could knit tighter or looser to meet the gauge – but do you really think you could keep that up consistently for an entire sweater?
Another reason to swatch, is to test the resulting fabric. This is especially important if you are substituting the recommended yarn for that project. Do you like how firm or loose the knit fabric feels? Will it drape the way you expect? Will it show off that cable pattern? How does it behave after washing? Yes, washing – for best results, you should wash and block your gauge swatch before measuring!
HOW TO SWATCH
If you’re working from a pattern, the pattern will likely specify a gauge. For example, it could say: 20 stitches and 26 rows = 4 inches with size 9 needles. Start your swatch with the needle size suggested in the pattern, casting on more stitches than what’s required for 4 inches. You gauge measurement should be taken across the center stitches since edge stitches can be distorted. In our example above, you would cast on 28 stitches to measure the 20 center stitches.
Knit the swatch in the stitch the gauge specifies. For example, if the gauge is over stockinette stitch, knit a swatch in stockinette stitch. Sometimes it might be a little more complicated, like a cable pattern or other special stitch. After you finish the swatch, bind off. It’s important that your swatch be measured OFF the needles. Keeping it on the needles can stretch it or bunch it up in places, throwing off the measurement. Wash your swatch, pin or lay flat to dry. Yarn can bloom (grow) or contract with washing, and this will also affect your gauge. You are planning to wash that sweater someday, right?
If you have more stitches per inch than the pattern specifies, you are knitting tight and should go up a needle size. If you have fewer stitches per inch, you are knitting loose and should go down a needle size. Different needle materials can alter gauge too – so if going up or down a size doesn’t get you the gauge needed, try switching to a different type needle – metal, bamboo, etc – even brands of needles can result in a different gauge. There are many tricks and techniques to achieve gauge, but we’ll save that for another time.
STITCH GAUGE VS ROW GAUGE
Very often you achieve the correct stitches per inch, but your row gauge is off. Depends on the design, but usually the stitch gauge is the most crucial. You can usually modify for row gauge by knitting fewer or more rows to achieve the finished length.
Hope these little bits of information will help with your next project!
Happy knitting and crocheting!
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