by Cameron Hildreth

Crying over spilled yarn? Gauge swatch to the rescue!

 The Stix Chix are back with an installation of everyone's favorite...
Crying over spilled yarn? Gauge swatch to the rescue!

 The Stix Chix are back with an installation of everyone's favorite idiomatic expression: "Do what we say, not what we do" (*). Specifically, we will talk in-depth about gauge, why you should make a gauge swatch, and the best way to do that depending on the project. We know it is no-one's favorite thing to do, but it will save you so much frustration and wasted time and materials that it is absolutely worth doing. We don't want anyone crying over spilled yarn!

*We really believe gauge swatches are important. Really, we do. We just don't always do them ourselves. And we are almost always sorry that we did not. So, we really want YOU to make a gauge swatch so we can vicariously enjoy your wallowing in blissful satisfaction that you followed best knitting practices when your fearless knitting leaders did not. Totally worth the time you put into a swatch, wouldn't you say?*

We talked in a previous post about what gauge is and how it is determined by the designer of a pattern, and some tools to use to make measuring gauge easier.  You can read that here first if you'd like. I'll talk here about a couple of different gauge scenarios and how to make the best type of swatch for each of them.

Yes, there are different types of gauge swatches. The biggest determining factor is direction of knitting; flat vs. round. Any pattern worth its salt will give a gauge directive. If it doesn't, run for the hills. Unless you are making a dishcloth or scarf or blanket, something which does not have to fit a specific something, make sure that information is on the pattern. Next, determine how the item is made. These days, the designer more often than not will specify if the gauge is taken from something knit flat or in the round, but if not, it's up to you to figure that part out. We will start with an example of a piece knit in the round.

Let's suppose this is your information:

24 sts and 32 rounds on larger needles in stranded stockinette st color-work.

What do you do with that? First, you will see that it is stated in "rounds", meaning the item is made in the round, not back and forth. This is actually quite important information. If rounds or rows are not specified, read through the pattern to see how the item is made, and make the swatch in the same manner. Many (not all) knitters have a discrepancy between the gauge of their knit sts vs their purl sts. This means that if you were to cast on and make a flat stockinette (knit on RS, purl on WS) swatch, even in the indicated color-work pattern, it might not turn out to be the gauge you would achieve when making the actual piece in the round, which will be only knit stitches. So, in order to get a completely accurate depiction of your gauge you should:

  1. Make your swatch in the round, in the indicated stitch pattern, using the suggested needle size as a starting point. You'll adjust needle size if necessary after measuring your swatch. You won't try to change the tension of your knitting.
  2. Use the same type of needle (metal, wood, bamboo) that you will use on the actual product. The slipperiness of different materials can affect your gauge, so be consistent.
  3. Cast on more stitches than given for the gauge to make your swatch (ie: if the gauge is listed at 24 sts/4", cast on at least 6 more than that for your gauge swatch.)
  4. Block the swatch (soak in water until saturated fully) when complete and allow it to dry before measuring it. You will at some point be getting your finished project wet, and you want to know what happens to your fiber when it hits water.

You might be wondering at this point, how the heck am I supposed to make a swatch in the round on only 30 sts? The best way is to make a "speed swatch". You can watch a little video tutorial here on how to do this. In effect, you will be basically be making an over-grown i-cord as a swatch. Videos are worth a billion words, so take a minute to watch the video and it will all be clear. 

Swatches made for flat-knit projects can be more straightforward. You'll just want to pay attention to all the little details hidden in the verbiage of the swatch directive.  Make sure to start with the needle size suggested and go from there. Sometimes, you may be given more than one gauge to achieve. This may be given in different stitches or for different needle sizes on different parts of the project. Please do them all, even if it seems like a waste of time. They are likely there because the designer experienced something while making the prototype of the design. (These things can also apply to projects knit in the round.) Beyond that, refer to suggestions 2-4 above. 

We hope this helps! Your success is our success. Please hit us up with any questions or thoughts you have about gauge (or any other technical stuff!). We love to hear from you and learn what you want to know more about. 


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