Create a Usable Swatch
March 8, 2019
Gauge swatches don’t need to lie
I hear all the time about how gauge swatches lie and it just kills me! Just working up a swatch isn’t enough, but I have some suggestions for ways to make it better.
NO garter edges
This is a big one. HUGE. Do NOT add garter edges to your swatch unless your pattern actually has them.
Garter stitch compresses the row gauge and makes the swatch’s gauge be different than its actual gauge.
Just look at the difference. It’s crazy.
You see lots of people take pictures of their nice-looking swatches with garter stitch edges. DO NOT fall into this trap.
Just say no to the garter stitch edge. Seriously. Stop it. Now.
And I know what you’re thinking – that you can just stretch them out with blocking. But, there’s no telling how that stretch impacted the stockinette portion – and I’d bet that it did.
You also might be thinking that you need garter stitch edges to stop the swatch from curling. Well, a good blocking should stop that. And that brings us to the next point.
Block the swatch
You need to treat your swatch the same way that you intend to treat the FO. Hand wash, machine wash – whatever. Unless you’re making a museum piece that will never get dirty then you need to plan for washing it. If you don’t, your gauge won’t be correct. It’s not lying – it’s just telling you a different story.
Now – and this is important – MEASURE THE GAUGE BEFORE YOU BLOCK.
Why measure before you block?
You need to know both the pre-block *and* post-block measurements because you’ll often read things in patterns like “Work in ribbing until piece measures 8 inches”. If this is the case with your pattern, then I have news for you. That measurement will be AFTER THE PIECE IS BLOCKED.
But have no fear. Some simple – very simple – math will get you what you need.
Let’s work through this example for calculating how far you should actually work. And you get a prize at the end – you’ll actually need to knit LESS.
Let’s say your final gauge (your post-blocking gauge) is 18 stitches and 24 rows per 4 inches.
Let’s say your gauge before you block is 20 stitches and 28 rows per 4 inches.
If you want to know what your piece should actually measure, just do this.
Take the post-blocked gauge and divide it by the pre-block gauge. So, in our example, you take 18 and divide it by 20 for the stitches.
And now, do the same for rows.
So, whenever you come across a measurement for stitches, multiply that by .9. And whenever you come across a measurement for rows, multiply that by .85.
In our example, we take 8 inches (which is measured along the rows) and multiply that by .85.
This means that you only work 6.8 inches because once you block it, that number will become 8 inches.
See – I told you. You actually have to knit less – and you never would have known that if you didn’t make a gauge swatch first.
Why is this important?
This is important for three reasons:
- You avoid working more than needed. You know what I mean. You take the tape measure out ALL THE TIME to see if it’s long enough. How cool is it that you can shave 1.2 inches off your work (in this example)?
- Your final work will be too long if you work your item to 8 inches (unblocked). Once you block, that number would become 9.6 inches. That’s a big difference to try to make up and it’s likely that the item would become too long/big.
- You use more yarn. If you have tons of extra yarn, great. But if you’re going to be close, this is a sure-fire way to use too much.
NO slipped stitch edges
Just like you don’t want to do garter stitch edges, you also don’t want to do a slipped stitch edge.
Remember – the goal is NOT to create the most photogenic swatch. The goal is to learn the most you can from the swatch.
Make the swatch big enough
No tiny little swatches to check gauge. In reality, if you do this you aren’t checking gauge. I suggest a 5×5 inch swatch. Mine came out to a bit more than that. Bigger is just fine.
Smaller, is not.
I know, I know – you just want to get started. But it’s like skipping the taping portion of painting a room. You can do it, sure, but the final work will NEVER be as nice as it could be if you do things right.
Measure in the middle
You know how the ends just never look as good as the middle? There are tricks to make them look better. But, if if you do those tricks you can have the same issue as the garter stitch edges. Those tricks will impact gauge.
So, don’t count on the ends. And even if you try to, I dare you to figure out exactly what a stitch is when it includes the end.
Since you made the swatch large enough (right?), make sure you measure in the middle too.
Take stretching into account
If you’re making a large object that’s going to hang, that hanging will stretch it out as well. People will affix little weights at the bottom of the swatch to approximate it. You can use lightweight cans as well.
And the same stretching issue applies even more if your gauge is being knitted in a more airy way.
Also, keep in mind that as a piece stretches length-wise, it also compresses width-wise. This means that NEITHER measurement is correct if you’re trying to account for stretching.
Use the same color as the final item
You have this one random ball in your stash that’s the same yarn as your final item, but it’s in a different color.
Not even close.
Different colors are treated differently, and these treatments can impact gauge too. So, if you’re testing gauge, make sure you’re actually testing yourgauge.
What this all means
You can have good success with swatching if you follow the right steps.
- Never – NEV-AR – put garter edges on your swatch unless that’s what you’re testing.
- Make sure you wash and block it the way the final item is going to be treated.
- Remember to measure both before and after you block because you’ll need both measurements.
- DO NOT add slipped stitch edges either.
- Work the swatch large enough. A 5×5 inch swatch is a good size to aim for, but the exact measurements can depend on the stitch pattern.
- Measure in the middle of your swatch for the best representation of your knitting.
- Be sure to take stretching into account (if it applies).
- Use the same color.
Respect your investment. Respect your yarn. Respect your time. Make a real swatch.
And go tell all your friends about the garter stitch edge. Seriously, if you get one thing out of this post, it would be to avoid the garter stitch edge on swatches.