Can I skip swatching?

When creating (or knitting) a pattern, swatching is always something that comes up.

What you will learn here:

  • Why making a swatch is important
    • when to get away without swatching
  • how to swatch
    • what your swatch measurements should be
    • what pattern you should use for your swatch
  • How to find out your gauge

Why is making a swatch important?

various swatches

It’s that extra work before getting into the real thing. Why not skip it? A valid question you have there!

The general reason is: because every knitter knits differently. Give three people the same yarn, the same needles and the same sweater pattern: One of them is a tight knitter, the second a loose knitters and the third is something in between. Every one of them will end up with different measurements of the final garment. At least one of them, if not all, is going to have knitted a sweater that doesn’t fit.

Let’s look at the swatch from another two angles: swatching for designing your own pattern and knitting from a pattern.

When you want to design your own pattern your gauge is needed to do the calculations of how many stitches to knit when and how many rows/rounds are needed to get to a certain point. When you don’t know the gauge or guess your gauge the measurements of your design won’t turn out right. Worst case scenario: the garment won’t fit. Doing the extra work is worth it, even if your designing the garment just for yourself. You don’t want to spend your time knitting and designing a garment that won’t fit in the end.

Knitting from pattern
When you are knitting from a pattern, that pattern is calculated with a specific gauge. When you don’t get that gauge the garment won’t fit as intended (or even not at all!). Of course you could get away without swatching, if you’re very experienced and know your knitting well. Also, when knitting a shawl knowing the exact gauge isn’t super important, but you should have a general idea of your gauge.

In a nutshell:

  • when designing: do that swatch!
  • When knitting a garment from a pattern: do that swatch!
  • When knitting a shawl from a pattern: have at least an idea of your gauge.

How to swatch

So I need to do a swatch – what do I do?
Choose a needle size according to your yarn (if you’re knitting from a pattern, check the pattern recommendations and start there).

Casting on
When swatching the following is true: the bigger the better (no, you don’t have to knit a blanket as swatch). Oftentimes it is recommended to knit a 10x10cm (4×4 inch) swatch. I say: go bigger! Make that at least 20x20cm (8×8 inch). Why? Because the more stitches you have, to make the measurements, the more accurate your gauge will be. We’ll get to the “How to measure”-part later.
If you don’t know how many stitches to cast on, here are some guidelines to give you some orientation (keep in mind that the final measurement of your swatch depends on your tension, if you’re a tight knitter you might want to cast on some more stitches!):

Yarn weightneedle sizestitches to cast on
Laceup to US 1 (2.25 mm)80
Fingering, SockUS 1-3 (2.25 – 3.25 mm)64
SportUS 3-5 (3.25 – 3.75 mm)52
DK, Light WorstedUS 5-7 (3.75 – 4.5 mm)48
Worsted, AranUS 7-9 (4.5 – 5.5 mm)40
Chunky, BulkyUS 9-11 (5.5 – 8 mm)30

Swatch Pattern
Now that you have casted on, what pattern should you knit?

For Designing:
Choose the pattern you’ll use most in your design.
1) If your doing all stockinette and you knit your garment mostly in the round, then swatch in plain stockinette in the round! In this case either double the stitches for the cast on, or knit the cast on stitches and leave a strand of yarn behind those stitches to start knitting the stitches in the round, so that you’re able to lay all the stitches flat:

Cut the yarn strands when you finished knitting your swatch (or make them loose enough, so that they don’t effect your knitted stitches.)

2) When your pattern is an all over cable design, knit in rows, you should knit your swatch accordingly!
3) When your pattern has cable elements and a lot of stockinette as well you might considering knitting two swatches or knit a cable element and stockinette in one swatch.

For knitting a pattern:
Usually the pattern will tell you what pattern to use for your swatch.

If you leave your yarn ball attached to the swatch, you could frog the swatch to reuse the yarn for your project. (If you didn‘t have to cut anything, that is)
When knitting with cotton your swatch could be a wipe or a washcloth.

Block it
When you completed knitting your swatch: block the swatch, just as you would your finished garment. I like to take measurements before and after blocking to see if there is a difference.

In a nutshell:

  • Knit a 20x20cm (8×8 inch) swatch
  • Use the pattern you want to use mostly
  • knit in the round or knit flat according to how the design is knit.
  • Block your swatch.
  • reuse your swatch

How to measure your gauge

Horizontal stitch counting

You have your swatch and are ready to measure your gauge?
Lay your swatch flat on an even surface, don’t stretch! Take a ruler, place it horizontally on one row, leave some space to the edges and then count the stitches over 15-20 cm (6-8 inch). Divide your stitch count by the number of centimeters (inches) to get your stitches for 1 cm (inch). Example: you counted 40 stitches over 15cm (6 inch):
40stitches/15cm= 2,6 stitches per cm
40 stitches/6 inch= 6,6 stitches per inch

When you’re designing you’re going to need these numbers.
When your knitting a pattern the gauge is generally given as 10×10 cm (4×4 inch). To get there, multiply the stitches per cm/inch by 10cm/4 inches:
In our example:
2,6 stitches per cm x 10cm = 26 stitches per 10cm
6,6 stitches per inch x 4 inches = 26 stitches per inch

Vertical row count

To get the row count place the ruler vertically on one line and count the rows. Calculate the row count per cm/inch in the same way you calculated the stitches. (Row count divided by the number of cm/inch you measured)

What if I don‘t get gauge for a pattern I want to knit?

You might not want to hear this: try another needle size, going up or down a size, depending on the gauge you got. If you your gauge is bigger than needed: go down a needle size, if your gauge is smaller than needed: go up a needle size.

You‘re ready to swatch like a pro!

What do you want to learn next?

Happy knitting!

Love, Sarah