Wednesday Question: What Is A Swatch?

All knitters have questions about the best way to do things, why different things happen while they are knitting, how to fix knitting mistakes and more. Here is this weeks questions posed by Brenda Buckley.
 Question : My pattern says to knit a swatch before starting to knit the sweater is it necessary and what is it? 





Answer: YES YES YES!

The gauge swatch is basically just a square piece of knitted fabric that demonstrates how you, the needles and the yarn interact before you get going on the main project. All patterns give a recommended gauge, or stitches and rows per inch, at the beginning of their instructions, usually directly below the suggestions for yarn weight and needle size.



There are a number of ways to make a swatch. This is my prefered method. My flat-knit swatch consists of 4 rows of garter stitch, the stitch pattern called for, keeping the first and last 4 stitches in garter stitch, and then ending with 4 rows of garter stitch. The garter stitches will frame the area to be measured and eliminate any curling. See the table below for yarn weight and suggested minimum number of stitches to cast on and rows to work.
Yarn Weight Min. Number of Pattern Stitches Garter Stitches for edge borders Total Number for Cast On Min. Number of Rows incl. 4 rows garter at beg and end
Fingering 28 4+4 36 48
DK 24 4+4 32 44
Sport 20 4+4 28 40
Worsted 16 4+4 24 36
Bulky 12 4+4 20 32
Super Bulky 10 2+2 14 24

As you can see, the figures for the cast-on and the number of rows to knit are based roughly on what the yarn weight in question generally yields for a standard gauge and really represent the bare minimum numbers you will need for an accurate measurement. Remember, the bigger the swatch, the more accurate your gauge will be, so don’t hesitate to make it as large as you can. Of course, if you are working a flat swatch in a stitch pattern, you’ll want to make sure you include at least 3 patterns repeats AND any additional stitches included at the end of the row.

With a ruler (not a tape measure – tape measures stretch and do not give accurate measurements) and some straight pins, measure a width of either one inch or four inches, depending upon the directions you are using, making sure that you pick an area of the swatch away from the borders to avoid distortion. Insert the pins as shown in the photo.


 Write down your stitch gauge. And be brutally honest when measuring – no stretching, no finagling to try to get the gauge. Then measure again in two other places on the swatch. Average your three measurements for your final gauge.
Repeat for the row gauge as shown in the next photo.

Stitch gauge is almost always a mandatory measurement, with the exception of those knitted items that will not be shaped to fit, such as afghans, scarves, washcloths and so on. Row gauge is absolutely critical if you are knitting any raglan garment or a fully-fashioned sleeve, if the pattern is Fair Isle, other colorwork, or certain Aran designs, where the charted design constitutes the entire garment piece and dictates the finished length. Always analyze your pattern to see if row gauge is critical to the finished garment or not. Most of the time row gauge will not matter too much but make sure you know when it does.

If your swatch measures too few stitches, you’ll need to go down a needle size or so to get more stitches and Of course, if your swatch measures too many stitches, you’ll need to go up a needle size or two.
Don’t forget to check your gauge after you’ve knit about 2-3 inches of your first garment piece and again about halfway through. It’s not uncommon for knitting tension to change for a variety of reasons…you’re tense, stressed out, tired, etc. If your gauge is off, switch needle size, frogging if needed back to where your gauge was correct.
Most knitters mistakenly think that making the gauge swatch is an extra, unnecessary step that can be avoided altogether. If there’s one piece of advice I hope you’ll remember, it’s this: always, always, alwaysmake a gauge swatch! If your knitting is so much as a half of an inch off from the recommended gauge, you can end up with a HUGE difference in the size of your finished garment. Take it from me that there’s nothing quite as frustrating as working tirelessly on an adult’s hat that ends up being the size of a toddler’s, or making a baby’s hat that would fit best on a gorilla.
And remember relax! Knitting is fun!

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