It makes great sense to do a swatch – BEFORE you start knitting!
A swatch is extremely important for knitters and is useful for: getting to know the yarn and understand how this particular yarn works with that particular pattern; practice the technique you need for the project; decide on which needles (bamboo or metal, for instance) you will be using; get your gauge and find the correct needle size.
What is a correctly made swatch?:
- It must be large enough, for you to be able to measure a minimum of 10x10 cm of the pattern repeat. Furthermore, the swatch must have an edge (some extra stitches) that doesn’t pull or roll as that will make it difficult for you to make the correct measurement
- It must be made with the same yarn and needles that will be used for the project. Hence, if you intent to do the project with metal needles, the swatch should be made using the same needles. Mind you, sometimes one has to use a smaller or larger needles size to get the gauge right
- Must be worked in the same pattern repeat as the project. This means, that if the project is made in stockinette stitch, 1x1 rib-pattern, or Fair Isle - so is the swatch.
- If the project will be knitted back and forth, so should the swatch
- If the projected is to be knitted in the round, the swatch will also have to be knitted in the round. The latter is done by: Knitting a row, move the stitches to the other side of the needle whilst ‘dragging’ the yarn behind the work, knit another row. Repeat until the swatch has the right size.
- Use double pointed needles, a short circular needle, or magic loop. Once you have finished, you cut the flotations and voila, the swatch is done
Often, one has to use a larger or smaller needle to get the gauge of the pattern. This is because we all have a distinct way of knitting, which again depends on the needle we use for this particular project. So, one’s gauge will also be reflecting whether we use a needle made of bamboo or metal, pointed or not, round or square, for instance.
The swatch is finished when it has been steamed/washed and blocked. This is easily done with a steam iron on the reverse side of the swatch. Swap between steaming and pulling gently until you sense that the yarn has opened its structure.
It’s important to block the swatch as that replicates how the textile will behave when in use and exposed to the heat and evaporation of the body.
How to measure one’s gauge
Use a ruler, a measuring tape or a gauge measuring device. Put a pin by the left side of a stitch and use another pin to mark exactly 10 cm on the right hand side. Count the stitches = number of stitches pr. 10 cm. Do the same with the rows = number of rows pr. 10 cm. Try with a larger needle if you have too many stitches or rows. Try with a smaller needle if you have too few stitches or rows.
We've all made the mistake that......
In my knitting patterns I always recommend you do a swatch even if you are eager to get started on the project. Trust me - once you have had to unravel a sweater, the importance of making a good swatch beforehand becomes very clear.
Please bear in mind, though, that despite a well done swatch, even a small difference in gauge can have a big influence on a larger project such as a sweater. Likewise, the gauge can change whilst knitting, due to either the weight of the growing project, muscular tiredness after hours of knitting or the pattern going from knitting in the round to knitting flat.
Hence, it is important to revise one’s gauge occasionally throughout the knitting adventure. For this reason, I strongly recommend to block the project during the process to ensure the gauge and thereby the fitting of the finished garment. Once can do this whilst keeping the project on the circular needles, for instance.