How to make a swatch!
You know the feeling? Such an urge to start knitting….but before you start, you better make a swatch. 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; to practice the technique you need for the project; decide which needles (bamboo or metal, for instance) you will be using; get your gauge and correct needle size.
What is a correctly made swatch?:
The swatch 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.
Make the swatch with the same yarn and needles that you will use for the project. Therefore, 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.
If the project will be knitted back and forth, so should the swatch. Likewise, 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: Knit, pull/keep the yarn behind the work and knit again. Use double pointed needles or magic loop. Once you have finished, you just cut the flotations and voila, the swatch is done.
Furthermore, the swatch should 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. You will need to make one swatch for each kind of pattern report/technique. For example, a neckline can be too large or small if the gauge for the rib stitch is not correct.
Do one swatch at the time and break the yarn in between so the stitches don’t influence each other.
The swatch is finished when it has been steamed/washed and blocked. This can be 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. The swatch is now ready for the next step.
Use a ruler or a measuring tape. 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 = your stitch gauge. If you divide this by 10 you get the gauge by cm. Do the same with the rows.
The purpose of blocking the swatch is to match what happens to your garment during use and when in contact with your body heat. Despite your swatch please bear in mind, that 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, or the muscular tiredness after hours of knitting. Hence, it is important to revise the gauge once in a while throughout the knitting adventure.