the importance of swatching for gauge

Every week, I swatch for fun. But sometimes I need to swatch for gauge. While my fundamental swatches have flexible criteria as to what makes them effective tools, I make sure to work my gauge swatches diligently. There are some truths that are universal for both knit and crochet gauge swatches.

Gauge swatches are important and tell me what I need to know to work the project, and what might need to change so it’s a successful project.

Do swatches lie?

This is a common misconception. Swatches don’t lie, however they might not tell the full truth.

Here are three potential reasons your swatch may not be entirely truthful:
a fun(damental) swatch in two colour brioche

  1. It’s too small to measure accurately or it’s not worked in the same manner as the project. Working in the round is different from in rows.
  2. As you become familiar with the stitch pattern your tension may loosen.
  3. You didn’t block it in the manner you plan for the project.

The fixes are straightforward, though there’s no shortcut: if gauge matters for your project, then you need to take the time to make a proper swatch.

You can’t stop halfway through and say close enough.

You need to work the swatch as you plan to work the project, from choosing your tools to finishing.

5 Tips for a truth telling swatch

  1. photo of several different crochet hook tipsUse the hook/needle/cable that you plan to use. Don’t use a smaller interchangeable needle cable because the swatch is only a few inches wide. I work differently on a shorter circular needle than I do a long one. I often go through several crochet hooks to find the one that fits not only for my gauge but to successfully work a stitch pattern.
  2. Make it big enough! Don’t you want an excuse to buy more yarn? I am confident that your 4 inch square (10cm) swatch will differ from your 42 inch (107cm) blanket. You don’t have to make your swatches massive (unless you want) however, a few additional inches help you to take several measurements to determine your stitch tension.
  3. Work the swatch as you mean to work the project. If that means at night in front of the TV with a glass of wine, then cheers! (via Amy Herzog)
  4. Make more than one swatch. Make a smaller fun(damental) one to work out the stitch pattern. Once you are confident on the stitch, then cast on a nice sized one to work completely.
  5. Block it as you mean to block. Toss it in water for a wet block. If you plan to steam, then get out the iron. If it’s a a fabric that might lengthen, then block it vertically.

Beyond the Square

Do you still find swatches a waste of yarn and time? Turn them into projects in their own right.

stacks of handspun swatches, both knit and crochet

  1. Group swatches of similar yarns together and seam them into a scarf… or eventually a blanket.
  2. Work the swatch into a 6-11 inch (15-28cm) wide by 22 inch (56cm) rectangle, seam the short ends together. Voilà! You have a cowl.
  3. Mount it in a frame. (Here’s another way.)

Additional Resources

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