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All About Gauge Swatches

All About Gauge Swatches

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If you've wondered about the hooplah of gauge swatching (why? what's it for? is it necessary?) - this post is for you. Find out why we're ALL about gauge swatches at Bellish.

A gauge swatch is a tool that knitters use to calculate the finished size of their garment. The number of stitches per inch/cm determines the overall size, and whether your sweater fits the way it should (or not).

This is especially important for sweaters, where fit and size matter most. 

How do you know if your gauge is right for the pattern? You knit a swatch and measure it. 

If you’re new to swatching, we invite you to follow along and try this yourself so you can see how it works. 

Cast on about 30 stitches using the yarn and needles you plan to use for the project. This number can vary, but the goal is to cast on a number slightly higher than the gauge the pattern tells you to measure. (Meaning: If the pattern says the gauge is 22 st and 30 rows in 4 in/10cm, then you’ll want to cast on more than 22 stitches so you can measure a full 4 in/10 cm section and see if you have the right number of stitches there.

To create the swatch, knit it in stockinette stitch* (or in the recommended pattern), working back and forth until the little piece is just about square. Then bind it off using a regular bind-off method. Cut the working yarn (leaving a tail that you can weave in later), and soak your swatch in a little basin of lukewarm water for about 20 minutes.

Why soak your swatch? This process allows the fiber to relax and expand, and will give you a more accurate measurement for finished size. 

When your swatch is finished soaking, press out the excess water and roll it in a towel. Then lay the swatch out flat on a little rubber mat or a folded towel, and pin the edges so they are flat and even. You want to pull the sides out so they’re nice and even, and just slightly taut (but not stretched). 

Let your swatch dry for a day, and then unpin it. Use a measuring tape or gauge ruler and measure across the stitches horizontally (just slightly away from the sides) to measure over a 4 in/10 cm space.

How many stitches do you count? 

Here’s an example based on a gauge goal of 22 stitches in 4 in/10 cm.

  • If you’re meant to have 22 stitches, but you have 24 stitches, that means your stitches are too small. It’s a bit confusing because the number is higher, but it means you’re fitting more stitches into the same amount of space. Remedy: Try going up to a larger needle size, or using a slightly heavier yarn (or both). Then swatch again.
  • If you’re meant to have 22 stitches, but you have 20 stitches, this means your stitches are too large. Even though the number is smaller than your goal of 22, this result means you’re fitting fewer stitches into the same space. Remedy: Try going down to a smaller needle size (or a lighter weight yarn) or both. Then swatch again.

Here’s why we swatch: Even if you use the exact right yarn and needles the pattern recommends, it doesn’t mean your gauge will come out exactly the way the pattern gauge says it should. Different knitting styles, types of knitting needles and different yarns can affect the size of your stitches - and they can have a noticeable impact on your gauge. 

When your gauge doesn’t match the gauge of a pattern, even by just a stitch or two, it means your sweater might end up a LOT bigger or a LOT smaller than you want it to be. Knitting a gauge swatch might seem like an annoying extra step, but it’s better to find out *before* you start knitting (rather than after you finish). 

When it comes to knitting a gauge swatch, just do it. (You’ll be glad you did.)

*Stockinette stitch means to knit the rows on the right side, and purl the rows on the wrong side. This means knit one row, purl one row, and repeat until the fabric is the size you want.

Squares of knit fabric arranged in a circle
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