How to Do a Gauge Swatch

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Does gauge matter? Last week, I shared a post with 12 different sized swatches, knit with the same needles and yarn, but with 12 different pairs of hands. It’s amazing how much gauge can differ from one person to the next, just based on tension and the way they knit! This week, I wanted to talk about how to do a gauge swatch. It’s easy.

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1. Use the same yarn that you will be using for the actual project. Not just the same weight. (Don’t think: “It calls for worsted, so I’ll swatch with Dream in Color Classy even though I’m knitting my sweater out of Lorna’s Laces Shepherd Worsted. I don’t want to waste any of my new sweater yarn on a swatch.”)

2. Use the same needles that you will be using for the actual project. Not just the same size. (Don’t think: “I will use my ChiaoGoo #7′s for the actual sweater knitting, but they’re stuck in another project right now so I’ll swatch with my Addi Turbo #7′s instead.”)

3. Use the same knitting method (Circular knitting? Flat knitting?) and same stitch pattern (Stockinette? Garter? Seed Stitch?) that the pattern calls for.

4. Generally, it’s good to measure stitches and rows over 4 inches. You want to make your swatch a little bigger than that, so you can accurately measure 4 inches worth of stitches well within the borders, so I usually make my swatches about 5″ x 5″.

5. How many stitches do you cast on? I think the listed gauge on the yarn is a good place to start. If the yarn tag says it knits up 4 stitches to the inch on #7 needles, I multiply that by how many stitches wide I want my swatch.

-  4 stitches per inch x  5 inch wide swatch equals 20 stitches. Then I bump up the number by about 10 to give me a little extra.

-  If you were working with, say, fingering weight yarn that calls for 8 stitches to the inch, you will cast on many more stitches. (Because 8 stitches per inch x  5 inch wide swatch equals 40 stitches, which I’d bump to 56.)

6. Cast on your stitches and work until your swatch is about 5 inches long, then bind off loosely.

7.  Soak your swatch in water and wool wash (Soak, Eucalan, etc.). Let it sit in the water for 30 minutes, so the yarn has a chance to relax and take on the new stitch shape. When done, roll it up in a towel and squeeze gently to remove excess water.

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8. Pin your damp swatch out on a blocking mat, towel, or cushion and let it dry completely. Then you’ll be ready to measure gauge.

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9.  Stitch gauge: with a ruler, mark out a 4″ horizontal section of your swatch with straight pins. Remove the ruler and count the number of stitches between the two pins. Don’t round up or down. If it’s 19.5, mark it as 19.5, not 20.

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10.  Row gauge: with a ruler, mark out a 4″ vertical section of your swatch with straight pins. Remove the ruler and count the number of rows between the two pins.

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Now that you have your numbers, you can go back to the pattern to see what it calls for, and how that compares with your personal gauge. What if your numbers don’t match? If you are close – like within a half stitch per inch – is that good enough? Pop over to our original gauge post for why that does matter, and suggestions on how to adjust.

Swatching can be tedious and boring, when what you really want to do is jump into the new pattern and start knitting it up right away. But taking a little time to swatch ahead and make adjustments means that you’ll end up with a garment that fits the way you were expecting it to. That’s totally worth the little bit of time it takes to swatch ahead.

Sheri whohaslearnedtoswatchandpayattentiontotheresults
Evenifit’sjustahalfstitchdifferent


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9 comments on “How to Do a Gauge Swatch

  1. I used to swatch using the garter stitch border, but then someone pointed out to me that my garment would not have that stabilizing border, and it might affect my gauge. Since that made sense to me, I no longer use the garter border, but make a big swatch. What do you think?

  2. Ok- I do swatch but confess I take shortcuts! I usually don’t swatch a square of 4 or 5 inches! I will usually do 2 in by 1 or 2. I also haven’t blocked any of my swatches! So far, I have not had bad karma with having to redo a whole lot! I will try the blocking though next time I have to swatch for a project like a piece of clothing. If it’s for shawls or where size won’t matter as much, then I usually don’t worry about the size as long as I have enough yarn. These are all good things to know- thanks, Sheri!

  3. Thank you for explaining it so simply and clearly. The best swatch instructions I’ve had to date. Will be swatching from here on.

  4. Gauge matters. So does needle size. I learned this the hard way, when I pulled out a pair of what claimed to be #2 Off-Brand circulars and knit Sock One according to the sock recipe that ALWAYS fits me.

    It was too large! What is THIS mystery, I wondered? Upon closer inspection, I saw the stamp on the alleged #2 needle: it said 2.25mm.

    OK, surely a quarter of a MILLIMETER shouldn’t make THAT much difference, should it?

    I knit Sock Two on my confirmed 2.00mm Addi Turbos…

    And it fit perfectly. And it was a half-inch smaller than Sock One.

    A quarter of a millimeter. You know how small a millimeter is, right? SIGH Frogged, restarted.

  5. Interesting point about using the SAME needles you’re using on the project – I never thought about that one! My concern is that my specific project calls for size 10 needles with dk yarn but I have to use size 11 needles to get gauge. I don’t like how “loose” or “holey” the fabric becomes with the bigger needles. Since my project is a series of 3 rectangles, I’m going to do some creative math and see how many stitches I get with a 4 inch swatch with the size needles I want to use (9) and then use that to determine how many stitches to cast on,