Learning to Love the Gauge Swatch

I think there are at least two kinds of knitters, when it comes to that step in knitting that we’re all supposed to take: the gauge swatch. Some knitters faithfully and tirelessly knit a gauge swatch every single time they start a new project. Other knitters scoff at gauge swatches, say “oh phooey, I just want to start knitting!”, and leap fearlessly into their newest projects without bothering. Is there a third type? I think so, because this describes me: sometimes they knit separate gauge swatches, and sometimes they use the beginning of a new project as a sort of gauge swatch. Most of the time, I don’t knit gauge swatches. But, I do recognize that I can’t simply blindly leap into a project without worrying about gauge, either. For some projects, I use the beginning of that project as a test for gauge. I usually do this for projects such as gloves and socks. When I’m using the beginning of a project as a gauge test, I’ll knit several rounds of the project. If I’m knitting it for myself, or for someone in particular, I will either try it on myself after the first several rounds, try it on the person in question, or try it on whomever is nearby that I can get to use as a model, bearing in mind that this person is smaller/bigger than the person for whom the project is intended. Then, I’ll decide whether I should switch needles. I might even decide to switch yarns, if I’m not feeling right about the yarn in question. The point is, I don’t let myself get too committed to the beginning of a project. I’m willing to unravel completely and start from scratch, if need be. For the most part, this method has worked pretty well for me. I do realize that it is less than ideal because I’m not washing and blocking the swatches. For items such as gloves and socks, this usually isn’t a big issue. For the rare occasion when I knit a larger project where gauge is crucial, like a sweater, I do knit an actual gauge swatch. This was the case when I began knitting a sweater for my husband. Aside from the fact that gauge is really important to the fit of a sweater, I had other reasons for knitting a gauge swatch. One reason was because I was using a completely different yarn than what was recommended for the pattern. Another reason was because I had modified the project significantly by using a different stitch pattern than the plain stockinette called for in the pattern. Because of these departure, I decided that not only had I better knit a gauge swatch, I should knit TWO swatches — one in stockinette stitch, and the other in the stitch pattern I wanted to replace it with. Then I washed and blocked both swatches like a good little knitter. The resulting swatches, and the process, taught me a lot about the yarn and the stitch pattern. I was then much more confident in knitting this sweater. (I haven’t actually finished this sweater, but it has nothing to do with the swatching process and everything to do with all the must-knit projects that have popped up in the interim!)

Gauge Swatches and You

So how do you feel about gauge swatches? Do you love to knit them, hate to knit them, never knit them? I tend to think that those of us who hate to knit swatches–or, at least, deeply wish we didn’t have to do it–feel like they’re a bit of a waste of time. Have you ever faithfully knitted a gauge swatch, maybe even washed and blocked the thing, and found to your shock and horror that your gauge still wound up being off in your final product? I have heard many knitters tell of such an experience, and I admit that such a horror story can make one feel as though there’s no point in knitting a gauge swatch. But let’s face it. Without doing some sort of gauge test, knitting any kind of project that requires a good fit is a bit like playing Russian roulette (albeit without all the messy shooting). Even small projects like socks or mittens could go terribly wrong if have no idea if our own gauge matches the gauge called for in our patterns. Throughout my knitting life, I’ve found a few online articles regarding swatching that I found tremendously helpful, even inspiring. I’m sharing them with you in hopes that you will also be inspired and, perhaps, newly determined to work project swatches faithfully. KnitPicks Tutorial: About Gauge – This is probably the most basic guide to gauge I’ve found, and like most of what KnitPicks offers, it’s sound and solid. If you have little or no relationship with gauge swatching, this is a great place to start brushing up. Swatch Out! and An Exposition on Everybody’s Favorite Dirty Word – These are both Knitty.com articles. Just as the KnitPicks article is much like KnitPicks itself – solid and sound – these Knitty articles are much like Knitty in general; that is, they go a little deeper than your usual tutorials and articles. If you want to understand just a little bit more about gauge and why swatching is so important – and how you can get the maximum benefit possible out of knitting gauge swatches – you’ll find these articles most helpful indeed. The Swatcher’s Manifesto – This article appeared on Knitter’s Review a few years ago, and it is the only article I’ve ever read that actually makes swatching sound like fun. Therefore, I think it’s must-reading for anyone who knows the importance of gauge swatching and would rather it not feel like drudgery. I especially like this article because it offers several knitting patterns that can actually be used as swatches. (Some of them are free, others are for sale.) Circular Swatches Knit Flat – “Okay,” you might be saying, “all this swatch talk is all fine and good. But what if I want to knit something in the round? Flat swatches aren’t going to cut it, are they?” Not if you knit them normally. But read this wonderful blog post from TECHknitting, and you’ll come away with not one but two possible ways to knit a circular swatch flat. (The first method is linked to; the second is described in the article itself.) I hope that this article has helped you overcome your fear of lying swatches, your hatred of knitting gauge swatch, or your nagging discomfort that perhaps you’re not doing it right. (If you’ve felt the latter, fear not: in my opinion, any swatching is better than no swatching!) If you have a favorite swatching trick, or if you’ve got a lesson you learned from swatching – or from not swatching – I’d love to hear it!