I’ve talked before about why we swatch, the importance of fabric, and the things that can sometimes go wrong. I’ve even talked about how to accurately measure your swatch (and provided videos, for CustomFit!).
But I don’t think I’ve spoken practically before about how to keep your swatches from lying to you. Which should definitely be fixed. So:
Practical tips for making your swatches tell the truth about your gauge:
- Swatch “normally”. Your swatching goal should be to predict, rather than match, your gauge. So be predictive in your swatching! If your knitting time comes between 8:30 and 10:00pm, while you’re watching Sherlock and having a glass of wine, that’s when your swatching time should come, too.
- Make your rows long enough so that you ‘knit normally’. Many of us have different knitting motions when we’re faced with 75 or 100 stitches on the needle, vs. 20. Cast on enough stitches that you’re knitting the way you’ll knit a garment. I always cast on 42 stitches, because I am a big ol’ dork, but you can use whatever number you want. Just make sure it’s over 35, okay?
- Swatch for long enough to ‘get into your groove’. None of us get into our regular knitting motion within the first inch or two, so you should knit your swatch until it’s tall enough to give you good data. You’ll need at least 5” / 12.5 cm, and I recommend between 6 – 8” (15 – 20.5 cm).
- Don’t “block” your swatch. Wash it. It doesn’t matter what gauge you can pin your swatch to. What matters is the gauge your swatch has when it’s been washed and laid flat to dry, because that’s how you’re going to treat your sweater. So don’t pin your swatch. Wash it, and lay it flat to dry. Really dry.
- Measure the “good data” parts of your swatch. You went to so much trouble to get into your knitting motion thoroughly and truthfully – don’t pull your gauge sample from the bad part of your swatch. Measure your stitch gauge and row gauge closer to the top of your swatch than the bottom (though not all the way to the edge), and you’ll be sampling from data that’s more likely to match the way you knit your sweater.
So there you have it: Five simple ways to make your swatches tell the truth. Let me know how they work for you – and share your own tips in the comments, if you have them.
What am I swatching right now? Something for a project I’m pretty freaking excited about…
Stay warm, and happy knitting!