Swatching: Why You Wanna.

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I know, I know. You don’t wanna swatch. I’ve heard it all before, truly. (I’ve felt it all before! Truly!) But let me take a moment to make a heartfelt plea on behalf of the humble swatch.

There are three things you need to know about swatches.

  1. Swatching is easy. Truly, it is. It takes a small amount of time. (A show, if you’re a tv knitter; a chapter if you read, like I do.) It involves a small number of stitches. It lets you flirt a little with the yarn you’re considering for your project.
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  3. Your swatch is a fabric sample. Swatches are your only chance to see whether you’ll like the fabric you’re making that sweater from!

    And most of us don’t want to spend hours and hours and hours (and hours) knitting an entire sweater, only to find that the yarn / gauge / pattern combo are totally inappropriate. Your swatch is the way to avoid that pain down the road.

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  5. It’s more important to know your own gauge than match someone else’s. This is especially true for CustomFit, but is even true for a standardized knitting pattern.

    If you like the fabric you’re getting, but your gauge is a little off from what’s written, you have options! You can re-work numbers of course, but you can also see whether the stitch counts for one of the other sizes will work for you, at your actual gauge.

    Think about it: As long as your gauge is predictable, you can make the rest work.

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“Okay, okay!” you’re saying. “Uncle! I’m ready to swatch!”

“…but don’t really understand how. Don’t laugh!”

I’m not laughing. Swatching gets such a bad rap, it’s a wonder any of us know how to do it.

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Here’s what I recommend:

  • Knit a large swatch. And by large, I mean 5 – 6” square. Truly. Consider knitting more than one, at different needle sizes, just to get a feel for how the fabric changes.
  • Wash the swatch the way you’ll wash your sweater. However you’ll treat your sweater, treat the swatch. Truly. Then let it dry overnight.
  • Play around with it. Give your swatch(es) a little love. Feel the way the fabric moves, rub it, crinkle it. Shake it, pet it, and make some opinions. If you have multiple swatches, pick the one you like best.
  • Measure your gauge. The smart way, not the standardized way. Knitting patterns give you swatch information by the 4” / 10 cm increments, but that doesn’t mean you need to measure that way!

    I recommend marking out the maximum number of stitches and rows you think give you an accurate gauge measurement, then measuring a WHOLE number of stitches and rows precisely. A ruler can help you estimate a fraction of an inch. Nothing can help you estimate a fraction of a stitch.

    Measuring this way will give you the most accurate gauge estimation you’ve ever had.

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I hope I’ve convinced you to give swatching a try? It’s an integral part of using CustomFit, and fun to boot.

What’s your favorite swatch or swatch story?

33 thoughts on “Swatching: Why You Wanna.

  1. I am a swatcher as well but I remember that sometimes swatches lie….. I remember swatching for a sweater about a dozen times and the best I could come to gauge was “close.” I even wrote a blog post about the frustration of swatching for that project….it’s funny now but at the time it wasn’t:)

    1. Ugh, I think we’ve all been there Brandi!

  2. I don’t have a favorite swatch or swatch story because I have only been knitting since March of this year but I do have a question. In the last photo there is a light blue running stitch on the swatch. Is that for demonstration purposes only or do the help with stabilizing the knitted stitches for a more accurate stitch/row count? Thx

    1. Great question Donna! It’s not really so much for stabilization as for helping me remember where I’m starting / stopping counting, so that I can properly measure the stitches and rows I’ve counted.

      1. Thanks for clarifying that for me. I am beginning a new project and will use your tip to help me count stitches. As I have rampant ADHD (yep, at 58 it is still going strong)that visual cue will certainly be useful. I am always on the lookout for tools to help me and hopefully I will be able to pass my findings on to others. Love your book, love your newsletters, love your website/blog, love your patterns and love that you provide sizing for us fluffy women!

  3. I have been swatching what seems like for days to find the right stitch pattern for a shrug I am designing for my sister. Then it hit me, after 5 failed patterns, maybe it’s the yarn. Smacked head against wall.

    1. D’oh! I think we’ve all been there, too. 🙂

    2. Hi Elizabeth. I call that a flat forehead moment. My grandsons put their hands over their faces and call it “palm facing”. I am so grateful that there are people like you who share not only their triumphs but also their, well, flat foreheads moments. 😉 It helps me not be so hard on myself!

  4. I usually knit in the round; swatches are usually (unless you really invest a lot of time and yarn in them) flat. I knit differently (and get a different gauge) when I knit back and forth as opposed to knitting in the round. Any suggestions (besides knitting a large, in the round swatch)?

    1. Hi Camilla–another great question!! The best way I’ve heard is to simply float the yarn around the back of the swatch. You need to make sure your floats are long enough not to interfere with the swatch, but doing so takes much less time and yarn than knitting the whole swatch in the round. Does that make sense?

      1. Yes, thank you! I’ll try it . . . I have three sweaters in the works (two for me, one for a nephew) so, lots of swatching ahead.

    2. Like Amy says, you can loop your yarn around the back so that you’re always knitting rather than purling every other row. But I recently discovered you can use an extra-long loop and knit from the loop instead of the yarn from your skein. This has two benefits: 1 – you can lay your swatch flat to measure gauge without the loops behind causing lumpiness and 2 – you only have to deal with the loop every other row because you leave the skein yarn over on the right when you knit with the loop yarn. Just make sure you loop enough yarn so that you can knit a full row with some leftover (you’ll leave some little loops over on the left).

      1. What a great idea! I’ll give this a try, too. Thank you!

  5. When I was learning to knit I swatched 3 different yarns for a cardigan (my mentor advised me). One yarn, when washed, shed most of it’s color and became loose and droopy. Not good qualities for a cardigan. I could see that this was not a good choice before starting. I love the swatch! Embrace it!

  6. I used to hate swatching, but forced myself to do it.

    Recently, swatching bases for my new shop, something shifted and I actually think I have a bit of a swatch fetish now!

    I have been labelling them with pretty brown tags and keeping them in a special box after they have been tested…and now love pulling them out and seeing them all together like little jewels!

    I almost – ALMOST- look forward to the process of knitting them up as well. 😉

  7. I had never thought to measure my swatches that way! So smart – I am definitely going to try that next time.

  8. I always make a tension square, but not as large as the ones you knit. I am pretty laisez faire about the whole draping thing. I should pay more attention.

  9. I just finished the red swatch for “Alight” that I was working on in class this weekend. This is the first time I’ve combined two different swatches into one, and I don’t know why I didn’t think to do it before. I’ve laid it out to dry and I can’t wait to see what the yarn will do after washing. This is the best part of swatching, seeing how the finished fabric behaves after washing. So many “meh” yarns are completely transformed when worked in the gauge they like best and treated to a nice lukewarm soak!

  10. Are the long, sectioned ones different needles?

    1. Yes! I often don’t bother to bind off when I’m trying out different needles to see how the fabric works.

  11. I often have to go down a needle size to get gauge, but not every time, so I’ve always knit a tension square. But it’s only recently that I have learnt the great value of then WASHING and DRYING that swatch.
    Knitting a men’s sweater that fit beautifully when completed, but became a dress after it’s first wash, was what did it! 🙁

    PS: Looking forward to CustomFit. It’s a terrific idea.

  12. Yes, you’ve convinced me. I have to say, the only thing that makes me think twice about a large swatch is the amount of yarn it uses. As I’m on a budget (as I’m sure most of us are)and I like nice yarns (as I’m sure most of us do! 😉 there doesn’t tend to be too much spare for swatches. But as you say, better than wasting ALL the yarn with a project I don’t like!

    1. It’s true! It’s also the case, I think, that if you wind up needing the swatch yarn for something else you can unwind the swatch, soak it, and then dry it to remove the kinks.

  13. I’ve seen them in your swatches before, and assumed it was a pattern test – but now that I see them in swatch after swatch, I have to ask: What are those little yarn over/picot bits about?

    1. Great question Andrea! I make yo holes equal to the needle size I use to make the swatch, so that I can remember later. I use US size since it’s easier to make 5 holes than 3.75. 🙂

  14. I believe in the mighty swatch! If you’re not willing to put in the time to swatch you won’t have a successful garment. You say it so well, Amy, and every word is true.

  15. All true. Letting the swatch dry overnight is always the hardest part for me – I wanna know noooow! I’ve also run into the “swatches lie” problem – sometimes a swatch really just can’t show you how the yarn will react to the weight of a whole sweater. By and large though, it’s worth the effort!

  16. I’ve learned to enjoy swatching recently – this post makes some really great points!

  17. […] Swatching:  The best prevention is a large swatch that is washed and blocked before measuring.  But you already knew that and like most of us (at least once or twice), you’ve knit a little swatch and held it on your knee to measure the gauge.  Amy Herzog’s blog this week has an engaging piece on why you want to swatch. […]

  18. Amy, are you drying them flat or pinning them up that way to dry? If hanging, do you worry about stretching them? I know its not a lot of weight for a small square, but just wondering!

  19. I’m taking Faina Goldberg’s Craftsy class and she recommends taking your swatch measurements at least four times and averaging the measurements. At first I thought this was a little much, but when I looked at a stockinette sweater I’d done and tried this, I had different gauges in several spots.

    Amy, that trick about the holes to remember the needles for your swatch is brilliant.

  20. Another good reason for a larger swatch is to guard against a change in your gauge. I’ve started tighter then loosened up and started loose and tightened up. I measure gauge toward the end of a swatch after I settle in to the feel of the yarn and texture of the stitch. I measure gauge for each new project, even when using the same yarn and needle size I used before.

  21. I like how you said that swatches are your only chance to see whether you’ll like the fabric or not. I am making a new sweater and have never used this material before. I like how you suggested swatching the design before knitting an entire sweater.

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