How to keep your swatches truthful.

I’m such a swatch fiend. And my discussions of swatches are all over this blog. 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. So today, I’d like to share how to keep your swatches, lying liars that they are, from doing so.


Let’s start by talking about where we go off the rails, shall we?

Why they lie in the first place

Before I dive into a bullet list, I think it’s worth exploring, a bit, why our swatches so often lie to us. I have an opinion on that (news flash): I think they lie to us because we want them to. We want them to be the person who always tells us what we want to hear: In this case, that we’ve “gotten gauge” and we can cast on.

Listen to me, knitters, when I tell you that way lies madness. You cannot swatch to match gauge when we’re talking about a sweater. When you actually knit that sweater, you’re not going to focus on your stitches the whole time. The project is too big. You’re going to revert to your normal knitting motions. And so if you’ve messed with your knitting motions when you swatched, to “get gauge”, your gauge when you knit the sweater will be different your gauge when you knit the swatch. Lying liar that it was.

So don’t invite your swatch to lie to you. Try, as much as possible, to read the size of your stitches accurately from the swatch rather than make your stitches be a particular size. I call that predictive swatching, and here are my tips for doing so.

Practical tips for making your swatches tell the truth:

  1. 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.
  2. 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?
  3. 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).
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

swatches-batch-2-17 first-swatch-batch-2 first-swatch-batch-3 first-swatch-batch-1
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, 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!

3 thoughts on “How to keep your swatches truthful.

  1. This is very helpful information about measuring gauge.

  2. Super!

  3. When you want to begin with trying a couple of different needle sizes, how do YOU like to do this: do you bind off a swatch for each needle size or make one longer swatch with something like a purl row to indicate where you have switched needles. I always swatch, because I’m not only concerned about gauge but what fabric I am creating, whether I’d like something looser or tighter.
    Thanks for this post–enjoyed reading it.

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