Gauge and Swatching...again.

Over the next few weeks I'll be writing about some of the most common questions and advice we give out in the store.

Today, I'm reviewing swatching as it seems like we can't emphasize it enough! I don't know how many people have come into the store lately who've gone to the trouble to knit up a sweater only to find out it's too big and have to either give it away or frog it and start again! I'll be the first to admit that swatching can be a drag when you're excited to get started but I've learned through experience that if I want to make a garment fit correctly the first time with no tears or frustrations then I must knit a proper swatch before I begin.  It's worth the effort and is never a waste of time.

As Diane Soucy (of Knitting Pure and Simple) says: "A tiny difference in your stitch gauge will make a HUGE difference in the size of your finished garment."

There are two vitally important measurements you need to know to making a garment fit correctly.

  • The second is to get the exact pattern gauge.
 To watch a video explaining what follows, please watch the the video I did with Diane Soucy: How to Measure Gauge Correctly.

The first step to getting pattern gauge is to compare it to the suggested gauge on the yarn label. If the pattern gauge and yarn gauge are close then the yarn will work for your pattern. You will still have to swatch and possibly adjust your needle size to get exact pattern gauge.

This is where swatching is so important. There are a number of ways to knit up a swatch but the most accurate measurement for your gauge will be to knit up a large swatch in stockinette, 30 to 40 stitches wide and 4” tall, use the exact needles you will be using for your project. Don't expect to cast-on the number of stitches needed in 4” and expect it to measure 4”, it won't! Edge stitches, cast on & bind off all effect gauge so you want to have sufficient swatch to measure well away from all. If you will be knitting in the round you will need to swatch in the round.

To measure gauge on your swatch:
  • First, launder the swatch as you would the finished garment (steam it if it will be dry cleaned). This is important because yarn can bloom or shrink! Bloom means to expand or plump up and I think we all know about shrinking.
  • Once the swatch is dry, lay it flat.
  • Use a gauge check tool or a good ruler, measure no closer to any edge than 1”.
  • Then count how many stitches there are in a full 4". Be sure to count quarter and half stitches or even an eighth of a stitch-- it will make a difference in the size of your finished sweater.
  • If you have too few stitches per inch then your gauge is loose, work another swatch with a smaller needle.
  • If you have to many stitches per inch then your gauge is tight, work another swatch with a larger needle.
  • Repeat this process until you get the gauge called for in the pattern. Some people will just purl a few rows and try the next needle size, this can work but to get the most accurate gauge, bind off and begin a new swatch.
I can't say enough that checking gauge is so important, the time spent checking gauge is never time wasted. What is a waste is knitting a garment that doesn't fit and then never wearing it.

Always take the time to swatch and measure gauge! You won't regret it!

Any questions or suggestions for topics you want to read about, please email them to me at askTerry at jimmybeanswool dot com.

Happy Knitting

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  1. I have been knitting for 50 years and still make a gauge swatch for each item I knit. However, I differ with the traditional method of counting the stitches in 4 inches because I don't know how to figure out 1/8th of a stitch. I have found the most accurate method is the following:

    - I put a 3-4 garter stitch border on the left and right of a flat swatch
    - I knit the first 4 and last 4 rows (garter stitch again.) Then I launder and make sure the swatch dries flat.
    - In the middle of the swatch, I use a ruler to measure the non-garter stitch portion of the swatch and divide the # stitches cast on for the actual pattern portion and divide that measurement by the # inches I measured to get the number of stitches per inch. This takes care of the fraction of an inch! I do the same thing for the row gauge.

    Violet G.

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