Gauge swatches

Mom may be gone, but her knowledge lives on. She was the most proficient knitter you’d ever hope to meet!


I’m going to presume that we all understand that gauge is the number of stitches/rows that you are getting to the inch and that if your gauge isn’t the same as the pattern you are working from, your project will end up a different size than listed in the pattern. We can’t all knit with the same size needle to the get same gauge because we don’t all knit with the same tension.


The wise thing to do is to knit a gauge swatch, changing needles as necessary to obtain the needed gauge. First try the needle size called for in the pattern. If you know that you knit loosely, you might assume that you would go down a needle size to begin your swatch. This can’t always be assumed since we don’t know if the designer’s tension is loose or tight and whether or not she has allowed for that. Then again, if you have knitted from this designer’s patterns before, maybe you can make that assumption – I’ll leave that up to you.


The Big Myth

If the gauge is 20 sts by 24 rows, you cast on 20 stitches, knit for 24 rows and see if the square measures 4″x4″. This is a guaranteed way to get the wrong gauge. Edge stitches are distorted and should not be a factor in determining gauge. So how does one go about measuring a gauge swatch? You need your swatch to measure larger than 4″ so you count how many stitches are in a 4″ area.


How many stitches do you cast on for the swatch?

Let’s say the stitch gauge recommendation is 20 sts = 4”. I prefer to measure at least 2-3 stitches in from each edge which means that you would actually need 24-26 stitches in this instance to measure an accurate 4”.


Also realize that if you measure over 3”, or over 5”, or whatever, it’s fine. No one is going to rap your knuckles! Measuring over a larger area will give you a more accurate gauge.


So even though gauge is given over 4”, divide by 4 to determine the 1” gauge (you need to know that anyway) and measure your gauge over as many stitches as you want. It just makes more sense to me to think of your gauge over 1” than 4”. So, why is gauge given over 4” — don’t even get me started on that! When I started knitting, eons ago, it was always given over 1”. They changed it to 4” and I haven’t got over it yet.


A few other facts about gauge –

  • Too many stitches to the inch, try a larger needle. Not enough stitches to the inch, try a smaller needle.
  • Gauge is usually given over stockinette stitch, but not always. Work your swatch in the stitch pattern as given in the gauge information. (Note: If you are knitting a gauge swatch before class begins for the EZ surprise jacket, it will need to be knit in garter stitch – knit every row.)
  • Don’t cast on too tightly, for obvious reasons.
  • It is never a bad idea to run the swatch through the same cleaning process that will be used for the project, measuring before and after.
  • Rows to the inch are usually not so important because most projects knit to a given length rather than a specified number of rows. Do keep in mind that more rows to the inch than given in the gauge will require additional yarn.
  • Don’t begin a new swatch when you change needle size, just keep knitting – although you will need some method to mark where one size needle ended and the other began. If working in stockinette stitch, try working 2 knit rows to switch the right side of the swatch to the opposite side.
  • Some knitters like to add 2-3 edge stitches in a non-rolling stitch pattern, such as garter stitch.


The most important thing to remember about your gauge swatch –
even the most perfect swatch can give you a false sense of security. I’ve seen it happen all too often in class. I have my students diligently knit me a gauge swatch and yet the gauge between their swatch and their actual project be different – sometimes slightly, sometimes miles apart. This is especially prevalent with newer knitters as their tension may not have developed into a comfortable and natural habit. This also happens to not-so-new knitters. Perhaps you are using a fiber or weight of yarn that is new to you, or you have been knitting a lot with large needles and this project takes you back to a smaller needle, or you tend to knit differently when knitting on a small number of stitches, or maybe you’re just trying too hard to knit the perfect swatch. Who knows? It happens. Then when you get into the project and your natural knitting rhythm kicks in, your tension may be different than it was on the swatch.


Then is knitting a gauge swatch a waste of time?

Nope, afraid not. It is still the wise thing to do. The swatch is still the best indicator of needle size you should plan on using. You just need to remember that a gauge swatch does NOT mean that you can now forget about that nasty gauge thing and just knit away without giving it another thought.


The actual project is your ultimate gauge swatch. Keep an eye on the gauge and/or the size of the knitted piece as you knit. If you are aiming for a 40” finished sweater size and the back measures 18” – you obviously have a problem and the first thing to look for is gauge discrepancy.


Reward yourself with a garment that fits. Knit smart and knit to gauge!

a helpful tip from Sherry