The Importance of Gauging
When a knitter or crocheter comes into the shop to purchase yarn for a sweater or top, they will eventually ask if they should make a swatch. My answer is always yes. So, what exactly is a swatch? A swatch is usually a 4x4 sample that you knit or crochet using the yarn, needles, and pattern you have chosen to use.
Why should you swatch? Because if you are planning to make something that needs to fit you or someone else, you need that garment to fit. After all, why would you spend your time and money on your project only to have it too tight around the waist or one sleeve longer than the other? I cannot tell you many times customers tell me that yes, they knit a sweater once and it didn’t fit so why try again. When I ask if they swatched first, well, you can imagine the look I get.
Anyway, back to why you should swatch. Swatching is used to determine the way your needles or hook, yarn, and your tension work together. The only way you can be sure these things will work, is to swatch.
Swatching will tell you if your needles or hook is the right size for the project. It will also tell you if the yarn is the correct weight for your project. Perhaps there is a stitch or technique that you find you will need to practice before beginning your project. Case in point, last week I decided to make this gorgeous 2 color brioche scarf, but because it is just a scarf, I thought I didn’t need to swatch. Turns out that about 15 rows in, it was a very tricky brioche decrease that I had not done before. Yes, I read the pattern, but reading and doing are not always the same. Turns out I had to rip out my project and start again. (Hey, it’s brioche, can you fix it?) I practiced the decrease several times on waste yarn and cast on again. This time I breezed through.
Swatching will also tell you if you need to adjust your tension and sometimes it will tell you if the pattern is even worth doing at all. Not all needles and yarns work well together. Different textures in the yarn may result in using a different needle or hook. For example, you may love using your metal needle and always get a beautiful result when knitting on merino. Now let’s change the yarn to linen or silk and you may find your tension is off. Why? Because we tend to hold our tension a bit tighter when using slippery fiber. Changing to a wooden or bamboo needle may make all the difference you need, or you may have to go down a hook/needle size to make it work.
In closing, by knitting or crocheting a swatch, you will be able to determine that you have the right yarn and right tools for the project you wish to make. Don’t wait until you are 3 inches into your sweater to find out it’s too tight. Take that first step and make your swatch. I promise you won’t regret it. You might even thank me later. Oh, and don’t forget to block the swatch before measuring it.
So now you’ve knitted or crocheted your swatch. What is your gauge? Gauge is the required number of stitches per inch horizontally and the number of rows per inch vertically.
Knowing these numbers will help determine the size of your finished garment. Typically, the pattern designer will include the gauge along with the needle/hook size and suggested yarn. They will also tell you which stitch to make and what the target gauge should be. Usually, the gauge will read something like 32 stitches and 26 rows = 4 inches in stockinette stitch on a size 5 needle. That means you must knit 32 stitches across and 26 rows down in stockinette stitch.
It is your goal to reach that gauge. You may have to adjust to a different size needle/hook. You may need to adjust your tension. Either way, if you choose to ignore or skip swatching you could end with a sweater that looks like this.