We get it: Nobody really wants to make a gauge swatch. You want to jump right into the fun stuff! And while we’re all for spontaneity, sometimes it’s best to proceed with caution. If you don’t check your gauge you might end up with sweaters that are too large, bags that are too tiny, and gloves that pinch and squeeze. (Just don’t ask how we know.)
Why knit a gauge swatch?
The gauge is the number of stitches per inch you create on the horizontal, and number of rows per inch on the vertical. Most patterns will give you the target gauge, and you can double-check that you're knitting to those specifications by making a small swatch and measuring its dimensions (more on that later). Here's why that's important:
Every knitter is different
You could give five knitters the same ball of yarn and the same size needles, and some of them would have 6 stitches per inch while others have 9 stitches per inch. It all depends on your tension. That also means that five knitters could work on the same sweater, and the size would turn out differently for each person. Making a swatch allows you to account for these differences so that you can knit the way you like but also end up with a finished product that fits.
You'll learn about the yarn and fabric
Swatches give you a chance to get familiar with your yarn. Along with gauge, you'll discover how the yarn feels in your hands and if you enjoy knitting with it. Knitted swatches will also reveal how the fabric behaves, like whether it's very stiff or light and drapey, and then you can determine whether it's right for your project.
Swatches are a good opportunity to try out stitch patterns that will be used in the full garment, such as cables or lace patterns. You'll be a pro by the time you start on the real thing!
How to knit a gauge swatch
If you’re working from a pattern, it will specify the gauge for you. For example, it could say: 18 stitches and 22 rows = 4" with size 8 needles. Use that info, and the tips below, to make your sample square.
Follow the recommendations
To get started, first use the recommended size needles to knit a square in the type of stitch specified. Knit several extra stitches and rows so that later you can take an accurate measurement from the middle of the swatch (edges can throw things off).
Finish the swatch as you'll finish the project
After you swatch, bind off. It’s important to measure it off the needles. Keeping it on the needles can stretch it or bunch it up in places, throwing off the measurement. If you plan to block your knitting when you've finished the project, you should also block your swatch.
Measure gauge in the center
Grab a measuring tape or ruler. Measure somewhere in the center of the square to get the most accurate measurement possible.
Just as you measure stitches across, you need to measure rows up and down. Both stitches and rows are part of gauge. (Here we have 9 rows in 4".)
Adjust adjust adjust
If your measurements are perfect and meet the gauge requirements, you can stop reading and knit away! But if not, you'll need to adjust first. Let’s say you were aiming for 9 stitches per inch, but instead you knitted 6 stitches per inch. That means your knitting is a bit looser than the designer’s knitting, so knit another swatch using a smaller needle to tighten up the stitches. Bind off and measure again. If you have the opposite problem — say you were aiming for 9 stitches per inch and instead got 13 stitches per inch — then you need to go up a needle size to try and make the knitting looser. Keep swatching and changing your needle size until you’ve reached the correct gauge. (Still not working? You may need to try a different yarn.)
Finally have that gauge all figured out? Now you can go start your project with confidence. Have fun!