A bit more than a week ago I wrote about, why you should always knit a gauge swatch. Today I’m finally going to spill the beans on how to swatch.
As you may remember, the main goal of swatching is finding out how many stitches and how many rows there are in a 10 x 10cm square (10cm = 4″). Why this is so important in knitting you can read in part 1.
So, how do you start swatching? Just cast on the number of stitches the pattern//ball band states as its gauge? Right? Wrong! You will need to cast on a couple of stitches more because A – edge stitches aren’t the same size as normal stitches (usually they are smaller) so even if your gauge is spot on, you won’t notice it, because your square won’t have the right measures; B – measuring and counting is guesswork on a swatch that won’t lie flat and C – the question is how many stitches are in 10cm not how big is a swatch made from xy stitches.
So here is how I swatch (and I am really not one for useless work): I cast on about 12 to 15 stitches more than given as gauge on the yarn band. This gives me enough stitches to create a 4 to 5 stitch wide garter stitch border on each side of the swatch plus a couple of stitches to easily count and measure in more than on spot. Plus I’m on the save side, if my gauge will turn out smaller. After casting on, I knit 6 rows in garter stitch. This will ensure together with the garter stitch edges on each side that my swatch will lie flat and can be easily counted when finished. The next 12 cm are worked in stockinette stitch with the mentioned garter stitch edge. After that I end my swatch again with 6 rows of garter stitch. Bind off: The swatch is done!
Now it’s counting time. Place a ruler horizontally on your swatch and count all stitches until you reach the 10 cm (4″) mark. Repeat this in different places and calculate the average (to a full stitch). For example: if you counted once 22 and half a stitch and twice 23 stitches, then your stitch count is 23 stitches. Do the same vertically to determine the row count.
And then? Please don’t unravel your swatch, instead: give it a wash! Just like you intent to do with the finished object. It’s a perfect test to see how the yarn you chose behaves when washed. Better it’s only the swatch that grows or shrinks or pills than the hole sweater. If it’s simply the gauge that changes, start again with the couting after the swatch has dried. If your yarn didn’t like the washing, you’ll have two choices: hand wash the item or start looking for another yarn…
Swatching in a nutshell: Cast on 15 stitches more than the given stitch count and start by working 6 rows in garter stitch. For the next 12 cm alternate a knit row with a row of: Knit 5, purl to last 5 sts, knit 5. Then work another 6 rows in garter stitch and bind off all stitches. Count the stitches in 10 cm of the stockinette stitch square horizontally (stitch count) and vertically (row count).
And the promised exception of the rule, the kind of project on which you can happily skip the gauge swatch? It’s when you knit small items that you can measure/or try on as you go. Like skinny scarfs that are just as wide as a gauge swatch or a glove that you can try on after knitting a couple of rounds. That’s when your knitting can be your swatch without wasting time.