Why should I knit a gauge swatch?

Why should I take the trouble and knit a gauge swatch? What is it any good for? What shall happen, if I don’t? Is there a knitting-god that will curse me…??? Hmm, probably not. But it may feel a bit like your project has been cursed, if it comes out the wrong size even though you followed the pattern to the t…

How does this happen? Let’s start with the obvious: something knitted (like a scarf, a sweater or a shawl) is made of a lot of small yarn loops called stitches. The size of all those stitches sitting next to each other determines the size of the finished object. Knitting patterns usually instruct you to knit a certain number of stitches and rows/rounds. So if my loops are looser and my stitches are therefore bigger than the ones the designer made and wrote the pattern for my finished object will be bigger, too (and vice versa). This difference in tightness (also called tension in knitting lingo) when knitting might easily amount to a sweater size over all those stitches.

But, if I used the yarn and needles the designer used for the pattern, couldn’t I skip the gauge swatch then? Easy answer: no. Because everyone knits with a different tension. (That’s why the gauge swatch is also sometimes called tension swatch or tension square). With the same combination of yarn and needles one knitter produces a stiff fabric that stands up without any starch and the other something very drapy. The first knitter will count much more stitches and rows on a 10cm square than the second one. This is also the reason that although you may find just one “perfect” gauge on the label of a yarn it will always state a whole range of needle sizes with it. This difference in drape/density of your knit fabric is the reason why you should even do a gauge swatch for small accessoires where size doesn’t really matter.


So if you want to have any control about the size and fabric of whatever you are going to knit, swatching will be a necessity. How you swatch so that it’s a success and what the one occasion is when you might skip swatching at all, I’m going to cover next week. (There always has to be an exception to the rule, hasn’t it!?)

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  1. Pingback: Maschenproben - wie genau? / How to swatch. - herrlichkeiten

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