If you are like me, you hate swatching. It is nevertheless essential especially before knitting something other than a simple beanie or a pair of mittens where a few centimetres do not count that much. And, anyway, these are small enough to undo and redo if necessary.
If you are new to knitting, you might not know what swatching is about (clearly, you need a Knitionary). So:
swatch n. a piece of knitting used as a sample for a project and to measure your gauge
swatching v. knitting a swatch. this often requires creating multiple samples via changing needles or yarn to achieve desired gauge
gauge n. 1. the stitch count specified by the designer of the pattern to obtain the correct measurements and size. The gauge is most often provided as the number of stitches per row and the number of rows necessary to obtain a sample or swatch of size 4″ x 4″ or 10 cm x 10 cm. 2. the number of stitches and rows necessary to obtain a 4″ x 4″ or 10 cm x 10 cm size piece using a given needle size specified by the manufacturer of a yarn.
To make things a bit more tricky, the gauge for patterns can be specified in simple stockinette stitch or in a pattern stitch. Also, when swatching, one has to be aware of that stitch counts are not necessarily the same when knitting a flat piece and when knitting in the round.
Since the gauge is provided for a given size of swatch, it would be desirable to knit a sample at least that size. Again, if you are as lazy as I am – and want to save some yarn – you might resort to doing some maths. Here are two swatches I made for my two future versions of the Little Wave cardigan:
As you can see, neither of them is 10 cm tall in either the garter or the little wave stitch pattern. In the case of the first swatch, made in a wool-alpaca blend yarn, I figured 5 cm are going to be enough to estimate the row count. In the case of the second swatch – a superwash merino – I omitted the garter section all together. Lazy me.
The next swatch was made for my Carpino sweater. Since this sweater is knitted in the round, I had to try swatch in the round as well.
In order to understand swatching in the round, you have to consider that your sample piece has to be measured and the stitches counted while lying flat. The way to do this without having to knit rounds which double the width of the desired swatch is to leave a long strand of yarn at the end of each round. When the swatch is done, you have to cut through these strands in order to lay your work flat for measuring.
One thing to note here is that, since you have to cut the yarn strands joining each round to the next, you will not be able to frog your swatch and use the yarn for your project. A way to prevent this is to leave long enough strands throughout the work that will allow extending and measuring the piece, for which knitting the swatch itself around an object might help, as described here.
Finally, I present you the ultimate swatch. A square with the correct dimensions, knit in stockinette stitch surrounded by some garter rows to prevent the edges from rolling.
This one is made in my beloved Beiroa, and is easy-peasy to measure; the reason it is secured with pins is that it hasn’t been blocked.
Speaking of blocking… Be aware that, most patterns specify the gauge for blocked fabric. This means that you are supposed to wash/dampen your swatch and let it dry before measuring it. This is of course not possible if you plan to reuse the yarn for your final project. Blocking your swatch though gives you a chance to see how the yarn holds up in washing, which might be helpful as a test preventing you from ruining the finished garment early on.
Oh well, who might have thought there was so much to say about a tiny piece of knit fabric… Feel free to add any piece of advice as a comment.