Why and How: Creating a Swatch

Why and how: create and block a gauge swatch for crochet and knit projects. pinterest image, showing a blocked swatch with a measuring tape

One of the great joys in a handmade item is a perfect fit on the body it was created for. If you are a beginner to knitting or crocheting, learning how to properly create and block a gauge swatch may be a new concept to you. Maybe you are a seasoned stitcher and have never understood why swatching and blocking is necessary.  This article is to help explain why and how creating a swatch is so important for a successful project. 

When making a garment, shawl, and often hats and scarves, it is so very important to first stitch a gauge swatch. 
This is the only way to ensure proper sizing.

You are going to spend a lot of your time, employ many of your talents and invest a fair amount of money into your handmade piece. It is absolutely worth the small amount of effort to create and properly block a swatch to determine gauge.

Swatch

Okay, so let’s back up a minute. What even is a ‘SWATCH’?

Basically, a swatch is a small square of fabric you knit or crochet as a sort of ‘test run’ before you dive into a project. 

There are several reasons why you want to make a swatch.

Yarn Trial

  • If you’re using a yarn other than what is called for in the pattern, you should do a swatch to make sure your yarn is going to produce the same drape as the sample, or a drape that you enjoy.

Stitch Trial

  • Do you really want to make a 6-foot long scarf in that stitch pattern? Just how “lacy” is that lace? Swatching will help you decide.

Color

  • If you’re uncertain of how the stitch pattern will look in the color you’ve chosen, especially if using a variegated yarn, swatching will give you a better idea of what your finished project will look like.

Gauge

  •  You should make a test swatch to determine if the stitches you make are the same size as the stitches the designer made, this ensures correct sizing.

MATERIALS & TOOLS

YARN Use the same yarn as intended for the project. This is very important. If you use a different yarn, it completely negates the swatch and with it, all the time you spent making it. note Every yarn behaves uniquely. Even if they feel the same in your hand, and look the same, and are of the same fiber content, subtle variations in how it was spun, the number of plies it has, even the color of dye used, and especially differences in fiber content will produce different results.

HOOK | NEEDLES Use size suggested for pattern, unless you know yourself to be a tight or loose stitcher. If this is the case, go up or down a size accordingly.

See my Amazon page {HERE} for quick guide to the supplies I use and recommend for your blocking needs.

Creating the Gauge Swatch

Your pattern should list what stitch it uses for gauge. In the case of RV patterns, it will look like this:
GAUGE
16 sts and 6 rows = 4” [10 cm] in stitch pattern, after blocking.
I then have instruction for CO | ch count to achieve proper swatch size and then full swatch instruction. 

However, not all patterns include swatching details. Other patterns may give you gauge in Stockinette Stitch, even if the project is an all over lace pattern: 
GAUGE
16 sts and 6 rows = 4” [10 cm] in St st

Some may require you to determine the stitch pattern through reading the pattern:
GAUGE
16 sts and 6 rows = 4” [10 cm] in Cable patt
GAUGE
1 repeat and 6 rows = 4″ [10cm] in Body Pattern

Every designer | publisher has their own style for writing patterns.

Important

Another thing to take note of, and this is VERY important, does the pattern say “before blocking” or “after blocking”?
Truly, this can be a make or break situation, especially with a lace stitch pattern. If the pattern says “after blocking”, it is vital that you block your swatch before measuring for gauge. 

The numbers listed, 16 sts and 6 rows are what is needed to equal a 4” [10cm] square.

This is NOT the number of stitches you will need to CO | ch for your gauge swatch. I recommend fully doubling and possibly more of the gauge number as listed within the pattern.

After you have made your swatch, when counting and measuring for gauge, it is essential that this count be made using internal stitches.

I do not recommend measuring an entire swatch edge to edge. Including edges will most assuredly result in an inaccurate result. 

Before Blocking

If your swatch is much larger than the gauge stated in the pattern, create a new swatch with smaller hook | needles. If it is only slightly too large, can it be reduced by mindfully adjusting your tension?

If the stitching within your swatch is smaller than the gauge stated, manipulate the fabric by hand. Can it reasonably be lightly stretched/eased to reach gauge (block to gauge)? If not, create a new swatch with a larger hook | needles.

After multiple failed attempts at achieving gauge, it may be necessary to substitute the yarn, going up or down in size, or seeking out a “heavy” or “light” version of the same weight.

Please don’t think of swatching as “wasting yarn”.
Yarn is not cheap, I get that. I do try not to reuse the swatching yarn in my project because once it has been blocked it will occasionally (not always) behave a bit differently, especially if there are man-made fibers. If yardage is a factor and you have to reuse the yarn, well then, you have to.
Usually, after I have completed the pieces of my project and I am certain I will not need to refer to my gauge swatch for any reason, I will often unravel it and use this yarn for seaming my project.
Another option would be to save your swatches and stitch them together to make a patchwork, memory throw.
Or unravel it and start a scrap blanket | scarf. Unravel and make a ball, fill a large glass vase with them to decorate your crafting space… There are many things you can do with it. 
Most importantly, think of all the time and heartache (& money) you saved yourself by making certain your project turns out the size you intended, rather than accidentally creating a sweater for donation box. 

MORE ON BLOCKING + FREE WORKSHEET

Read more on different blocking techniques and download the FREE Gauge Worksheet I created for you to use when you create and block a gauge swatch for all your future projects.

HERE

See my Tutorials page here for more tips, tricks and techniques. 

handwritten signature by Rebecca

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