How To Knit The Perfect Gauge Swatch for a Sweater (& Why You Should)

Swatches are a vital and crucial part of knitting - anyone who has ever ripped out an entire sweater will tell you that. Swatches are necessary tools to ensure proper gauge, and the way you treat them will inform how well your garment fits—even after several wears and washes. This also holds true for other projects, of course, but extra precision is required for garments to achieve the desired fit!

There are a few things you will need when making your swatch.

  • Gauge. A multipurpose gauge like our Knitter’s Pride Needle Gauge covers all your bases—it measures clearly, you can check needle/crochet sizes if you need to adjust, and it includes a yarn cutter. 
  • Yarn.
  • Needles. For the purposes of swatch-making, it is a good idea to have at least 3 needles on hand. The recommended needle, plus one size larger and one size smaller. 
  • A bowl.
  • Water.
  • Your chosen knitwear detergent (here, we're using a no-rinse wash called Allure).
  • Small towel.
Starting Your Swatch:

1. Check the pattern gauge, then cast on approximately 1.5 times the recommended stitches for 4 inches. For example, if the pattern calls for 20 stitches in 4 inches, cast on at least 30 stitches. This will give you enough surface area to obtain a proper, realistic measurement of your gauge. The first and last stitches of most swatches can be a little wonky, so you won’t include those when you measure. 
We strongly recommend casting on more than 4 inches because it will give you the most accurate measurement (the bigger the swatch, the better - especially when it comes to sweater knitting). Everyone adopts a unique, natural flow when knitting that simply doesn’t develop in a smaller swatch. Also, since no one’s gauge is totally perfect, your stitch count per inch will vary ever so slightly between inches. The more inches you give your swatch, the more accurate your measurement will be. If you can stomach casting on double the recommended stitches, even better.

2. Check your pattern for how the garment is made. It’s important to work your swatch in the same way you will be knitting. Flat knitting in stockinette stitch involves knitting on one side and purling on the other, while round knitting in stockinette simply involves knitting. That alternating purl row helps determine the size of your stitches and will affect your gauge swatch.

Pro Tip: If your sweater is worked in the round, try casting on one of the sleeves first. Your sleeve can act as a gauge measurement. If after 6+ inches your gauge is correct, you can continue with the following steps and pick up the sleeve again when you’re done measuring. If not, it’s much less hassle to rip out a sleeve. Elizabeth Zimmerman famously recommended knitting a hat to match your sweater, but a sleeve is even more useful as it speeds you along on your sweater journey.

3. This might be the most important step. Are you stressed? Watching a thriller/action adventure/horror movie? In a rush? All of these factors will affect your gauge. Try to knit your swatch under similar circumstances in which you’ll be making your project. 

4. Knit for at least 1.5 times the recommended gauge, as in step 1. As with your stitch gauge, your row gauge needs to be large to ensure accuracy. Bind off.

Preparing Your Swatch:

1. Mix a small amount of detergent with cool water in the bowl. Place the swatch in the bowl and wash it the way you would your finished sweater. 

2. Remove the swatch from the bowl and use the towel to roll out any excess water. 

3. Lay your swatch flat on the blocking mats and let it dry. Important: Do not block or pin the swatch.  

Measuring Your Swatch: 

1. Once dry, take your gauge and lay it flat against your swatch. Don’t stretch or manipulate the swatch at all. Measure both the number of stitches and number of rows inside 4 inches. Move the gauge around the middle of the swatch and measure in different places, but try to avoid the cast on and bind off rows. Like edge stitches, they will not provide the most accurate reading. This is why having more than 4 inches is essential—it gives you ample room to take several measurements. Measure to see how many stitches and rows fit within 5 inches as well. Record these different numbers.

2. For the 4-inch measurement, divide the number of stitches and rows by 4. Do the same for the 5-inch measurement, dividing by 5. This will give you the number of stitches and rows per inch. The larger stitch and row measurement will be the most accurate measurement you have. If your gauge matches the pattern gauge, you’re all set!

Troubleshooting Gauge Issues:

1. If your gauge is too small (ie, the pattern calls for 4 stitches to the inch and you are getting more than 4), try going up a needle size. If your gauge is too large (pattern calls for 4 stitches, but you are getting less than 4), try going down a needle size. 

Pro Tip: If changing needle sizes doesn’t work, try changing the kinds of needles you are using. Metal needles tend to be slippery, plastic slightly less so, and wood and bamboo tend to be sticky. Sometimes a large gauge on metal needles will shrink using the same sized bamboo needles. Play around with types of needles to see how your gauge differs between materials. Every knitter is different!

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