How to make a gauge swatch knitting in-the-round or flat? Or how to make a knit gauge swatch? And how to knit a gauge swatch? What IS a gauge swatch knitting? Are these questions you’ve been googling? Gurl, I got you.
When I was a new knitter, I didn’t even know what a gauge swatch was. Like I learned to knit – Yay! And then patterns would have this little gauge information, which I ignored and went on my merry little way. But then, sometimes things didn’t turn out. And as I learned more about knitting, I learned all about the gauge swatch. Who knew a small piece of fabric could be so important?
If you want to learn more about what gauge is and why it’s so important, you should definitely check out my “What is Knit Gauge?” blog post, so you can get all the details there. This blog post is focused on how to make a gauge swatch knitting in-the-round or flat.
Before we get into “how to”, you may want to download this guide I’ve made. It’s totally free and includes a worksheet that you can use again and again when you need to knit a gauge swatch.
What is a knit gauge swatch?
Before we can get into how to make a gauge swatch, it is important that we understand what a gauge swatch is. If you like, you can first review my blog post “What is Knit Gauge” here. In that post we defined knit gauge as the amount of space that a stitch occupies. And the number of stitches and rows that are in a 4×4 inch or 10×10 cm square piece of fabric.
Since we understand what knit gauge is, then we have to ask what is a gauge swatch? Well, knit gauge swatch is a small piece of fabric that is measured so that knitters can obtain the same results from a knitting pattern as what is intended by the pattern. Basically it’s a designer’s super cheat code to all knitters who knit their pattern.
Knit gauge is given in a pattern before the instructions. It usually appears in this sort of format:
22 st x 26 rows = 4”x4” inch or 10×10 cm square in stockinette stitch blocked.
This means that in order to knit from the pattern instructions and obtain the correct results when you knit you should match the information provided by the designer. In a 4×4 inch or 10×10 cm square piece of stockinette stitch fabric that has been blocked, you should be able to count out 22 stitches and 26 rows.
And in order to see if that is in fact how your knitting measures, you first have to make a sample knit. Don’t worry, it’s a small piece of fabric. And the good news is, that by taking a little extra time on the front end, you will save yourself disappointment and/or unwearable handknit items.
When should you make a gauge swatch knitting?
If knitting a gauge swatch is so easy, why do knitters dread it so very much? That’s an excellent question. I can’t speak for knitters everywhere, but for me I would definitely say that it is because I just want to knit the thing. Knitting is slow fashion. And if I have to take some precious time to knit a gauge swatch, then that is time I could be knitting the thing. You know what I mean?
But let me ask you this, how important is it that your knit item turn out exactly as you envision it? Because if it’s not important – you can skip gauge swatching. If it’s very important, then you want to knit a swatch. And we want to have an easy process so that we make the most use of our time and materials.
All patterns and designer’s (myself included) will say that you should make a gauge swatch every. single. time.
But, knitter to knitter, I don’t always make a gauge swatch. Of course, you have to make your own gauge swatching decisions. I will share with you what I do as a knitter, but you can choose for yourself. Here’s the guidelines that I use to determine if I will make a gauge swatch.
Do I need to make a gauge swatch? (questions. Iask myself)
Is it a wearable? If not, I don’t make a gauge swatch.
Is it a wearable rectangle? Such as a scarf, headband, etc? If yes, then I do not make a gauge swatch.
Is it a wearable that needs to fit? Such as a sweater, hat, socks, etc? If yes, then I DO make a gauge swatch.
Sometimes, I don’t make a gauge swatch for hats or socks. It just depends on my mood. I’ll tell you honestly that we have a variety of sizes heads and feet in my house, and if I’m not making it for me, I’m just making it to make it. Eh, it will fit someone in the house. Someone will love it when it’s finished.
How to make a gauge swatch knitting in 4 easy steps
Here’s the four steps you can follow to make a gauge swatch knitting in-the-round and flat.
Step 1. Plan your gauge swatch
Step 2. Knit your gauge swatch
Step 3. Block your gauge swatch
Step 4. Measure your gauge swatch
Now, we’ll take a look at each of these steps individually. Again, if you want to download the blog post workbook be sure to do that because there is a worksheet in there that you can use for planning and doing gauge swatch math. But before we get into the steps let’s take a look at some gauge swatch knitting best practices.
Disclaimer: There are so many nuances when it comes to talking about gauge swatching. Please see my Knit Bits: All About Gauge video series here to learn more about various scenarios. For the intention of this blog post, I am assuming that knitting gauge is vital and that you are making a sweater. I do not follow these best practices or steps for gauge matching on every single project.
Use your own judgment when making gauge swatch decisions. At the end of this post, I’ll give you some ideas for how you can use those swatches and it won’t feel like such a waste of time. (I mean, I can’t be the only one who thinks gauge swatching is a waste of time even though I know it’s not….)
Knit Gauge Swatch Best Practices
You’ve decided to knit a gauge swatch. Awesome! You’re already on the right track to getting a finished object you dream of. But, if you really want to make sure that you get an accurate gauge measurement then you’re going to want to follow these knit gauge swatch best practices.
A large gauge swatch for knitting
I know, it’s a bummer to spend time knitting not the finished object, and now I tell you go ahead and make a big one. But it’s really not that big.
When a designer is giving us a knit gauge information it’s just on a 4×4 inch or 10x10cm square. That’s so small. And the problem with that size is that it’s easy to knit tighter than normal. We don’t have the opportunity to relax into our knitting and get our true gauge. It’s like knitting a coaster.
So a large gauge swatch is going to be at least 6×6 inches. And in fact, I prefer a nice 8×8 inch piece of fabric. Let me tell you something 8×8 is not big either. It’s just not. It’s the size of a small washcloth. And this way you can relax into your knitting, and have a lot of fabric to measure. And you’ll have a lot better idea of what your knit gauge is!
Knitting needle choices are important for gauge swatches
It’s true! You want to use the same knitting needles for your gauge swatch as you will use for knitting the object. And I’m not talking just about using the same size needles, though yes – absolutely! No. You want to use the exact knitting needles for your swatch that you will be using for your object.
If you are making your gauge swatch with say some plastic needles. But then when you knit your object you use metal needles. Guess what? You just wasted your time. Sorry to be so blunt. But the thing is metal needles and plastic needles have a completely different feel. You will knit differently with them. And your knitting is going to show that.
And you can’t just sneak by with using wooden for the swatch and different wooden for the object. Because even though they are both wooden, there could be differences in how they fit your hands and how the yarn glides or sticks to the needles. All of these seemingly small things can impact your gauge swatch and your finished knit object.
Yarn choices are important for gauge swatches too!
I think I probably don’t need to say this after I just went on the knitting needle tangent, but just in case. Yes, yarn choice matters too. You need to be using the same yarn on your gauge swatch as you will use for your finished object.
And no, I’m not talking about the same weight yarns, though yes. And I’m not talking about the same fiber content either. I’m talking about using the same brand, the same type of yarn from the exact same ball of yarn you will be knitting your item with.
Now, don’t worry. Designers do include a 10% buffer in the yarn requirements to cover knitting differences as well as a gauge swatch. So, you should be covered if you get the quantity of yarn that the designer specifies.
If you’re worried though, what does one more ball of yarn hurt? I mean, I know yarn is expensive sometimes. Especially if you get that amazing merino cashmere and you knit it together with some gorgeous mohair. Oh yes, yarn can be expensive. But the alternative is that your finished knit doesn’t come out even though you matched gauge. Because it wasn’t the same yarn that you used when you knit your object.
Gauge swatch knitting in-the-round or flat?
Yes. Gauge swatches should be knit both in-the-round or flat. Hopefully the designer has included if the swatch they are working from is knit flat or in-the-round. But if they did not, then that’s ok. Because the assumption is that if the item you are knitting is knit in-the-round, your swatch should then be knit in-the-round. If the item you are knitting is knit flat, your swatch should be knit flat.
This is another good reason to make a larger swatch say 8×8. Because if you make a gauge swatch knitting in-the-round, guess what when you lay that swatch flat to count up your stitches and rows it will only be 4 inches in width.
Why should you knit round or flat? What’s the big deal? If your knitting is identical knitting flat and in the round – that’s astounding. Most of us have a different gauge when we knit flat vs in-the-round.
What do you do if the designer does not specify if the gauge swatch was knit
Block your gauge swatch
Look, I feel so strongly about this I’m including it in the best practices, and it’s a step in the four steps. Block your gauge swatch. Do it! I know it’s going to take a little bit longer. And I know you are dying to knit the thing now! I know. I truly do know.
Blocking your gauge swatch can make the difference between not matching and matching gauge. I’ll go into more details in Step 3, but yeah. Block your gauge swatch.
Step 1: Plan how to make a gauge swatch
Did you know besides being a small piece of fabric your gauge swatch can actually be your test knit? That’s right. If you’re trying a new pattern with new techniques or skills, you can totally try them out first on your gauge swatch. This will help you later on when you’re knitting the actual item.
First, you want to read through your pattern. Are there any new skills or techniques that you will be using? Is there a special cast-on method that maybe you aren’t familiar with that you want to try out? Make notes of these elements and begin thinking of how you can bring them into your gauge swatch.
Second, look at the gauge swatch details. What is the designer telling you? Is the gauge swatch knit flat or in-the-round? Is the gauge information using stockinette stitch or maybe some other stitch pattern? If the pattern uses more than one size knitting needle, the designer may include which needles you should use to match knit gauge. Take note of all these important details.
Third, figure out your cast-on number. This is really important because the cast-on number is going to help us knit the right size swatch. This step also requires us to do some math. Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered with the worksheet in the blog post workbook.
Gauge swatch planning examples
In the simplest example, you are knitting stockinette gauge swatch. You’re doing all the best practices so you just need to cast-on double the amount of stitches that it says in the pattern for gauge. So whatever that number is times 2. Boom easy peasy!
In a more complicated example, if there is a specific stitch pattern used that has say a 8 stitch 4 row repeat, then you would need to take those numbers into consideration when casting on as well. And, I should probably mention that the workbook has a link to a Google Sheets calculator that can help you math this easier.
Want to make it even more interesting? Trying out some new techniques along the way? Awesome! Then here’s an example of a worksheet I made when I knit up a more complicated swatch. This was so I could practice all the techniques in the pattern that were new to me. You can use this as an example when you are creating your own gauge swatch plan.
I made this gauge swatch when knitting the Great Curves Poncho by Yarnpirations. This is a fabulous free pattern, and I must say my daughter wears it all the time. And when she wears it, I get lots of compliments too! Can’t go wrong with any of that.
Step 2: Knit your gauge swatch
Guess what? Depending on how complicated/interesting your gauge swatch pattern is, you may have just made a teeny tiny practice pattern. And now you get to knit it up! Isn’t that cool? It’s a fun way to think about your gauge swatch if you’re interested in knitting without a pattern, or maybe even designing your own patterns. By the way, you can check out my blog post here about knitting without a pattern. And if you are interested in designing your own knit patterns, be sure to check out my class here.
This is where you follow the best practices, the plan you just came up with and knit up a gauge swatch. Hopefully your gauge swatch is a simple knit. Pop in a movie and get to knitting!
Step 3: Block your gauge swatch
Yep, it’s that important. So why do I harp on this whole blocking thing? I’ll tell you why. Especially if you are coming from the world of crochet, where blocking is rarely make or break for projects. In knitting, blocking is everything. Seriously. Knit something up. Anything. It looks amazing! Now block it. See what happens.
I’m not sure what the magic of water does to knit items, I like to think of it like it helps the fibers get comfortable in their new space. Whatever it is, it does seem magical. And, blocking can help you get gauge.
Skipped the blocking step and need to match gauge?
Maybe, despite me including this in best practices and in steps, you didn’t block. And now you didn’t match gauge. Try blocking it and measure again. Seriously friend, it can make all the difference. And honestly, at some point, you are probably going to wash that finished item. So blocking just gives you a preview.
Blocking your gauge swatch does not have to be a big ordeal. In fact, for me it’s usually just get it wet and then dry. Boom done. Depending on the fiber you are knitting with, you could even use a steam iron to block your knits. This is a fabulous way to block your dishcloths and towels. Trust me, I do it all the time.
You could also run it in some cold water, squeeze out the excess and let it air dry. You could let it soak in water, squeeze out the excess water and let it air dry. Heck, I’ve thrown a swatch in with my laundry and washed and dried it.
The most important thing here is that you do, in fact, get your knit gauge swatch wet and let it dry. Because I’m telling you. Legit, water is magic for knit items. It just is.
Now if your gauge includes lace or something like that, you will probably have to do the whole blocking board pin thing. But it shouldn’t be too big of a deal since it’s just a swatch. You can probably get away with just one blocking board.
Step 4: Measure your gauge swatch
Once your knit gauge swatch is blocked and completely dry (super important that it be dry!). You want to measure. Measure your stitches and measure your rows. As soon as I finish my “measuring gauge” blog post, I will put a link here. For now, I’ll just give you some troubleshooting guides if you need them.
I will say this, be sure that you measure your gauge swatch in more than one area. If you get different numbers, that’s totally ok. In fact, that’s why I’m telling you to measure from different areas. You will take the average of these numbers to know what your “true gauge” is.
How to make a gauge swatch knitting
Let’s do a quick wrap up. These are all the important take aways from this blog post.
- Plan your gauge swatch
- Make it large
- Include new techniques or skills
- Knit your gauge swatch
- Use the same yarn and needles as you will for your finished knit
- Knit in-the-round or flat as needed for the pattern
- Block your gauge swatch
- Keep it simple if you can. Get it wet and let it dry
- Measure your gauge swatch
- Measure in various areas
- Troubleshoot issues
What can I use all these knit gauge swatches for?
Oh! I’m so glad you asked. Who wants to waste yarn? And if you’re like me, more importantly, who likes to waste time? Not me. Not me at all. So what can you do with these little swatches of fabric?
Let’s say you knit a small swatch, 4×4 inch. It’s ok, I get it. Seriously, coasters are excellent. Use coasters at your house. Gift away coasters. Once you’ve got 3 or 4 swatches in this size it’s a whole set that you can give away, sell, or keep.
If you knit a larger swatch and used cotton yarn (or a yarn that you can use for washcloths or dishcloths). Well you’ve got some excellent dishcloths to again, keep or gift away. If you collect 3 or 4 of them it’s a gorgeous set to keep or gift away.
Maybe you don’t have kids. And you don’t have grandkids, or nieces or nephews. Do you have friends with kids? Any child with an American doll, barbie, or whatever definitely needs baby blankets. The American Girl doll is going camping – she must have a blanket. Barbie’s out in the mountains for a date with Ken? Guess they’ll be needing a picnic blanket to make things cozy.
A knit quilt
Bear with me on this one, it just came to me while writing this blog post. But seriously – if you keep your swatches you can make some cool eclectic knit quilt. I think that’s such a good idea that I’m going to do it myself. It’s like a memory blanket but for knitting.
To use again later
A lot of designers actually keep their gauge swatch and gauge swatch information to use again later. That way they don’t have to knit up a whole brand new swatch – it’s genius. And you can do it too. All you need to do is be detailed with what exact yarn you used, what exact needles you used and keep that information with the swatch.
You could put the swatch and the gauge plan sheet from the workbook (that you can download for free here) in a plastic sheet protector and store it in a three-ring binder for future use. Another excellent idea, if I do say so myself.
Throw it away
Yes, you may end up throwing it away. And you know what, that’s ok. You do you, boo.
That’s it for how to make a gauge swatch knitting blog post. Until next time,
If you are wanting to continue learning about gauge, you should check out my “What is Knit Gauge” blog post by clicking here.
New to knitting? Be sure to check out my beginner knitter resources here.