Learn to knit a gauge swatch. Ever wonder what a gauge swatch is or why you need it? You want your finished objects to fit don’t you? Hats to sweaters, gauge matters.

Basically, if you want your thing to fit, you need to know two things:

  1. The measurement of the thing the knitting is going to cover. Examples are head circumference in the case of a hat and a dog’s neck measurement in the case of a dog cowl. Or the length of a bench you want to yarn bomb.
  2. How many stitches per inch are you getting with you selected needle and yarn combination?

So if my measurement is 12″ and my gauge is 2 stitches per 1″, then I’m going to need 24 stitches to cover that 12″ thing. Make sense?

technical instructions for new knitters, how to get gauge, chunky wool
Checking Gauge on The Big Cozy

You can certainly avoid the math if you choose to. The only problem is that you’ll never get things to fit properly, and you’ll  always be disappointed in your projects. Or you’re destined to only knit straight scarves in yarn and needles you are already familiar with. That would get kinda boring after a few years. That’s NO FUN!

Let’s review one more time why you need to knit up your own gauge swatches and not simply utilize the needle size and yarn weight the designer used in a pattern.

  1. Needle brand and material affect the tightness or looseness of the stitch.
  2. Your mood affects how tightly you knit. Don’t believe me? Try knitting a swatch right after a fight with your spouse and then another with the same stuff right after having your nails done. I think you’re going to see a big difference! This makes the case to never knit on an actual project after a fight with someone. Even if it calms you down in the moment, you’ll probably have a gauge change that means you’ll have to rip back the work and be aggravated all over again.
  3. Yarn substitutions will always affect the gauge! Yarn within size classifications widely vary. Especially in the size 6 Super Bulky Weight Category. If you don’t swatch bulky weight yarns, your stuff will NEVER fit.
  4. Everybody is different and so is our knitting. Like no two people have the same handwriting or singing voice, neither do we have identical knitting styles.

book for the knitting library with gauge swatches, instructions on how to knit
My Knitter’s Companion with a few gauge swatches

Since most of the work I do is on the more basic end of things, I do most of my swatching in stockinette. A lot of people complain about knitting large expanses of stockinette, but love it anyway.

I did start doing something a little bit different with my swatches recently. I call it my “Getting to Know You Swatch.” I complete my stockinette and garter section, and then I add in a section of seed stitch, and then 2×2 ribbing and finish it off with 6 rows of garter stitch.

Why do this?

I do it because it gives me a little more information about the yarn and needles I’m using. I like to see how a certain yarn looks in this series of basic stitches. You see, I’m a designer who likes really clean lines, and I often believe the yarn is lovely enough on its own, and should be seen in all its glory which is often best represented in a stockinette pattern. This is a personal opinion and taste. Everybody is different! Plus, I like unfussy.

I like to knit in cruise control and enjoy the process instead of the persistent counting and note taking that complex patterns require.

I enjoyed my Baa-ble and plan to make another in real wool, but I don’t want every thing I make to be that complicated.

Baable hat pattern and why I used gauge for it to fit
So proud of my Baable hat. I have real wool to knit my third version. This one is an acrylic so I could get the hang of the complex pattern first.

Let’s go back to my Getting To Know You Swatch. I love making these. Love them! I think it’s fun to see how those essential stitch patterns will reveal themselves in the yarn and needle combination. As you progress, you will want to make swatches in the stitch patterns of the piece you want to make, and this is especially true for anything lace or charted. But, still do the Getting to Know You Swatch whenever you start with a new to you yarn.

If you went on a date with a new person, wouldn’t you want to meet for coffee and donuts first? An afternoon coffee date is much less commitment than taking a new person to Thanksgiving dinner at your parent’s house.

Just jumping in with an untested yarn is like taking somebody you just met on a dating app to your parent’s house for dinner.

How crazy would that be? Pretty freakin’ crazy!

Yet people purchase a new yarn and CO a huge shawl pattern or socks or whatever all the time without testing the yarn out in different stitch patterns. Not every thing looks good in seed stitch, and generally a hand painted or variegated yarn necessitates a simple stitch pattern. Otherwise your project can get awfully busy really fast.  You don’t want your beautiful (and expensive) yarn to get lost in the stitches.

Because what’s the point in knitting with that fancy hand paint if you can’t appreciate the artistry in the yarn?

Fingerless mitt pattern in handpainted yarn
Basic Fingerless Mitt pattern knit in hand painted yarn from Unplanned Peacock.

So let’s meet the Getting to Know You Swatch. Shall we?

You can use that stockinette part of the fabric to measure your technical gauge, but you can also see how the other basic stitch patterns look in the same yarn. This is Crazy Sexy Wool from Wool and the Gang, and seeing how pretty seed stitch is in this yarn makes to want to come up with something that will incorporate that simple stitch pattern.  I can also see how the yarn behaves with a Long Tail CO and with a standard BO.

Knitting this also lets me see how the yarn feels to knit and how the fabric drapes and how it feels against my skin. This is all very good usable information.

So in the time it takes to watch a couple of Friends episodes on Netflix, you can make one of these, and have all this incredible information to use as a reference point in your projects.

knitting for beginners, easy knitting pattern,
Reader meet Swatch. Swatch meet Reader.

If you’re new to patterns, this one can be the first knitting pattern you follow and make. I’m giving you the pattern I use as a free printable! That’s how important I think it is for you to incorporate this into your knitting practice.

It’s a wonderful summer thing to knit. You can try out and order new yarns. Browse that fancy yarn store you’ve been checking out online.  I mean actually go to the physical store and meet the people there. Consider it a field trip if all you ever do is shop online or go to the craft store.

I’ve had people tell me they lose interest in their knitting in the summer, and so I’m on the hunt for things that those people can still craft even though it’s the middle of a July heat wave.

Knit these simple swatches while beating the summer heat sipping a cool iced tea, lounging in the AC watching Gilmore Girls reruns.

If you’re thinking ahead to Christmas knitting, summer is the perfect time to try out some of those new yarns and make up a series of these swatches with different needle types and sizes. Then when you go into high gear for your actual Christmas knitting, you’re ready to go! How much talk is there about Christmas in July? A ton! So here’s a way to have your own Christmas in July celebration. Knit up your swatches now and when October rolls around you go into Christmas Knitting high gear, you can select the perfect yarn for the people on your list from your swatches instead of standing glassy eyed and overwhelmed in the yarn aisle.

Ready for your free knitting pattern? Click the picture below and you can access your pdf right away. Download and print!

blog photos

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Author: Pattymac

Patty loves figuring out new ways to use pom poms, where to stash more yarn and is always wondering what to bake next...chocolate or lemon? When not dreaming up new things to knit (or bake), she loves riding her beach cruiser on the Boardwalk, escaping to mid week movie matinees, and planting new things in her container garden.