It can be so tempting when you’re starting a new project to dive right into your pile of yarn and watch your project come to life, row by row. While it can feel like a boring delay, taking the time to check your gauge is essential to the success of your project!
A knitting gauge is the measurement of the number of stitches and rows per inch of knitting. Creating a swatch gives you the opportunity to compare your stitches to the gauge of the pattern. It might take a bit of extra time but this step gives you the chance to adjust your gauge - it might be unnecessary if you’re just knitting a scarf but if you’re making something fitted like a sweater, you’ll be glad you avoided any sizing issues before you finished your project!
Here’s why I encourage you to take the time to swatch:
Each knitter is a bit different and the tension of our stitches varies - some of us are “tight knitters”, some of us are “loose knitters”.
You’re using a different type of yarn.
Not all yarns are the same! Even yarns in the same weight category can create noticeably different gauges, especially if they have different fibre content (for example, wool vs acrylic). Even small variations in diameter and density can lead to a difference in gauge!
If size matters
If you’re making something like a scarf or blanket, where size is doesn’t matter, you can probably start your project right away. However, if you’re making something with a specific size (think sweaters, socks, mittens), it’s better to spend an hour or two adjust your needle size or stitch count than spend countless hours lovingly creating a project that doesn’t fit.
When a project is shaped
In patterns that use increases and decreases to create shaping, the gauge not only affects the size of your project but the shape! If either your stitch gauge or row gauge varies, the result could be quite different from what you’re expecting.
How does gauging work?
Your gauge takes into account your needle size, the yarn weight, and your tension. It’s difficult to change your natural knitting tension, so you’ll use your swatch to adjust your yarn weight and needle size – you’ll probably want to change your needles!
When you make your swatch, be sure to block your swatch before measuring; use the same blocking method as you plan to use on the finished project, wet blocking and steam blocking can result in different gauges. You may even want to consider washing it and treating it like you will the finished product - machine wash it if that’s the plan, scrunch it up a bit, leave it in the sun!
Once you’ve made your swatch, measure it using a gauge ruler or a regular measuring tape and compare it to the recommended gauge in your pattern. If it’s too small or large, adjust your needle size in increments of 0.5mm and experiment until your swatch matches the suggested gauge.