Hi again! It’s Deb, and I wanted to continue talking about choosing the right yarn for your project. And yes, we’re going to encourage the dreaded “gauge swatch”.
Now that you have thought about needle size, and stitch pattern and such, your next question will be “Will this yarn that I have chosen perform the same way as the designer’s yarn?” You could have even chosen the exact same yarn as the pattern told you to choose, but it may not work out for you. Lots of factors at work here……tension (how tightly, or loosely, you knit), type of needle (slippery needles make you knit looser), even your frame of mind!!!! Imagine knitting on a nice warm beach, a light breeze blowing, your kids being cared for by your fabulous live-in nanny. Nice, eh? Relaxed knitting, a bit loose, perhaps. Now imagine this……knitting after a long hard day of the boss blaming you for everything, and every customer out there having some kind of a problem that only you were ultimately responsible for, and then you get home and you find out the water and the power have been shut off for an indeterminate time because of an accident down the street and the kids are hungry…..yeah, really tight knitting, sort of uneven in parts, maybe even a knot or two. All of these factors affect your knitting. What to do? Whether you like it or not, it is time for a gauge swatch.
I know lots of knitters who tell me they have never, ever made a swatch. And these same knitters can’t understand why the garment they were knitting doesn’t fit. In order for you to successfully knit something, you have to understand your tools and your materials. So look at your pattern and see what kind of a stitch the designer has used (that’s what you are going to use to knit this swatch). If the given gauge in the pattern says something like “18 stitches to 4 inches (10 cm)”, you are going to cast on enough stitches to create a square that is bigger than 4 inches square. (a quick way to figure out just how big, try this: take the gauge (18), divide that number by 2 (to get 9). Add the two numbers together (18 + 9=27). Cast on 27 stitches. That will give you a good size gauge swatch, approximately six inches across. ) But let’s say the gauge was given over one inch (or 2.5 cm)? That’s fine. Just take the gauge (say 4.5 stitches to one inch or 2.5 cm) and multiply by 6 (4.5 x 6 =27). Cast on 27 stitches. Using the main stitch from the pattern, knit up a square (when the width of your knitting, measured across the needle, equals the length, measured down the side). Bind off. Wash your swatch and block it.
Okay, now what? You are going to count the “little vees”. Set your ruler (or your square) in about an inch from the bottom, and an inch from the edge. Count across the bottom for 4 inches worth. That is your stitch gauge. Count up the side for 4 inches worth. Now you also have a row gauge.
Keep track of these numbers. Compare them to the pattern. If the row gauge and the stitch gauge are exactly the same as the pattern, and you are happy with the fabric, YAHOO! Go and celebrate and then start your sweater. If, however, your numbers don’t match, then you will have to change some things. If the stitch gauge you got is too low (let’s say you got 14 instead of 18), it means you need a tighter tension. Try a smaller needle (usually the next size down). If your stitch gauge number is too high (like , say 20), your tension needs to loosen up a bit. Try a larger needle. If, on your second gauge swatch your numbers are still off, change your needle size to even bigger, or smaller, as the case demands. Row gauge is a bit different. If I get very close in the stitch gauge, but the row gauge is off, I just make a note of it. If I have too few rows to make the required gauge, I may have to add a few rows overall to make it long enough. If I had too many rows to make that gauge, then I may have to make fewer rows in the garment. In either case, rely on your measurements in the diagram in the pattern, instead of number of rows.
Now that you have completed your swatch, what do you do with it? Some ideas…..SAVE it. If you need to make a repair, you have matching yarn. Second, if you are in need of a bit of help to make your sweater look tailored, Fold your swatch in half diagonally, and voila! You have a ready-made shoulder pad. (no need to add any stuffing-the double layer of knitting should do it!) Make a second swatch and pin your shoulder pads in where they belong. Thirdly, depending on the type of sweater you have knit, your gauge swatch could be a pocket or a pocket lining. And fourth, you could always make a bunny from a square. You can find it here – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s6Kgi6ns38c or a slightly different one here http://www.heartstringsfiberarts.com/bunny-pattern.shtm
Have fun, and remember, the gauge swatch is not your enemy!