Sunday, January 16, 2011


Swatching.  A word that inspires many knitters to run and hide.

Many of us find knitting a gauge swatch tedious, boring, or unworthy of our precious knitting time.  But it so often pains me to see people's projects end in frustration and frogging, or at best, in ill-fitting garments that might have been saved by a 30 minute swatch session.

Not only does knitting and properly blocking a swatch give you a stitch count per inch, it allows you to see and feel the knitted fabric, which is very often different from how the yarn feels and looks in the skein, and even from how it feels upon first knitting it.

This is not to say I love to swatch, but I've learned to enjoy/ endure it as part of the creative process as a whole, along with choosing yarn and stitches, doing the actual knitting,  finishing and blocking.  

For the past couple of weeks I've been trying to squeak in a few minutes every day to work several rows of various stitch patterns for a new cardigan.  I have more stitch patterns and ideas than I can possibly execute at the moment, so I want to try out some of my ideas in a swatch before knitting and ripping out over and over if I don't like it.

Sometimes when I'm deciding between many stitches, I like to work them (if not in project yarn, then in yarn of the same weight and similar fiber content as my project) one after the other, in a continuous length so that in the end I have a finished sampler scarf, like this one which took two skeins of Patons Classic Wool.

I cast on for several pattern repeats in width, adding between 3 and 7 edge stitches on each side, and then several repeats in length until I decide whether I like it or not.

If I like it, I put the scarf on hold until I need to try another stitch or have a bit of time to finish it.  If I don't love the current stitch, I usually just begin knitting a new one on the next right side row, or sometimes work several rows of garter stitch as a separation.  Edge stitch numbers are adjusted up or down a few stitches as necessary.  Usually I try also to align stitches so that purls, ribs, etc. match at least a little if possible.

The long lengths allow me to see a nice size swatch of the stitch, how different border or small patterns work with it, and get a better feel for the hand and drape of the knitted fabric.  If I need to adjust needle size, I do this then knit some more.  Some scarves I keep, others are donated to a local food and clothing pantry we support. 

It admittedly takes much longer to knit a scarf than a small square, so I usually reserve the large scarf/swatches only for very special projects or a pattern design.

If I'm planning a project in cotton, linen or other plant fiber, I'll often work out my stitch patterns first in plain cotton to make fast, new dishcloths.

I try to encourage myself to swatch by reminding myself that even small swatches, saved over time, can be turned into something useful.

There are, of course, Elizabeth Zimmerman's swatch hats. I've also seen folks on Ravelry stitch several small swatches together into patchwork scarves or cowls.  Swatches could perhaps be stitched into a small quilt or throw.  I've felted wool swatch squares then cut them into smaller pieces to pad the bottom of chair legs, or the back of picture frames to prevent scratches on floors and walls. Maybe some of you out there can suggest other creative ways to use swatches.

Once I have a couple of stitch favorites, I swatch them again as smaller, proper squares in the actual project yarn, to make sure I have the correct needle size.

That is what I am doing with this one in Elann's Peruvian Sierra Aran wool/ alpaca blend for my new cardigan.

Pretty examples that don't end up being used for current projects, but I don't want to part with just yet, I tag with stitch names, the book I found them in, or the actual graphed stitch.

Yes, this is partly why I am not a prolific knitter.  And, OK, so maybe I'm a teensy bit overly careful (or picky), but I only occasionally need to frog an entire project.  Perhaps some of this is due to my long swatching selection process.  That, or maybe I am just picky and extremely lucky.


  1. I enjoyed reading your insight into swatching Robin :-)) I have never though of knitting a scarf as a swatch, but I like the idea. I think swatches can be used as pockets on the garment, if there are pockets needed. Myself, I do not like swatching, but try not to skip this step :-)) I agree, it is important :-))

  2. Thank you Diana! I guess I forced myself to find something fun in it as it is a 'necessary evil' LOL. I love the pocket idea!! :)

  3. I sometimes need to unravel my swatches to use in the project if my yardage is tight. I recently decided to gather my swatches & odd knitted/croheted bits together, sort them by color and plan ways to attach them, Freeform style.

  4. What a great post about swatching! I liked the idea of a scarf... to me swatching is a must for success.

  5. Loren, squeaking out that last yard is such a nail-biter! I know your freeform swatch creations will be totally cool too. :)

  6. Thank you very much Lidia! I agree, swatching makes for success. :)