Piling up around me are many little “Pröbchen” or Swatches as I find myself in a bit of an inspirational cloud. I have a project in my head but somehow I cannot find the right stitch/pattern, and even though I have done quite a few samples, the right thing has not yet evolved.
Swatching does however prepare me for upcoming and future projects, it’s the sort of process that makes you really stop and remind you that actually, you really love knitting. These little squares of wool might not mean that much at the moment, in time they will almost all grow into something beautiful and swatches really do play a big part in getting not only the stitch right in the design process, they are an absolute must for checking gauge, as that ultimately means a good fit will be achieved.
It can be tempting to skip knitting a tension (gauge) square and rush on into a project, but it is much safer to spend some time knitting the square than having to frog everything later on.
There is not set-in-stone way to do a tension swatch, but here is what I do:
Using the yarn and needles given in the instruction of the pattern you are going to knit, or if not sure yet, the instructions on the ball band, cast on at least 10 stitches more than you need to achieve. Work about 4 rows in moss stitch and then keeping the first and last 5 stitches in moss stitch work the remaining stitches in the stitch pattern you are going to use. Work like this until your little swatch measures about 5-6 inches and then finish off by working 4 rows in moss stitch. Cast off.
Alternatively you can go straight into working the stitch or colour pattern you are going to use, omitting the moss stitch border.
Wash, pin and then dry the swatch. Now measure the sample with the ruler centred on the fabric rather than touching the edges.
- Lay the knitting flat, without stretching it. Lay the ruler across the centre stitches and put a pin in the knitting at the start of the ruler and at the 10cm (4in) mark. Now count the number of stitches between the pins (including a half stitch if there is one).
2. Measure 10cm (4in) across the rows in the same way and count the number of rows between the pins.
If you have too few stitches to the 10cm (4in), then you can go down half a needle size to try and fix it, or if you have too many stitches try and go up half a needle size as this might give you the correct number of stitches.
The general rule is that one difference in needle size will create a difference of one stitch in the tension (gauge). If you are out by two stitches, you would need to alter the needles by two sizes up or down. This is an approximate rule and it is best to pay attention to what the designer asks for in the pattern you are knitting.
The most important thing to remember is how vital it is to knit a tension swatch if you are making something that really needs to fit you or the person you are making it for as otherwise the item could turn out too large or too small and all your time knitting could be wasted.
If swatches could talk, I bet they’d tell us all to chill out!
Until soon, Heike xo