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Gauge Swatch 101: How to Make and Measure Your Swatch

May 14th, 2012

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I admit it: I used to cheat at gauge swatches. I would cast on, work a few rows, then assume I was good to go. Of course, my projects never came out the right size (and I have the ill-fitting sweaters to prove it)! Since then, I’ve decided that I prefer sweaters that fit, so now I’m a believer in the gauge swatch. Not only does a swatch help you measure your gauge, but it also gives you the chance to practice your stitches and see how your project will drape. Are you ready to swatch now? Here’s how to make and measure your swatch in 5 easy steps.

How to Gauge Swatch

Step 1: Cast on using the same technique you’ll use for your project. The gauge section of your pattern will tell you how many stitches per inch to anticipate, usually given over 4 inches. To get the most accurate measurements, you’ll want to cast on enough stitches to give you a 5-6 inch swatch. For example, this pattern has a gauge of 16 stitches = 4 inches, so I’m casting on 24 stitches. Work in your pattern for 5-6 inches, then loosely bind off.
Step 2: Measure vertically and horizontally. Don’t cheat by stretching it! It’s okay if your swatch doesn’t lay flat; hold it flat without stretching as you measure. For more accurate measurement, start your counting a few stitches in from the edge (as the size of your edge stitches may be distorted). Note your stitch and row gauge because it’s all about to change!
Step 3: Wash (and dry) your swatch in the same way that you’ll care for your finished piece.
Step 4: Are you going to block your finished piece? If so, block your swatch. Otherwise, skip ahead to Step 5. Click here for more information on blocking.
Step 5: Measure your swatch again. I repeat, don’t cheat by stretching your swatch! This will be your final gauge, which you’ll match against the pattern.

And that’s all it takes to make a gauge swatch! After following these steps, did your gauge change? Mine sure did! I went from 20 stitches over 4 inches (before washing and blocking) to 16 stitches over 4 inches. Likewise, my row gauge went from 38 rows over 4 inches to 32 rows over 4 inches. Does your gauge match your pattern? If not, it’s time to make another swatch. If your swatch is too small (too many stitches per inch), go up a hook/needle size; if your swatch is too big, go down a hook/needle size.

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  • Nannax2

    I still hate the guage swatch but, have to admit it helps with size especally when making items the grandkids will wear….

  • http://www.facebook.com/Jennmarie68 Jennifer DeFoy

    My biggest issue with gauge swatches is that I can get the gauge of the number of stitches right, but then the number of rows will be off (or vice versa). I know how to fix the stitches per inch, but I can’t ever seem to fix the number of rows right without messing up the number of stitches per inch… 

    • Jess Hicks

      This is a great point, Jennifer. In general, your stitch gauge will be more important than your row gauge. This is because many patterns will give the length in inches instead of rows; i.e., “Work in St st (k on RS, p on WS) until piece measures 14 in. (35.5 cm)”, as opposed to “Work in St st for 29 rows”. The exception to this would be pieces that are constructed sideways, as the width of your knit/crochet piece would equal the height of the garment.

  • Klo

    What do you do if your pieces are constructed sideways and the width and height don’t match?  I always end up finding a different pattern.  Is there a better solution than that?

    • Jess Hicks

      Hi, Klo. To get the length of the garment to match, you’ll need your stitch gauge to match. Pay close attention to your row gauge, as that will determine the width of the garment. In patterns like this one, the width instructions are given as inches instead of rows: http://www.lionbrand.com/patterns/70210A.html?noImages= In cases like that, your row gauge won’t matter as much. The majority of side-to-side patterns are written like that. However, if you encounter a pattern with particular row instructions, you have a choice: match the row gauge and adjust your stitch counts accordingly or do some math to adjust the pattern to match your row gauge.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001202778585 Anita A Badger

    I’ve told people from DAY ONE, if you DON’T do a gauge swatch when you knit/crochet a (wearable) item, it will either fit Godzilla or fit Mickey Mouse.  SWATCH.   I only make things for me, who else can I wake up at 2am for a fitting?

  • Ksgaray

    When I make gauge swatches, even if they’re like 8 inches, the project gauge is still never the same. For large projects I often end up with several inches larger. Am I doing something wrong? I’ve tried adjusting by a percent, but it’s kind of hit or miss.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Irene-V-Redner/100000063477160 Irene V Redner

    I’ve knitting since I was 9 and am now 93, still can’t get a gauge to suit me.

  • http://profiles.google.com/casey0222 Alyson Casey

    Just to be sure – all gauges listed on projects are for the washed and blocked swatch NOT the unwashed version?  Or does that differ?  Because sometimes I feel like people are talking about the unblocked swatch.  Yarn labels are the same? washed and blocked?

    • Jess Hicks

      In general, the swatches are definitely washed. Blocking depends on the project — if it’s a hat with a very simple stitch, the swatch might not be blocked, but if it’s a rich cable pattern, the swatch will be blocked. The most important decision on blocking vs. not blocking your swatch is whether or not you will block your finished project. Remember that if it’s something you’ll wear (like a hat or a sweater), the project will get a little wear anyway, and a blocked swatch will imitate that wear a bit.

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