Eight little words that can strike fear into the heart of a knitter: Take time to save time, check your gauge.
This can also be worded as:
- To save time and to ensure accurate sizing, check gauge.
- Gauge calculated after blocking.
- Before you measure, please take time to wash and block your swatch in the same manner that you will wash and block your sweater.
- Use needle size to obtain gauge.
Some patterns just have the gauge listed: 20 stitches and 27 rows = 4″ in stockinette. Sometimes the words washed and blocked will be added. Sometimes the designer will specifically say the swatch should be unblocked. I assume designers want us to wash and block our swatch, unless they tell us not to. Yeah, I know what happens when you assume.
We’ve all done it, been so excited to start a new project that we just cast on. Maybe we start with the back, or a sleeve, and tell ourselves that this is our gauge swatch. But do we follow the designer’s instructions, and wash and block that sleeve after knitting 5 or 6 inches to check gauge? My guess is no. When we block that finished back or sleeve and find that doesn’t match the measurements listed in the schematic, we either lie to ourselves and keep going or rip it out and start again with a different needle size. I don’t know about you, but my knitting time is precious. Knitting a sweater, or part of a sweater, multiple times, is a waste of time. If only I had taken the time to swatch.
Patty Lyons has written extensively about gauge. This Patty’s Purls of Wisdom post is one of my favorites. She explains why swatches lie and what to do about it.
I’m currently swatching for Olive Knits Foxtrot Cardigan. Marie Greene is at it again with her third annual 4 Day Sweater KAL.
My yarn is a lovely blue non-superwash worsted that I dyed a number of years ago. I ‘may’ have had to order a new cable as all of the others are in use. Yes, I have a large collection of WIPs, but that’s a post for another day.
Gauge for this sweater is 20 stitches and 27 rows = 4″ (10 cm) in stockinette (blocked) on US size 7 (4.5mm) needles. I knit an extra big swatch (60 stitches) as well as a smaller, bordered swatch. The second one was just to prove to myself how much small swatches with a garter stitch border can lie. Another reason to make an oversized swatch is that you can measure the full 4″, in multiple places, and there’s no math involved in trying to calculate how many stitches 4″would have if my 20 stitches only measure 3.75″. Yes, I’ll knit a little bit more to avoid math.
Pre blocking, I had a gauge of 22.5 stitches and 29 rows. Post blocking it changed to 19.5 stitches and 32 rows. Based on the ease added into the pattern, I could live with the stitch gauge but not the rows. Time to try again. Since my knitting is done with interchangeable circular needles, I’ll change the needle tip for purling to a US size 8 (5mm) and report back with the results. Until then,
P.S. the small swatch lied, after blocking and doing the math, it was 21.33 stitches and 30.85 rows in 4″