Knitting a gauge swatch is one of the most important steps before starting a knitting project. It’s also one of the most dreaded steps next to weaving in ends. But there’s no need to feel this way. In this Guide to Knitting Gauge, I’ll explain what a swatch is, why it’s important to swatch, and discuss knitting gauge.
What is a Swatch?
I hear knitters frequently ask, what does it mean to swatch?
In simplest terms, a knitting gauge swatch is a small sample of what your end product will look like. It is usually a knitted square made with the needles, yarn, and pattern you intend to use for your project.
If you’re planning to knit something that needs to be a particular size, be prepared to knit a swatch beforehand.
I know, I know...I can just hear the collective groan. But if you’re willing to invest the time to knit a sweater or other fitted piece, wouldn’t it be nice if it actually fit?
I mean, let’s face it. You’ve invested time and money on your craft. Why half-ass your way through a knitting pattern without knitting a gauge swatch? There’s really no excuse not to and, in the end, it’ll make you a better knitter. There. I’ve said it.
There are several other reasons why you should swatch. Firstly, the purpose of a knitted swatch is to determine knitting gauge.
To do so, you will need to evaluate the way your knitting needles, project yarn, and your knitting tension mix. The only way to properly evaluate this is to swatch.
Swatching will tell you if:
- your knitting needles are right for the project.
- the yarn you want to use is right for the project.
- you need to learn or need more practice on a certain skill.
- if your knitting tension needs adjustment.
- you need more blocking experience.
- the project or pattern is worth completing at all.
To summarize, it’s important to swatch before you knit to determine if the tools you’re working with are a good collaboration.
What do I mean by this?
Well, not all needles and yarn play nice with each other. And not all yarn materials are universal in size and texture. You want to use the right tools, i.e., yarn and knitting needles, to create a knitted piece that doesn’t end up hidden in the back of the closet.
By knitting a swatch, you will determine if the yarn and tools you’re working with are worth your time and effort or if you need to find alternatives.
All of this is necessary in order to meet knitting gauge.
What is Knitting Gauge?
Knitting gauge is the required number of stitches per inch horizontally, and the number of rows per inch vertically.
Why is this important to know?
It's important to know because these measurements will determine the size of your finished project.
When reading a knitting pattern, the designer will (should!) include the knitting needle brand and size, and the yarn used in the construction of the piece.
Understanding Knitting Gauge
Let’s say the knitting pattern uses Cascade 220 yarn in worsted weight. The designer's materials listed for gauge are size 8 (10mm) knitting needles and the swatch is knit in stockinette stitch.
A target gauge should also be included in the pattern. Gauge will be shown like this:
Gauge: 20 sts/28 rows = 4 inches in stockinette stitch
This means that gauge is 20 stitches (width) and 28 rows (height) equaling four inches squared in stockinette stitch.
Your goal is to match the stitch gauge AND the row gauge the designer lists on the knitting pattern.
Based on this information, you would begin by knitting a pattern swatch with the same yarn (or similar worsted weight yarn) and with size 8 knitting needles. This is your starting point.
Yarn Weight Chart
The handy chart below gives you the standard weight system implemented by the Craft Yarn Council. It shows:
- the various yarn gauges or yarn weights in each class;
- the types of yarn in each weight;
- the recommended needle size per weight;
- and the stitches per 4" in a stockinette swatch.
Still have questions about knitting gauge? Don't worry, there's more to come.
Let's recap though.
By now you understand what a swatch is, why it's important to knit one, and have learned about knitting gauge. The next step is to start swatching. So pick a pattern, choose your yarn, and grab your knitting needles!
Need some pattern inspiration? Check out our collections of free scarf patterns, cowl patterns, and baby blankets. Looking for beginner colorwork patterns? You can find mosaic knitting patterns here and an 80s inspired mosaic cowl here.