We’ve talked about the importance of knitting a swatch sample before and what factors affect the outcome. In today's Knitting 101, we'll show you how to knit a swatch in the round, methods to do it, and tips to make you more successful.
If you’re going to knit in the round, you’ll need to swatch in the round. How you knit in the round with circular knitting needles differs from how you knit with straight needles. This can affect your gauge and your final gauge measurement.
Read More: How to Cast on to Knit in the Round
The trick to knitting a test swatch is to do it with the same materials and under the same conditions as what you plan to use for your knitting pattern. This will determine which needle gauge works best with your yarn gauge.
Learn more: Needle Gauges and Sizes
Let’s talk about how you go about knitting a gauge block and what to look for in circular gauge knitting.
The goal of creating a gauge swatch is to mimic the knitted fabric of your finished piece as closely as possible. This means paying close attention to the knitting instructions for your swatch. Some knitting patterns call for stockinette stitch swatches, while other knitting patterns call for you to swatch in the specific stitch pattern used in the project. What it asks for is what you’ll do.
Then, when that’s done, you’ll need to block your knitting in the same manner in which you intend to block your project. Why is this important?
Well, knitting a swatch or gauge sample will eliminate, or at least control, what can go wrong once you start knitting your project. Because if you're aware of what might occur, you’ll be able to correct your knitting mistake(s) before it’s too late.
How to Knit a Swatch Test in the Round
There are a couple of ways to knit a swatch in the round. They are the:
- Knitting Floats Method.
- Small Tube Knitting Method.
- Knitted Hat Method.
Let’s talk about each step-by-step.
Knitting Floats Method
For this method, you'll simulate knitting in the round but you won't knit a complete tube. Instead, you’ll work every row as a Right Side (RS) row without working any Wrong Wide (WS) rows.
First, with your circular knitting needles, cast on enough stitches to make a 6" swatch. Then move this needle back to your left hand.
Here I'm casting on using Cascade 220 worsted weight yarn in Vermeer Blue, and Chiaogoo interchangeable knitting needles in size U.S. 8 (5 mm).
Once you've cast on, slide the stitches to the other end of your circular knitting needles but do not turn your work. See below.
Then carry the yarn loosely across the back of the stitches and knit another round as before.
Don’t worry about keeping the swatch neat, just worry about keeping the floats loose. This is especially important if you plan to reuse the yarn from your swatch for your project.
The floats need to be loose enough to measure your swatch flat. If they’re not, the swatch will roll. This will make it difficult for you to measure gauge.
Finally, repeat Steps 2 and 3 until your swatch has a height of 6”.
If you plan to block your knitting project, you’ll want to block this swatch. Later, you can cut the strands when you block your swatch so you can measure it flat.
TIP: Before you bind off, it’s a good idea to mark your needle size in your swatch. For this swatch, I purled 8 stitches, which created garter stitch bumps.
This may not be so easy to do if you're working in a pattern other than stockinette stitch. Just make sure to record your needle size where you can find it later. Do it now before you forget.
Optional Knitted Borders:
Since the knitted fabric of this swatch is stockinette, I like to knit two rows before I begin working in the round. This helps control the roll a little and lets me see how my stitches are working up. If you opt to do this, you would simply knit 2 rounds like you would for flat knitting before moving on to Step 2.
And if you opted to knit two rounds of garter stitch at the beginning, I'd do the same at the end before you bind off. Again, you'd knit this as if you're knitting flat rows.
The picture below shows yarn placement and setup to knit garter stitch.
Small Tube Knitting Method
Just as the name implies, this swatch method involves creating a small knit tube. It requires knitting in the round with double pointed needles, fixed circular needles, or interchangeable knitting needles. Depending on the size of your tube, you may need to use the magic loop method to properly work your stitches.
The swatch shown above is for a mosaic knitting pattern in the works. I’ve opted to knit it as a tube as I intend to continue adding other swatches to it. For this reason, I will not bind off. More on this below.
Your first step for the small tube method is to cast on for knitting in the round. You’ll need about six inches (6 in.) worth of stitches.
Next, join to knit in the round. Then work your stitch pattern until your swatch measures six inches in height.
Read More: How to Join Knitting in the Round
- If you don’t intend to use your swatch for anything else, you may bind off your stitches. Then, cut your swatch open carefully, and wash, block, and pin. You’ll then measure your gauge when your swatch is completely dry.
- If you DO intend to re-use your tube, you can place your stitches on waste yarn to block without binding off or cutting. If your gauge is correct, you can slide them back on the needle and continue knitting. Otherwise, you'll need to redo your swatch.
Knitted Hat Method
For those of you who want your swatch to serve a purpose beyond measurement, this last method is for you. Suggested by the late, great Elizabeth Zimmerman, she recommended knitting a swatch cap instead of a small swatch.
By knitting a hat, you create something large enough to accurately measure gauge. Plus, you have a completed, wearable project to show for it.
To begin this method, first cast on enough stitches to knit a hat. In my sample, I'm using worsted weight yarn. For my cast on, I have 80 stitches, but this method could range from 80-120 stitches depending on needle size, yarn gauge, and stitch pattern.
Next, join your knitting in the round with circular needles.
Finally, begin knitting your hat in the round. Work your pattern or in stockinette stitch, whatever your design calls for. Then, when you're finished, wash, block, and measure gauge.
And there you have it. You’ve learned how to swatch in the round and three different ways to do it. You’ve also learned a few tips to help you make a successful swatch gauge and a better knitter. So get out there and get knitting. You’ll be glad you did.
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