Today, we're tackling a topic that might make some of you cringe: swatching. We get it, for some of us swatching isn't the most thrilling part of the creative process, but trust us, swatching before starting a knitting project is an essential first step to getting the FO you're dreaming of. So, grab your favourite yarn and needles, because we're about to unravel the mysteries of swatching and show you why it's worth the effort.
So what is swatching?
Swatching is like a sneak peek into the future. You take your yarn and needles and create a small (but not too small!) sample piece of knitting based on the stitch pattern or patterns in your chosen project. This allows you to see exactly how the yarn behaves, how the fabric looks and feels, how colours work together, and what your gauge* is.
*If you are new to gauge, it refers to how many stitches and rows you have in a 4x4"/10x10 cm area of your knitting. Designers list the gauge they used when they designed their pattern, and all the finished sizes are based on this gauge.
If you don't have the same gauge as the pattern, it doesn't matter how carefully you choose a size listed in the pattern, your FO will not be that size. Swatching allows you to try different needle sizes until you find the right one that gives you gauge.
Not every yarn will work for every pattern. Swatching helps you evaluate how a particular yarn behaves when knit up. You can observe its stitch definition, drape, and overall appearance, allowing you to make informed decisions about its suitability for your project. It's particularly helpful for colourwork. The colours you select may look like they have enough contrast when they are in balls, but it can be another story when knitted up, especially if you are working with an intricate design.
It gives you the chance to see the fabric after it's had a bath! Depending on your yarn and gauge, your work can look quite different after blocking. Blocking evens out your stitches and shows you exactly how the fabric will look in your final piece. This is again really useful if your project involves colourwork and the dye bleeds when washed, resulting in the colours running into each other. It's much better to find that out on your swatch than the beautiful colourwork yoke you've put hours (days/weeks/months) into.
Swatching is also a great way to practice new stitches or techniques before incorporating them into your final project. You can familiarise yourself with the pattern instructions, become more comfortable with the stitch pattern, and even try out any modifications you have in mind.
So you now know the 'why', but what about the 'how'? How do you create a swatch that will give you accurate measurements and all the information you need to know your casting on your new favourite FO?
Swatching tips and tricks!
Bigger is better! You want your swatch to be at least 6x6"/15.25 x 15.25 cm. This will give you a more accurate idea of your gauge and fabric behaviours such as drape.
Swatch for all the stitch patterns. If the pattern uses several stitch patterns and lists their gauge, you should swatch for all of them. The designer may have used the same size needle for all stitch patterns, but it doesn't mean you won't need to adjust yours at some point.
Swatch in the round if the pattern is worked in the round, and flat if it's worked flat. You'll be surprised how much your knitting can change in gauge and feel between working flat and in the round. This is largely due to many knitter's purl stitches being looser than their knit stitches.
Don't add a border to your swatch. There's a lot of advice suggesting to do this, and while it does look nice and prevents the fabric from curling, it can throw off the gauge of your stitch pattern and give you incorrect measurements.
Take measurements before and after blocking. Your gauge may change significantly after blocking, so it's handy to know if that's the case. For example, say you know your row gauge gets larger after blocking, and the pattern you are knitting says, "Work 20 rows or knit until the piece measures 6"/15.25 cm". You know if you knit until 6"/15.25 cm it will be too big after blocking and not fit the way it should. Knowing your pre-blocking gauge can help you avoid situations like this. This leads us to...
Swatch blocking. It's super important, and why go to all that work if you're not going to do that final step? When you block your swatch, treat it in the same way you will treat your FO. If you will use a wool wash/soak for your final piece, use it on your swatch.
Don't 'block to measurement'. You should never stretch your swatch (or FO) to get the measurement you want. This is one of the main reasons we swatch, to make sure we're using the right needles and have the correct gauge. Instead, lay it flat to dry and use pins only to straighten any edges or prevent them from curling if you need to. If you have used pins and they look like they are pulling the fabric you are stretching it and should swatch again with different needles. The only time you should stretch your knitting is to open up a lace stitch pattern.
And finally, take notes! Write down what needles you have used for each swatch and if you made any adjustments. Not only will it help you keep track of what you are doing for your current project, but it will be helpful to look back at for future ones too!
In conclusion, swatching is an absolute game-changer! Don't underestimate its importance in your knitting projects. It might feel like an extra step, but trust us, it's worth it. Swatching helps you nail that perfect gauge, pick the ideal yarn and needle combo, and even gives you a chance to unleash your creativity with design modifications. Think of swatching as your knitting superpower, protecting you from disappointment and ensuring your finished piece matches your vision. It's like a secret code that unlocks knitting success and brings joy to every stitch.
We hope the tips and thoughts we shared above have helped to encourage you to embrace swatching and helped with any issues you may have been having. Happy swatching!