Swatching up a Storm

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Getting ready for the first swatch measurements

Swatching is probably one of my least favourite parts of knitting, second only to weaving in ends. It feels tedious, doesn’t feel productive (even though I completely admit it is), and it’s time away from knitting the final product. Lately, however, I have been trying to embrace this process as practice, an introduction to the yarn I’ll be using, and a way to experiment.

The swatch above is for my mom’s sweater, Dark and Stormy by Thea Colman. As someone who has been knitting for a few years now, I generally know that I’m safe dropping down a couple of needle sizes. In this case, a size 7 was called for, so I grabbed my 5s. With any other type of project (hat, shawl, mitts, etc.), I’d be good to go at this point.

But because my mom has shorter arms and a different shape than the model in the pattern’s picture, I knew I was going to need to make some adjustments. In order to do any math, I needed my swatch. I also knew that due to the nature of the yarn, I was going to want to alternate skeins, something I had not tried before. I needed to make sure that doing that wouldn’t affect my gauge.

For most knitters, you know what to do at this point, but for those of you who are newer to the craft, here’s my process: I use the needles I’m fairly sure I’ll need to cast-on enough stitches for roughly 6 inches, if not a little more in case I want to add a garter border on the left- and right-hand sides of the swatch. I use the stitches per inch in the gauge to calculate how many I want. Then, using the row gauge, I calculate about how many rows for 6 inches (rows per inch times 6). I like to start with a 4 to 5 rows of garter stitch and then start knitting stockinette for the number of rows I have just calculated. Then, I add another 4 to 5 rows of garter. If I’m testing out a couple of different needle sizes, I’ll use either purl bumps in the stockinette or yarnovers in the garter to create the number of bumps or holes equivalent to my needle size.

After I cast-off, I pin the swatch down and do my first measurements in the middle of the swatch. Because this sweater is top-down and has raglan increases, row gauge was important (it isn’t always). I didn’t get that, pre-blocked, and I was just shy of my stitch gauge. Also, since I had never done alternating skeins, I also took this measurement pre-blocking, to see if there was any difference. Happily, there wasn’t. Next, I soaked my swatch in Soak for 20 minutes, pressed out the extra water, and blocked the swatch. Once it was dry, I retook my measurements. This is particularly important so that I know how the sweater is going to react once I wash it.

What have I learned about this yarn? In this case, I learned that whether or not I got gauge with this particular needle, I liked the fabric it created. The swatch was dense without being heavy. I tend to like “bulletproof,” or dense stitches, so I was really happy with this outcome. Luckily, I did get my stitch gauge once I blocked the swatch. However, I didn’t get row gauge (0.75 stitches per inch off), so there’ll be a bit more math in my future. I also learned that alternating skeins did even out the color a bit, which I’m happy about.

Next, I’ll sit down and do all the math, following the steps in Marly Bird’s Plus-Size Knitting Techniques Craftsy class (not an affiliate link). By the way, I’m really enjoying her class so far. I have to admit, it was really nice to see that a professional knitter and designer swatches just like me (with a few exceptions here or there). I must be doing OK! I’m also finding this class to be really approachable. Marly has a really great and laid-back teaching style that makes her easy to follow. I’ll save a full review until I’m completely done with the sweater and with the course, but so far I like it.

Do you like swatches, or is it something you struggle with out of necessity? How do you do your swatches? Have you found better ways of doing this process? I’d love to hear from you! Leave a note in the comments below.

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7 thoughts on “Swatching up a Storm

  1. I never swatch **ducks**. I learned to knit and crochet when I was 4 or 5 and never knew swatching was a thing until I got serious about the crafts in my 20’s. It’s about the only ‘live dangerously’ thing I do these days 🙂

  2. You definitely are quite thorough with your swatches. I swatch when I feel it necessary. But only a 4 x 4 or 6 x 6. Just enough to tell me whether I am stitching to gauge or not. I don’t go through the blocking or washing or blocking. I probably should, but haven’t. I haven’t really made anything that has required a swatch in years. I am getting ready to start a shoulder shawl and I do plan to swatch first.

  3. I never swatched until I was in my 20’s. Even then, it’s still a frustrating, inexact science. I’ve ripped out numerous projects because my swatch gave me one gauge, but knitting it full-sized gave me another. Maybe I should do what you do and simply knit a larger swatch!

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