Swatches are lame. And dumb. And I don’t like doing them. But I do them. Because you have to. They are important. Like vegetables. Or doing sit-ups.
I get it; you’re all excited for your project to start. You got out your really cool knitting bag, and you have your lovely new yarn next to you, and those great new Addi Turbos, and you’re just itching to jump in and start knitting up that fantastic new sweater.
Making a gauge swatch is like measuring twice and cutting once (didn’t your teacher/dad/grandpa/random authority figure ever say that to you? OK… Just me). Without the proper gauge, your super beautiful, complicated cabled sweater is going to end up fitting your kid sister, or being too big for Shaquile O’Neil. And that would be sad. Making a gauge swatch is quick (ish) and painless (or at least more painless than having to tear out an entire sweater after you finished).
Cast on enough stitches so that you have about 4 inches of knitting.
Knit in the pattern called for in your pattern. For example, if the gauge says “4 sts/in in garter stitch”, knit in garter stitch. If the pattern says “7 sts/inch in lace pattern #1”, knit lace pattern #1. Work the gauge until it is roughly square. Bind off loosely, or transfer the live stitches to a piece of scrap yarn.
(For some reason I decided to be fancy and add a seed stitch border to this swatch. This just adds more work, but if that’s what you want to do, I won’t stop you.)
Once you have the squareish swatch, lay it out flat. People who actually are good at this stuff say to wash and block the swatch the way that you will treat the final product. That is too much effort for me. Yes, doing that will give you a more exact result, but I don’t wanna. *pout* I just give the swatch a couple tugs in either direction to make the stitches sit nicely, and lay the square out flat on a table, couch cushion, or my leg. If the swatch is being particularly squirrely and trying to roll up, I might throw a couple pins in the edges to hold it flat, but not pull it too tightly (Pin it to the couch cushion… not your leg).
Then using a ruler, tape measure or gauge counter, I’ll measure three or four spots in the middle of the swatch, and see how many stitches will fall in an inch. If I get different numbers of stitches, I’ll average them out to get my working gauge.
(See how there are 5 stitches for every inch? I even marked some of them for you. This swatch has a gauge of 5 sts/inch.)
If you’re swatching a pattern (like a lace or some sort of fancy-pants ribbing) you’ll do things a little differently. Instead of counting how many stitches in an inch, you’ll count how wide a single repeat is. Since you know how many stitches are in a repeat, you can use that to get a gauge. For example, a lace pattern takes 15 stitches and is 2 inches wide. Then, your gauge is 15sts/2inches, or 7.5 sts/in.
So now you have your gauge. Is it right for your pattern? If the gauge is too big for the pattern (a lower number than the pattern’s gauge), go down a needle size or two to get the right gauge. If the gauge is too fine for the pattern (a higher number than the pattern’s gauge), go up a size or two, and try making the swatch again.
I know… it feels like busy work, but it’s totally worth it.