Thursday, September 26, 2013

The Importance of Swatching in Making Your Sweater Fit

There is nothing quite so disappointing for a knitter as hours of dedicated work that results in a poorly fitting sweater. On top of rarely getting worn, that sad, non-fitting sweater could be the reason you’re afraid to try knitting another sweater. But there is hope! There is a way to make sure every sweater you knit from this day forward comes out exactly the size you anticipate; the secret lies in a seemingly trivial square of knitting: the gauge swatch. 

In today's post, we have guest blogger Johnny Vasquez from Yarn Nation to share his best swatching tips in preparation for next month's 30-Day Sweater Challenge KAL (more info at the end of this post). Enjoy! 

I’ll be honest, when I started knitting and knit my first sweater I didn’t even know you were supposed to check gauge. I just assumed that it was a nice little piece of extra information they had thought to include in the pattern I was using. I figured that when they said gauge = 5 stitches per inch that they meant that if I used the yarn they used and the needles called for I would end up with 5 stitches per inch. Good to know. I could see no reason that that little number would have any effect on my knitting. 
This is why gauge matters!
After I completed my first couple sweaters and none of them fit properly, I did some investigating online. I learned pretty quickly that gauge was not just another number on your pattern and that you were actually meant to check your gauge. Well, that certainly explained a lot!

Let me be the one to tell you if no one else has (or if you’ve been ignoring them) - you need to check your gauge if you want a sweater that fits!!

Measuring gauge; photo courtesy of salihan
via creative commons license.
Gauge - how many stitches and rows you are getting per inch of your knitting - is the single most important factor when it comes to making your sweater turn out like the pattern you’re working from. Knitting patterns are basically a series of math problems that the designer has been kind enough to work out for you. The number which all of these equations are based on just happens to be your gauge: therefore, if you aren’t getting exactly the same gauge as the pattern calls for, your sweater will not end up the dimensions listed in your pattern.  

Let's look at an example. If my gauge is supposed to be 5 stitches per inch, then I would have a total of 20 stitches over 4 inches. Let's say that for some reason I didn’t check my gauge to make sure it is perfect and I’m actually getting 5.5 stitches per inch. That means that over four inches I would have 22 stitches. No big deal, its just two extra stitches, right? But wait! If you multiply that over enough inches to fit around a body you would end up with less than 3 extra inches, all because you are off by a half a stitch! 

So now that you know the problem, here’s how to fix it!

Make a gauge swatch by casting on 20-30 stitches (enough to get a swatch that is 5” across). Knit in your desired stitch pattern until your swatch measures 5” from the cast on edge. Bind off all stitches. Now wash and block your swatch like you plan to wash your finished sweater; this will help to even out the stitches and show how your fabric reacts to washing - it may be surprising. After you wash your swatch, lay it on a flat surface to dry. Once it is completely dry, use a ruler and measure how many stitches and rows you are getting per inch. I like to measure in a couple different places on my swatch and average the numbers so I get the most accurate measurement.

If you have checked your gauge and it isn’t exactly what is called for in the pattern, adjust your needle size and make another swatch. Do this until you have reached your desired gauge. If you are not getting enough stitches per inch, that means your stitches are too large, so you should try going down a needle size. If you are getting too many stitches per inch, that means your stitches are too small, so you should try going up a needle size. 

If you’d like to learn more about getting gauge and everything else that goes into preparing to knit a sweater, download our free Sweater Planning Guide. In this guide we talk about choosing a suitable yarn, how much yarn to buy and how to plan a sweater that you’ll love!

This guest post is a part of the 30 Day Sweater Challenge promo tour. Join us this October as we help 5,000 knitters around the world knit a sweater they’ll love, all in 30 days. To sign up just visit and download your free Sweater Planning Guide. It will help you get started on the right foot! See you in October! 

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