Mastering the gauge swatch
I just watched Mathew Gnagy's new Knitting Daily Workshop, One Knit Design, Many Versions, and there are so many take-aways that I don't know where to start, so I think I'll start at the beginning: The gauge swatch. When you're knitting garments, you have to know how to knit and work with a gauge swatch.
So many knitters whip out a few rows of stockinette, keep it on the needles, and measure the swatch to get row and stitch gauge. I used to do that, too, and I always wondered why my sweaters didn't fit well.
Mathew Gnagy works with his gauge swatches in his new Knitting Daily Workshop, One Knit Design, Many Versions.
Many other knitters don't knit a gauge swatch at all, and they wonder why their sweaters don't fit, too.
Gauge is what all knitting patterns are based on, and it's absolutely crucial to do a gauge swatch when you knit almost any pattern, but most especially when you're knitting a garment.
I know people who don't knit swatches because they don't want to take the time; they want to get right to knitting the sweater. What a mistake, because the evening you spend knitting your gauge swatch can make or break the finished object, which will take many, many more hours to knit.
Swatching is not only crucial to getting a sweater to fit correctly, it also shows you how your fabric will look and feel. If you're knitting a pattern in a yarn that's different from what's recommended, which is the most common modification knitters make, you definitely want to swatch to see what the fabric will look like at the gauge recommended in the pattern.
I've had so many ah-ha moments that come from gauging when I substitute yarns. Sometimes I like the fabric just fine, but many times the fabric is too dense or loose at the pattern's gauge. Sometimes I choose to change the pattern a little bit to accommodate the yarn, and sometimes I choose to change the yarn to accommodate the gauge.
Here are some tips for mastering the gauge swatch:
- Knit a large swatch. Mathew Gnagy recommends knitting a 30-stitch by 30-row swatch. (Add stitches and rows if you're working with a small-gauge yarn; it really does need to be at least 4 X 4 inches to get an accurate gauge reading.)
- Before you do any work with your swatch, including measuring it, take it off the needles or bind off.
- "Brutalize" your swatch. When Mathew mentioned this step it cracked me up. But once he explained his process, it totally makes sense. Mathew recommends stretching, twisting, rubbing, and folding your swatch, which simulates the knitting and wearing process. When you think about it, the knitting of a garment is pretty hard on the fabric. I pull my sweaters out of a knitting bag every evening and then stuff them back in before I go to bed. I pull them into shape for measuring, and I've even had the occasional dog drama with my knitting, wherein my puppy grabs my knitting and runs out the dog door with it!
- After the brutalization, steam or wet block your swatch and let it dry.
- Finally, measure the swatch to get row and stitch gauge. Mathew recommends leaving the first and last two stitches out of the measurement of the stitch gauge, because those stitches are usually not the same gauge as the rest of the stitches across a row.
Sounds like a lot of steps, but after years of knitting I wouldn't do it any other way. I've given away too many sweaters that represent too many hours of work, and I'll be you've been in that boat, too.
This swatching bit is just a small part of the goodness of One Knit Design, Many Versions. Mathew goes through each step of modifying a sweater pattern into a shrug pattern, sharing amazing knowledge with each alteration, and his lessons on creating a paper pattern for a modified sweater are fascinating.