Take your yarn on a date — how swatching is sexy.
OK, fine, it's a clickbait title.
But if we'd called this post How Swatching Saves You Time and Heartache, we're betting you'd have scrolled right by.
We're here to tell you why we love a hot date with yarn.
It's easy to feel the passion and pull of a new project, you're so in love, you daydream about your pattern all the time, and you've finally found the McDreamy yarn for it! Why not just elope, cast on those stitches and run away together?!
We’ve been there and it’s so tempting to get swept up in that passionate moment!
You. Just. Want. To. Cast. On!
Swatching is your first date.
When you swatch, it’s your chance to get to know your new yarn — it’s not a fancy dinner, but more of a coffee shop date. Hang out for a bit. Chat over lattes.
Your McDreamy yarn has all the looks, but you need to know if you share common interests. You’ve chosen this McDreamy yarn because you think it would be great for your sweater pattern, but can we be sure without a swatch?
(That’s rhetorical. The answer is no.)
The point of a swatch is to find out your gauge.
Is this a match made in heaven? Or is it destined for frustration, tears, and maybe even therapy?
Gauge is real. It’s where dreams meet reality.
The designer who wrote your pattern decided what yarn and needles they recommend for the pattern — this is the dream.
You’re not always going to use that exact yarn, and the suggested needle size has nothing to do with the yarn you’re using and with you as a knitter — that’s the reality.
So on your swatching date, you’re getting valuable information from your yarn:
What kind of fabric can your yarn make, and is that the kind of fabric you want for this project? Is it close to what the pattern’s asking for?
Your swatch also helps you determine your gauge: how many stitches per inch you get with your McDreamy yarn and the needles you’ve selected.
Math is also real.
If you’re getting 4 stitches to the inch instead of 4.5, that’s going to have real world consequences for the fit and size of your finished garment.
Instead of a sweater with a 40” bust, you’ll be very sad when you end up with a sweater that’s for a 36” bust —just a half stitch can make a big difference. (There’s some simple math you can use to make adjustments, but that’s a topic for another post.)
Five things to do on your swatch date…
Use a seed stitch border, not garter stitch. Why use a border? For more accurate measuring. Patty Lyons gets into the nitty gritty of seed stitch vs. garter in her new book Patty Lyons’ Knitting Bag of Tricks.
Make your swatch big enough. A two-inch square is not big enough. Period. If you’re using a seed stitch border, cast on enough additional stitches for the middle of your swatch, as recommended in your pattern, for approximately four inches. And you should be knitting roughly 4” vertically as well.
Switch needles. Yep! Even if you think you’re happy with the needle size you’ve tried, switch it up. Go up or down in needle size and check out the changes in the fabric. Some of us like to do this right on the same swatch, throwing in a row of seed stitch before you change needles. Go for the Goldilocks needle that makes the “just right” fabric for your pattern.
Block your swatch! Don’t skip this step — really, it’s not busywork! It’s incredible how a little spa treatment gives you more information about your yarn. Submerge your swatch in cool or lukewarm water, and let it soak there for 5 minutes or so. Carefully remove it, gently squeezing out — not wringing out — the excess water. Lay your swatch on a folded towel and pat it smooth, then cover with the towel and press it several times. It will still feel a little damp, and it needs to air dry on a flat surface. You’ll notice that often your yarn will soften a bit, or “bloom.”
Measure your gauge. Once your swatch is dry, measure your gauge. Our customers LOVE the EZ PZ Gauge Ruler because it has a nifty, built-in magnifier! Use some kind of flat ruler (not a flexible measuring tape) to measure how many stitches you’re getting over 2–4 inches. Then divide by the number of inches to find your stitches per inch.
"All knitting is knitting."
That’s something that one of our Goat staffers says in the most encouraging way. She means that — even when knitting a swatch, or slogging through the final rows of your very long shawl — you're knitting, and it’s an opportunity to enjoy the craft you love.
Knitting a fitted garment is an investment of time and money. The goal is to create something that you enjoy while you’re making it, and that you’ll love wearing for years to come.