Why Do You Gauge Swatch?

Chantal Miyagishima2 Comments


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Oh Brother. The gauge swatch. How is it possible that such a tiny 4x4 inch square can give us such a headache.

I remember learning to knit and not understanding what a gauge swatch was, what the purpose of a gauge swatch was and why would I waste my time knitting a four inch square to only then start the project after? Fast forward a few years… oh if I could have bitch slapped my old self, I would have. So if your like 2014 Chantal, let’s break it down so you don’t make the same mistakes as I did.

What is a gauge swatch?

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A gauge swatch simply put is: A tension swatch. This is where the designer or knitter does up a 4x4 inch square in the main stitch of the pattern to see what their tension is like. Since we all knit and crochet differently, these can vary from maker to maker. Some of us are tight knitters, some of us are loose knitters. It all depends on how we wrap and tug the yarn on our needles/hooks. A gauge swatch is essentially done to see how fat and tall our stitches are. This gauge swatch is extremely important in designing, since it plays a pivotal role in the grading process of making a design fit different sizes.

EXAMPLE: When knitting with a 10mm needle, one stitch should be 10mm wide and 10mm high. This is because the yarn is being wrapped around a 10mm girth. Yarn size and wrap tension can drastically change this measurement though. Since I am a looser knitter it means that my stitches are usually wider and taller than 10x10 because I am loosely pulling the yarn around the needle and it ends a little floppy. A tighter knitter will find their stitches smaller and more uniform since they are tugging on the yarn and it cinches like an elastic band.

Why is a gauge swatch important to do?

Photo by @BizKnits on Instagram

Photo by @BizKnits on Instagram

When following a pattern, you’ll want to make sure that you’re getting the same tension that the original designer got. If you’re off in the gauge and not matching, it means that the dimensions of your finished piece will also be off. Though this seems not really important when making an item like a scarf, this can make or break how a garment fits. My motto is: If you don’t make a gauge swatch, and your sweater doesn’t fit, you can’t blame the designer cause you didn’t do your homework.

EXAMPLE: Say that a gauge swatch is 10sts x 15 rows to get a 4x4” square, and you gauge swatch and you’re coming out with 12sts x 15 rows =4x4'“. Though these two stitches seem close enough in width becuase they are a measly 2 stitches, they are actually going to add up and botch your final measurements in the long run.

Breaking it down: By having a higher number of stitches than the original designer, it means that you’re a tighter knitter and can fit more stitches into that 4” swatch than they did. Since that designer is basing their cast on number by their gauge swatch, your two stitches are going to eat into the next 4 inches, and then the next 4 inches, and then the next four inches.


Let’s use a different visual aid: Imagine getting to have 10 crackers a day for a week. If you eat 12 in the first day, you end up taking away from the next day. If you eat 12 the next day and the next day and continue to doing so instead of ten, you’re borrowing more and more from the following days until you don’t have any left for the last day of the week. You’ll run out of goldfish on day 5.8 out of 7. Put those into inches and you’ve now eaten up 4 inches of a gauge swatch. Meaning your sweater is now 4 inches too SMALL. Which is the difference of a whole garment size. Back to our knitting example: If the designer had to do the 4'“ swatch 9 times around to get around a 36” bust, you’ve now “eaten” up 18 stitches. That’s almost 8 inches! Meaning your piece will actually come out to 28” in circumference instead of 36. That’s a big difference!

What do you do if your gauge swatch doesn’t meet theirs?

There’s two ways you can have this happen. 1) You have more stitches or rows in your gauge swatch or 2) You have less stitches or rows in your gauge swatch.

What to do if you have more stitches in width fitting into 4”: Your stitches are too skinny. This means that you have a tighter swatch than the original designers. To match, you need to make your stitches bigger. Do this by either loosening up and maintaining that knit style without reverting back to your original style for the whole piece, or you can bump UP a needle size or two to get the same width of stitches.

What to do if you have less stitches in width fitting into 4”: Your stitches are too wide. This means that you are looser than the original designer. You need to make your stitches skinnier. You can do this by either tightening up and tugging more on the yarn and keeping that consistent tension throughout the piece, or you can bump DOWN a needle or two to get the same width and stitches.

What to do if you have more rows than the gauge: Your stitches are too short. Depending on the pattern you can either loosen up your knitting to make your stitches taller to take up more space in height, or you can manipulate the pattern by adding more rows to make up for being “short”. This of course will depend on the repeats in the pattern, and will also slightly change your yardage needed.

What to do if you have less rows than the gauge: Your stitches are too tall. Depending on the pattern you can either tighten up your knitting to make your stitches shorter, or you can manipulate the pattern by not doing as many rows. Again this depends on if it’s not a certain repeat of rows needed.

Tips for the perfect gauge swatch:

Photo by @theglitterknitter on IG

Photo by @theglitterknitter on IG

Gauge the way the pattern directs: If your pattern says to swatch in the round, swatch in the round and not flat. Example: If you’re working stockinette in the round in the pattern and you swatch with purling every second row in a flat gauge swatch, you’re gauge swatch will not be correct! purls don’t take up the same amount of room as knits. (Psst, there’s a trick to do this knitting flat, and it’s actually in the photo above!). if they ask you to block it, block it!

Cast on more stitches than directed: If the gauge swatch is 10 sts wide x 15 rows tall, make your gauge swatch bigger and cast on 15 stitches and knit 20 rows. This will make sure you’re not stretching the stitches, or not getting what your actual tensions is, because the last two stitches are curling in etc.

Don’t stretch your stitches: When measuring your gauge, don’t pull/tug or stretch your stitches to make it work. They need to be lying flat and with no force on them when measuring.

Trust a bigger gauge swatch: It’s a pain in the ass because you want to get going on your project, but the bigger the gauge swatch, the better you’ll understand what your tension is like. Going off of one inch sounds much faster, but it doesn’t guarantee those half stitches, or even the fact that you loosen or tighten up as you knit over a period of time.

Note your tension may change: If you’ve been swatching and swatching over again, you may be trying to knit differently to try to attain that gauge swatch measurment due to frustration - meaning when you actually knit like normal… you’re nowhere close to what you were trying to achieve and what you got. Keep checking your gauge throughout your piece to make sure you maintain the measurements you need to get the perfect finished object!

Ending: Gauge swatches are a pain in the ass. We want to get going and start our project and get going, BUT it is way better to rip out a 4x4 inch swatch, than your whole project when it doesn’t fit!

Have you ever had something not fit and realized gauge was to blame? Comment below!