The quick answer is no, but you probably should.
I have noticed that most people view making a knitted swatch like a kind of “eat your vegetables” or “remember to floss” kind of task, but full disclosure: I love to swatch!!
For me swatching is this lovely getting to know ya kinda time between me and my yarn. It’s when I take it out and see what it can do. How does it feel running through my fingers? What does the colour look like when it is knit up? What’s the texture really like? All these questions are asked and answered during the swatching stage. If I am not in-love after the swatch is done I do not carry on with that yarn for that project. Full stop!
You may not feel the same about swatching, but besides the forementioned benefits there are a few things you should know about swatching before you pass it over.
Why you should swatch
Besides the opportunity to get to know your yarn and find out if it suitable for your project the most compelling reason to swatch is that it is best method we have to ensure that our projects end up the size that we intend them to be. This is pretty important. It is awfully disappointing to spend hours and hours of your time and money on yarn, not to mention blood, sweat and tears and end up with a garment that is unwearable.
How to swatch
A swatch is a square (or rectangle) of knitting made with the yarn and needles you intend to use for your project.
You should be able to measure a 10cm / 4 inch square within your swatch.
Here is a little recipe for FLAT stocking stitch swatch:
To establish how many to cast on: check your pattern for the gauge over 10cm / 4 inches. Lets use the example of 18 sts per 10cm. Add on some stitches for a garter stitch border (about 3 on each side =6). The border will prevent your swatch from curling and make it easier to measure. I like to add a few more stitches because the stitches next to the borders tend to be wobbly (about 2 on each side =4). So for this example cast on 18 +6+4= 28 sts.
Start with about 4 rows of garter stitch for the bottom border (that is knit every row). Then work 4 stitches in garter stitch for the border, place a marker if you like, work the next stitches in stocking stitch (that is knit a row, purl a row) till the last 4 stitches, place a marker and work these last stitches in garter stitch for the other border. Continue in this matter till you have over 10cm to measure for the row gauge. Finish with about 4 rows of garter stitch for a border and cast off.
Block your swatch! – This is really important because sometimes yarn changes after it is wet. Often it will stretch. I usually measure my swatch before and after blocking to see if it stretched. Blocking is just wetting your swatch (soak it for at least 15 minutes) and squeeze out the water and let it dry flat.
If your project is knit in circles then you will also have to SWATCH IN CIRCLES too! This is also really important. I wrote a whole blog post about this back in 2013. I have updated it with a few extra notes and a video. If you need to swatch in circles then check it out HERE, and I’ll post the video here for a quick reference.
Note: If your pattern calls for a swatch “in pattern” that means it is not knit in stocking stitch but in the texture indicated in the pattern. When you are creating this swatch you with need the number of stitches within the borders to work with that particular stitch pattern. Some stitch patterns lie flat and those ones you will not need to add borders.
How to measure a swatch
Once your swatch is dry, get out your ruler.
Measure 10cm in the middle of your swatch across a row of stitches, and count the stitches. If you find that you have too many stitches within 10cm you are working too tightly and should try your swatch again with a larger needle size. If you find you that you have too few stitches within 10cm you are too loose and will have to try with a smaller needle size.
Now measure your row gauge. Change the direction of your ruler so that is vertical along a column of stitches. Count the rows over 10cm. More rows = tight = bigger needle. Less rows = loose = smaller needle.
Note: In most cases it is the Stitch Gauge that is way more important than the row gauge. In many patterns lengths are given in measurements rather than number of rows. In this case you just knit to a certain measurement and the numbers of rows is irrelevant. Even if this is not true in your pattern it is easier to make adjustments to lengths rather than widths in most knitting projects. So what I am saying is concentrate your efforts on getting that stitch gauge.
Some swatching secrets
- make your swatch flat if your pattern calls for flat knitting and make it in rounds if it calls for circular knitting
- block your swatch
- measure before and after blocking
- stitch gauge is more important
…but here is something that most knitters will not want to admit but I will tell you. Sometimes even if we go to the trouble to make a swatch and you get perfect results; sometimes things still go off the rails. The reason is this: human beings are inconsistent. Your knitting tension when you swatched and when you knit your project may differ based on what was going on when you knit it. I once did some knitting in a hospital emergency room and that knitting was about five times tighter than my normal tension. Even when you are perfectly relaxed when you are knitting the difference in the size and weight of the swatch verses the size of your project may make you hold your knitting differently and alter your tension. So why go to the trouble of all this swatching? – you might ask! The answer is that is the best tool we have to get the best results. Most of the time the swatch will tell the tale and you will be able to follow it’s lead. Here are my last tips and they will help if the swatching does lets you down:
- while you are knitting your project – check your gauge every once in a while.
- while you are knitting compare the dimensions of your knitted project to the finished dimensions or schematic measurements given in the pattern and make sure you are on the right track.
When can you skip the swatch
In cases when projects are small (a hat, mittens etc) most knitters do not swatch. You can use the above advice (check your gauge and measure your knitting as you go) to make sure that your project is coming out the right size.
You can also do this for larger projects if you dare. It will just mean there may be a lot of unravelling and starting again along the way.
Good luck with your swatching or your “not swatching”!