Hello, I’m Ann Weaver. And I’m here to talk about swatching.
I’m not going to tell you how important it is, because if you like garments that fit, or if you want to know that the yarn you’ve chosen will be good for the pattern you’ve chosen, you already know how important it is. I’m going to talk about HOW to swatch to get the most accurate sense of gauge and stretchiness possible. One of the ways to do this is to swatch in the round. I’m serious! And to demonstrate how serious, I’ve taken a cue from Homeland Security and created a Swatching in the Round Advisory System.
I’m here to protect you from disappointing gauge. And it won’t include more thorough airport screenings.
GREEN: LOW RISK OF INCORRECT GAUGE
The first situation in which to consider swatching in the round is if you’re making something that will be knit in the round on circular needles that does NOT included stranded colorwork. Think about it: If you’re knitting a Stockinette stitch pullover in one piece, in the round, why swatch back and forth? Your row gauge might be different when you’re purling every other round than when you’re knitting every round, which is what you’ll be doing for the actual project.
Let me emphasize: Designs that include stranded colorwork or slipped-stitch patterns are NOT code green. I’ll talk about them more below.
This is a low-risk situation, because in most patterns row gauge is less critical than stitch gauge, but why NOT swatch in the round? Use a 16-inch circular needle of the type (wood or metal; ideally the same brand) you’ll use for the project, or use two circulars or magic loop.
BLUE: GUARDED RISK OF INCORRECT GAUGE
The danger of incorrect gauge increases a little if you’re planning to use double-pointed needles for your project. I find that my gauge is a bit tighter when I use double-pointed needles than when I knit straight or use circular needles, perhaps because I’m trying to pull the yarn tight at the points between the needles to avoid unsightly gappy stitches. In any case, when I’m going to use dpns, I always swatch in the round.
If you don’t use dpns, this category still applies to you. If you’re going to use two circulars or magic loop, especially if you’re relatively new to these methods, swatch using the method you’re planning to use for the project. Why not?
When I made these mitts, I did a tiny back-and-forth swatch and then cast on. They were far too loose; fortunately, I didn’t get far before I realized this. However, the back-and-forth swatch was a total waste of time. I should have just cast on, started knitting, put the project on waste yarn to measure the gauge when I had completed about an inch, and try the mitt on before proceeding.
Again, I’m not talking about stranded or slipped-stitch patterns here. Just the single-color-at-a-time projects.
Seriously, if you’re going to swatch for a sock or a fingerless mitt, don’t you want to make sure it fits over your hand/foot? Swatching in the round will ensure that it does. I’ll talk about this more below.
GRELLOW: SIGNIFICANT RISK OF INCORRECT GAUGE
Here’s where things get serious. If you’re doing stranded colorwork in the round (which, unless you’re following a Rowan pattern the way it’s written—what is up with the back-and-forth colorwork?), it’s vital to swatch in the round. Why?
First, when you create a stranded fabric you need to consider both gauge and stretchiness. Your fabric will not have the give that a single-color-at-a-time fabric will. And if you’re working on something that needs to fit but is intended to fit snugly, like a a hat, mitts, or socks, you might be surprised that, although your gauge is correct, your item will not fit on your head/hand/foot. It’s really, really nice to know this before completing a project, right?
In addition, your gauge in stranded pattern might be significantly different from your gauge in Stockinette stitch—most likely it will be tighter. If you’re knitting a project that includes stranded colorwork, make your swatch from the stranded part of the project rather than in Stockinette stitch. It’s far better for the non-stranded part of the project to be a little looser than the recommended gauge than for the stranded part to be tighter.
When I’m experimenting with different stranded patterns for projects like hats, pullover yokes, or mitts, I always swatch in the round. I then put the swatch on waste yarn and leave the stitches live so I can add to the swatch later.
A swatch knit in the round could be the difference between a shoulder-strangling yoke and great success. Or between the hat you really wanted and the hat you give to one of your children or tiny-headed friends.
When I swatched for my first published pattern, Neiman, I made a big swatch in the round. Hooray thinking!!!
Okay, I’m going to lump orange (high risk of incorrect gauge) and red together, because I don’t think there’s much of a semantic difference between “high” and “severe.” Copyeditor Ann should have been consulted before this system was finalized.
RED: SEVERE RISK OF INCORRECT GAUGE
Braids, welts, and unusual multicolored stitch patterns worked in the round. These elements can tighten your gauge and make an inflexible fabric.
I swatched for the Go Dutch! mittens in the round to make sure the braids would fit over an average-sized hand.
I was hoping this swatch, in which I’m experimenting with different striping and textural techniques, could become one of a set of fingerless mitts. Turns out the welts (the textured part at the beginning of the tube) make it VERY difficult to pull on, even though the regular striped Stockinette stitch portions are perfect. That’s why this is a SWATCH. It taught me what I wanted to know about using welts as a design element.
So just do it—swatch in the round when it makes sense. Thanks for taking the time to learn the Swatching in the Round Advisory System.