In Defense of Swatching

Most knitting patterns (and knit designers) highly encourage the knitting of a gauge swatch - that little piece of knitted pattern that will tell you how many stitches and rows are needed to make the finished piece the right size. From the swatch, the knitter can adjust needle size, yarn type, number of stitches or rows, or even tension to ensure that the piece turns out exactly as the designer expected.

Photo stolen from - awesome blog!

Swatching is particularly important when making something that needs to fit - a sweater or skirt, for example. However, you can usually get away without swatching a scarf or hat. Adjustments can be made while knitting to correct any minor size issues and, frankly, these are not items that generally need to "fit".

Because I don't, generally, knit clothing that needs to fit, I always found swatching to be an unnecessary chore. Honestly, I've probably only swatched a few things - most recently the pattern that Cassandra and I designed for What (Else) Would Madame De Farge Knit?. Swatching was necessary there because we had three people test knitting and we needed to ensure some consistency in the size.

So... there was one reason to swatch: to ensure gauge while designing your own pattern.

Then, almost by accident, I stumbled on reason number two for swatching - figuring out if you like a particular yarn for a pattern.

Not my actual swatches. Kudos to whomever did them.

Now, truth be told, I was testing various yarns and needles sizes in order to create a particular "look" for another thing we're designing. However, it occurred to me that I could do this with EVERY pattern. How many times have I picked a yarn because I loved it and a pattern because I loved it, but then disliked the finished product because it didn't drape right or the fabric was too stiff?  How easy would it have been to spend some time knitting up a bit of the pattern in a few different yarns to see which one I liked best? Just so you know... I'm totally doing this from now on.

I'm sure that some of you seasoned knitters out there are chuckling at my sudden swatching enlightenment. You know I still consider myself, at best, an intermediate knitter. I'm constantly stumbling on this kind of stuff - ideas that make knitting easier or better in some way. And I'm always surprised when someone says, "Oh yeah... I've been doing that for years!"

So, hopefully, there are a few of you out there who, like me, didn't give swatching its due and will now, at least, see some value in the process.

- Alex


  1. Aw, heck. Sometimes it still takes me until the end of a knitting project to decide I didn't like the drape right, etc? And how many times have I made a gauge swatch and gotten gauge, only to have the finished product be too small? (Okay, this is probably partly due to the fact that I don't like to admit that I need a bigger size.)

  2. I don't normally knit things that need to fit either, although I did knit a poncho this past winter. Should ponchos fit, however? Anyway, I've never made a swatch. I guess I've ignored that step...probably out of laziness, but it's a good idea I'm sure.

  3. @Ronda - LOL! That would be my issue too. "A size medium should TOTALLY fit, right?"

    @Angela - I imagine that, like me, you'll eventually find some usefulness in it. I consider myself a reluctant convert at this point. :)

  4. Swatching is definitely a good idea... I don't always bother, I must admit, but when I do it's worth it :)

  5. Interesting blog...... BUT: I can't knit. Wish i could, but it just escapes me. Lots of people have tried but no luck. I can quilt, cross stitch, embroider and crochet. Perhaps I will just stick to those and leave the knitting to all you clever ladies......

    .....Still wish i could knit though!