Thoughts on Gauge Swatches

Posted by Eleanor Burke on

I can't think about how many times and different ways I've approached this over the years but honestly, I don't think you could ever cover everything that needs covering and after some encounters in the shop lately I feel I can say a bit more...

I know most people don't love doing gauge swatches, but they're a huge source of information if you're able to look at them with a critical eye. I think a lot of the time people are scared just of the concept, confused, annoyed, or even angry just at the thought of a gauge swatch - it's kinda wild actually the emotions that they elicit! There's no morality to this - you're not working out if you're a good knitter or crocheter, or a bad one. There's no right or wrong way to knit or crochet - unless it's hurting you - it doesn't matter if you're tight or loose it just matters that the end result, and the process, is enjoyable to you. 

Gauge swatches are, amongst many other things, an exercise in matching your tension to the designer's. When people are designing knit and crochet patterns they're not just making the stitch counts up, it's all done by maths - sometimes quite complex maths. Ideally, if you match the gauge then you can knit the pattern as is and you'll get the size, shape and effect that you liked the look of from the original pattern. 

The act of making the tension square isn't the point; getting the same gauge as the designer is the point. So, if you don't get the gauge you need to rework the square. If it doesn't measure what it should measure, then you need to do something about that. There is no point whatsoever in making a gauge swatch, getting the wrong gauge and then carrying on regardless. You might as well have not made the swatch. 

If you have too many stitches in your swatch, that means the stitches are too small and you need to go up a needle or hook size. If you have too few stitches in your swatch, that means the stitches are too big and you need to go down a needle or hook size. Then you need to redo the swatch and start again.

You do not need to change your knitting or crochet style!!!! Unless it's hurting you, if you're happy and comfortable with how you're knitting or crocheting then you change your tools you don't change yourself. How's that for a lesson in life? 

Another alternative, rather than redoing the swatch would be to change the size that you make. You'd do this if you really feel you can't get gauge or if you're in love with the tension that you've created - sometimes a certain tension will make a yarn absolutely sing so work with it, rather than trying to squeeze the designer's will onto it.

So, if you have too many stitches in your swatch, that means that the stitches are too small, so you would do a bigger size. If you have too few stitches in your swatch, that means the stitches are too big and you'd do a smaller size.

Doing this might mean you have to fanny about a bit with rows but that's for another blog.

Have you noticed I'm only talking about stitches, not rows? For the most part, the size of the garment is defined by the width of the stitch rather than the height of it and that's impossible to change once it's set. As in, you can decrease or increase to go in or out, but the cast on or the initial chain will be the size set, so it needs to be the right size. Rows can be adjusted pretty easily by literally making more or less of them (it gets bit more complicated if they involve shaping but again, that's for another blog). 

And finally, you should be doing this whether you're using the 'right' wool or not. Again, no morality to choosing the yarn that the designer sets (I'm sure the wool companies wouldn't agree 'you must use the yarn suggested in the pattern or your local pet shelter will explode'). Choose the yarn that sets your heart on fire, or suits your budget, or feels good on your skin - whatever. I mean, it should probably be roughly similar to the suggested yarn, as in, use a chunky or a dk or whatever is suggested but feel free to mess around with textures and fibres. Your friendly yarn shop owner should be helping you with ideas about what will and won't work - and if they don't, or can't, then shop elsewhere. *cough cough* here *cough cough*. 

Another reason I'm thinking about swatches is because I'm determined to make one in knitting and in crochet in every yarn in the shop. I've been thinking about it for a while but I actually started the project the other day when I went to see Bob Dylan - and you can see the results from that at the side (I think that's where it turns up anyway). I'm going to stick to relatively simple stitches but try and provide a wide variety and maybe I'll get around to writing up the patterns I come up with on the blog. Or maybe I'll just rely on Casper to write these until I get another bee in my bonnet. 

Lovely to chat to you all, goodbyyyyyyyyyye, 
Love Eleanor. xxx

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