Last week, I made a reel about reasons to love swatching, and put out a call in my Instagram Stories asking you what your biggest questions about swatching are. I answered what felt like a thousand questions about all your swatching concerns! I understand that for even seasoned knitters, swatching can be a stressful time if you don’t know what you’re looking for or it isn’t done extremely consistently.
I’ve compiled some of the more frequently asked questions here and my answers for them. I hope this is helpful to you so you can demystify swatching and go forth and enjoy it! For real! They are super fun.
Why do I have to wash swatches? Do I have to do it even when the pattern doesn’t tell me to?
Yes, you absolutely do. If you’re going to wash your finished object, then you need information on how much that yarn is gonna grow and change, and how the fabric will be have once it’s wet. Blocking happens because natural fibers such as wool, alpaca, etc will change on wash. During the process of carding, combing, and spinning, the crimp in wool fiber has been stretched out, and during knitting, some additional twist has been added by the act of knitting. When wool is washed then left to dry, the crimp returns and it has ‘memory’ of how crimpy the fiber wants to be. This will then affect not only the gauge, but how the fabric lays and drapes.
This is also why you do NOT have to swatch more than once. This is a process that is the most dramatic the first time, and on subsequent washes I wouldn’t really stress out it.
Do you have to pin your finished objects for blocking?
This might be unpopular, but no. The process of blocking, like I said, happens on a fiber level. The only reasons I would pin would be for
- Lace, because you need to pin to get the eyelets to show to their best advantage, but you also will have to do this EVERY TIME you wash because it’ll always want to go crinkly.
- Curly edges. I hardly ever knit things that require this, but if you have a stockinette edge, you’ll have to pin every time to stop it from curling.
Do you steek a swatch to test the yarn? I’m so nervous.
Yes, I do. A swatch is the perfect chance to not only measure your gauge but also practice new and maybe stressful techniques. I also try things like ruffles, new-to-me button holes (especially to make sure it’ll fit the buttons I bought for the project), and unfamiliar neckline bind off shapes or types.
Do I have to swatch in the round? I really don’t want to.
Sorry, yes. I have said it before and I’ll say it again… most people have a different purling gauge than their knitting gauge and you just really need to make sure that you are swatching in the same way that the sweater will be constructed. So, if your sweater is in the round, then you need to swatch in the round. If your sweater is knit flat and seamed, then you swatch flat.
Do you swatch for socks? Are there any projects you don’t swatch for?
There sure are! For small accessories like hats, socks, and mittens, it pretty much knits up so fast that I’ll knit a good 4-5 inches of it, try it on, and move right along. For items that are not gauge-sensitive like blankets and shawls, swatching might be a good idea, as you might need more yarn if your gauge is off. But many people don’t swatch for those items. As long as you are sure you can get more of your project yarn, I think it’s fair game.
What do I do with pre- and post- block numbers?
Write your per 4 inch / 10 cm gauge down before after blocking. I also like to make sure I have them written out ‘per inch’ also so that I can track my gauge throughout time while knitting. I find the before-blocking gauge helpful because then I can measure along the way and make sure my gauge is still on track. the post-blocking gauge can be helpful for calculating mods and lengths as you go.
What if I run out of yarn because I used some up to swatch? Do I have to buy extra yarn?
My patterns, and most industry-standard patterns that are tech edited well, include at least 5% extra yardage listed in the pattern for accessories. Most have 10%! And I would say that most designers include 10% or more buffer for garments. Plus, if you don’t swatch and your gauge is too big, you’ll definitely run out of yarn because you are knitting too much fabric for the garment size you are knitting!
When did you start loving swatching? I still hate doing it and I want to like it.
I frame swatching as part of a slow and enjoyable making process. To me, it’s a first date with the yarn.. in which I can slowly fall in love, make and touch the fabric I’m planning to create… and see how it behaves. When you frame making as an enjoyable slow-making experience, and you are trying to take everything in and be present in the moment… then you might find that you enjoy swatching more.
How do you organize your swatches? What do you do with them after?
Ok, I’m really bad at it.. but ideally you should tag it with a tag that tells you what yarn you used, what needle you used, and what gauge it was at before and after blocking. That way if you are making another pattern from the same yarn you’ll have that information to start with.
Don’t be so quick to discard your swatch though–you might need that yardage finish the garment if you run out of yarn, or repair it in the future if you wear a hole into it. It can be a great thing to keep around and labeled for that reason.
I’ve heard of making a beanie as an alternative to swatching in the round. Thoughts?
It’s great, but requires a little work to figure out your cast on count, number of repeats, how you’re gonna decrease at the crown.. all those things. But if you are happy to do that instead of swatching in the round, then more power to you!
Any tips for swatching with short color repeat yarn or variegated?
Sorry, no. Pooling is super hard to predict and thus I don’t factor it into my swatching. Maybe someone else will do this differently though.