A knitted piece that is used to establish the stitch and row gauge of the chosen yarn and stitch pattern.
Swatching is essential to knitting items to the desired size.

When knitting SWATCHES, there are many things that can influence the GAUGE.
Let's explore the many factors that will affect the final gauge of the garment you are making.

The color of yarn

You may be surprised that the color of yarn will impact gauge.
When using the same brand and style of yarn, it is important to check the gauge for each color of the yarn.

The yarn samples shown are all Mary Lou's Symphony 4/15 (no longer available).It is easy to see that they vary greatly in diameter.
The different diameters are a result of different types of dyes and the amount of time spent in the dye bath.

While it is useful to keep track of dye lots for matching color, the gauge also changes from one dye lot to the next in the same color.

Yarn color and dye lots can impact gauge

How the yarn is wound on the cone

The yarn on the beginning of a cone is wound much tighter than the middle and end, as a result of how the machines wind the cones.

Because of the tight beginning on a cone, knitters from Japan routinely don't use the last 20% of the yarn on a cone in their garments because of the effect that this tightening has on the gauge of the knitted fabric.

Yarn that has been wound off a cone with a ball winder appears to be softer and less stretched than to the end, then it is logical to assume that the tension of a wound off ball will be different also.

NOTE: Don't forget .. you don't have to use yarn on cones with a knitting machine!

Tube and Rest

Once a swatch is knitted, the normal instruction is to "TUBE" the swatch and let it rest for 24 hours.

To tube, grasp the cast-on edge in one hand and the bind-off edge in the other hand and pull.
  • The needle spacing (4.5mm, 7mm, 9mm, etc.) on the machine creates an unnatural gap between the heads of the stitches.
  • The tensions of the mast and tension dial impede the flow of yarn and cause it to stretch.
  • The knitting is stretched across the needlebed
  • Weights on the knitting also tends to stretch it

Tubing corrects these problems by pulling this needle-spacing yarn into the stitch.

The 24-hour rest period allows the yarn to return to normal size.

Recording the measurements of several swatches before and after resting will demonstrate this change.
The stitches are set during blocking or washing. It is necessary to treat the swatch in the same order of resting, blocking, and washing, that you treat the garment in order to obtain the same gauge on both swatch and garment

Tubing and a 24 hour rest period allows the yarn and stitches to return to normal size.

To Pin or Not to Pin?

To pin or not to pin? I prefer to just lay the swatch on my blocking grid and allow the swatch to "do its own thing," rather than force a gauge on a swatch. A fabric allowed to do so will behave better in a garment, maintain its shape and generally out-perform a swatch that has been forced into an unnatural shape.

Recalculating the pattern for a new gauge may be necessary but it is not difficult.

Learn more about Gauge Conversion

If matching the gauge is necessary, launder the swatch several times to be sure it maintains the pinned shape.

With actual garment pieces, I usually pin into the correct pattern shape before blocking. Pinning garment pieces at this point confirms the desired shape and can correct any minor variations in gauge caused by some of the items covered in this article.

Carriage Speed

Carriage speed is another way of altering gauge. Moving the carriage fast does not allow the stitches to form fully. Develop a consistent medium speed and use that same speed for all knitting.

Use both hands to push and pull the carriage across the needlebed.


Weights will also drastically alter gauge. For example,a baby blanket pattern that I frequently use yields a light airy blanket if I use weights. The same pattern without weights yields a denser, smaller, warmer blanket.

I use this same "weight/no weight" system to alter the size of several baby sweater patterns that I use.

The subject of "to weight or not to weight" is controversial. Poll a group of knitters and you will get varied responses. Part of your learning curve is to discover what works for you based on your machine, stitch pattern and yarn


There is a "hidden" weight on all machines: the weight of the item being knitted.
For example, I carefully calculated the gauge I needed for a skirt. After the skirt was finished and assembled, it was nearly two inches longer than I had calculated.
The math was correct for the swatch gauge I had. The actual gauge at the cast-on edge was correct at 16 sts per inch, but the bind-off edge gauge was only 14 sts per inch. This was a result of stretching caused by the increasing weight of the piece as it was being knit.

Swatches for long items need to be made much longer or even full garment size to allow for this natural change in gauge.

Swatches for items like skirts that hang when worn should be knitted longer and allowed to hang as they rest and then measured while hanging. Some designers will hang weights across the bottom during the hanging- rest period to find the maximum length a swatch will grow.

This will give a much more accurate swatch and eliminate the problem I had with my skirt. While blocking or steaming will set the stitches of a swatch , gravity will pull down on these stitches and lengthen them again as they are worn.

Slippery yarns and cottons are more prone to stretching during wear (a sideways knit pattern will solve this).

Watch the video: Gauge and Drop

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