Swatching is the first step in working with bespoke yarns and fundamental to the outcome of your project. It determines three inter-related gauges: knitting, blocked and finished. The key is to identify the knitting gauge that will produce a finished fabric – one that has been washed and blocked – with the desired or required texture, hand and gauge. Follow the directions below when swatching either with the aim of substituting a bespoke yarn in a pattern with a specified gauge or to determine the gauges to be used for an original design. Use the bespoke weight table as a starting point to help identify the yarn weight and needle size for the finished gauge.
Using the same yarn as for the garment, work three identical swatches in the intended stitch pattern – a minimum of 10”/25.4 cm square as the anticipated finished dimension – each with the same number of stitches and rows and with the same selvedge stitch. Work each swatch with a different size needle: one with the size needle called for by the pattern directions; one with a needle one size larger; and one with a needle one size smaller. If you normally deviate from the recommended needle size in order to achieve gauge, then adjust the sizes of the three needles accordingly. If you are swatching for an original design, begin with the size needle you would normally use for that particular weight of yarn and pattern stitch to achieve the finished gauge you have in mind. As they are finished, mark each swatch in some way that will allow it to be identified once it has been washed and blocked. Take an accurate stitch and row gauge of each swatch before washing and blocking and make careful notes of these gauges and the needle size used to obtain each of them. These are the knitting gauges for each swatch and, thus, for each needle size. They will provide critical reference during the actual fabrication of the piece. Wash the swatches following the washing directions included in this Field Guide and block them to a length and width that are each 105% greater than the anticipated or desired finished gauge would generate. For example, if you are swatching for a finished stockinette gauge of 6 stitches and 8 rows per 1”/2.5 cm, a 10”/25.4 cm swatch would be worked over 60 stitches, plus selvedge stitches, and 80 rows, plus cast-on and bind-off. The stockinette portion of each of the swatches – exclusive of the selvedge stitches and the cast-on and bind-off rows – would be blocked to 10.5” x 10.5”/25.4 cm x 25.4 cm.
Once the swatches have dried completely, unpin them from the blocking surface and note how they respond. If a swatch retracts immediately from its blocked dimension more than .375”/.95 cm, then the knitting gauge was too tight and the needle size too small. A swatch that relaxes beyond the blocked dimension once unpinned, or that was clearly larger than the blocking dimension when initially pinned to the blocking surface and did not retract as it dried, has been worked at a knitting gauge that was too loose and on a needle size too large. Retain for further consideration only those swatches that, when unpinned, initially maintain their blocked dimension with only minimal retraction. These are the swatches whose knitting gauge and needle size are valid for the yarn weight and stitch pattern that are being swatched. Remove any blocking wires if they have been used and allow the swatches to relax at least 24 hours. This enables the fiber that has been slightly stretched by the blocking to reach its natural loft and finished gauge. If the yarn weight, needle size and gauge are correct, the swatches should return to 10” x 10”/25.4 cm x 25.4 cm. Once again, take accurate stitch and row gauges of each swatch after it has relaxed to 10”/25.4 cm square and note these gauges along with their corresponding knitting gauges and needle sizes. This new set of gauges reflects the finished gauge of each of the swatches. This finished gauge is the one that will give the finished garment its size and shape and is the gauge that should be compared with the one in the pattern, if you are swatching to substitute yarns. If you are swatching for an original design, this is the gauge that will be used for your design calculations, as this is where the knitted fabric will settle once the piece has been finished. This finished gauge is also the gauge at which the fabric will have the texture, hand and drape of the swatch.
After this process, if more than one swatch has remained in consideration, what should determine your final choice among the swatches is the finished fabric itself, its texture, hand and drape, and its suitability to the design. The choice is at your discretion. In making this choice it is important to remember that a knitted fabric that is loosely structured, open or airy, and that feels “thin” will neither wear well nor keep its shape. Similarly, a fabric that is dense, stiff and inelastic will be uncomfortable to wear and will tend to take on the appearance of a fulled garment, properties that are inconsistent with the characteristics prized in a handknit. The preferred fabric should have structure without being too dense, a hand suited to the yarn as well as to the design, and a texture that reveals any stitch work in clear and crisp relief if that is the intent. If none of the three swatches produces a satisfactory gauge and/or fabric, then the swatching process must be repeated and the needle sizes adjusted according to the results obtained from these swatches and their relationship to the desired gauge or fabric.
Once you have chosen a swatch, you will have a set of three gauges, knitting, blocking and finished. The knitting gauge was derived from the swatch before it was washed and blocked, the finished gauge is the gauge the swatch achieves after it has relaxed at least 24 hours following the washing and blocking. The blocking gauge, is implicit, but is equivalent to 105% of the finished gauge, assuming that the blocked swatch relaxed to its anticipated dimension. The knitting gauge is critical during the fabrication as this is the gauge that must be maintained and checked as the fabric is knit. The finished gauge serves as reference for the calculations that will determine the blocking dimensions for both the initial and final blocking. Dimensions for the final blocking are always calculated at 100% of the finished gauge; dimensions for the initial blocking are calculated at 105% of the finished dimensions.
In those instances when garment construction or the need for high relief in a textured stitch pattern make this blocking technique impossible, these guidelines for swatching will need to be adapted accordingly.
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