Painless Swatching: It IS Possible!

Let’s talk about one of the most-asked questions in knitting. It’s a questions we’ve all asked, and one that is heard daily here at The Yarn Patch.

“Do I have to swatch?”

To which I usually respond, “Not unless you want your project to turn out right.”


I think secretly we all know this. Deep down, we know the importance of gauge and the necessity of testing the yarn for all the little details like stretch, drape, comfort, and washability that can make or break a project. So why do we still fight swatching?

As a testament to the joys (yes, I said JOYS) of swatching, no one could write a better argument than “The Swatcher’s Manifesto” shared by Knitter’s Review.  If you struggle to work up the motivation to swatch, read this out loud to yourself, commit it to memory, and consider adopting it as the family motto on your coat of arms.

The moral of the story is this: you CAN love swatching. There’s no pressure to finish, you have complete freedom to experiment with needles and finesse your technique, and your reward is having confidence in your yarn choice and perhaps a better understanding of your upcoming project.

Have I convinced you yet of the benefits of swatching? GOOD! Now read on for a few of our best tips for swatching like a pro!


  1. EXPERIMENT. The point of swatching is not to painstakingly adjust your technique until you get exact gauge on the recommended needle size. It’s to find how you can most comfortably and effectively work with this yarn and this pattern. Try different needle sizes. Try different types of needles- many knitters have a preference for a certain material or shape, and your preference may even vary depending on the yarn itself! Any time you try something different, add a few rows of garter stitch to your swatch to mark where the change was made. You can also add a few purls on the right side to indicate what needle size was used- for example, four purls means you used a size 4 needle. (See both of these tricks in the swatch pictured above.) Experimenting as you swatch will help you get to know your yarn and the pattern so you get the best results.


2. TREAT YOUR SWATCH THE SAME AS YOUR KNITTING. There are many little details that affect gauge and other qualities of a knitted fabric. When swatching, it’s important to duplicate these details to get an accurate idea of what your finished project will look and feel like. If your project has an all over stitch pattern, you should probably knit your swatch in that stitch pattern, as Sheri did for the swatch pictured above. If your project is knitted in the round, consider knitting your swatch in the round, or else cutting your yarn at the end of every right side row and reattaching it at the other end to knit on the right side again. And don’t stop after you bind off! If you intend to block, machine wash, or felt your finished product, subject your swatch to the same process so you can evaluate the results. Below is the same swatch before and after being washed- not only did the appearance of the fabric change, but the gauge changed slightly as well. Treating your swatch just like you’ll treat your knitting will yield accurate results so that you can plan accordingly as you proceed with your project.

3. MEASURING GAUGE. There’s no way around it- the primary function of a swatch is to check your gauge. But this doesn’t have to be an exercise in scientific precision or higher mathematics! Simply lay your finished swatch on a flat surface and let it relax- resist the temptation to stretch it or squish it to the size you want! Place a ruler on top of the fabric with the 0 mark even with a column of stitches, preferably not the absolute edge. Count each stitch (they look like little V’s) from the 0 mark to the 4″ mark; if the 4″ mark lines up with the middle of a V rather than the side, count this as a half stitch. This number is your stitch count over 4″; if your pattern gives the gauge as a stitch count per 1″, simply divide this number by 4. Instead of counting stitches with the ruler in place, some knitters prefer to place pins at the 0 and 4″ marks, set aside the ruler, and count the stitches between the pins. Also, some knitters use a DPN or other small tool as a pointer to help them focus as they count. Try out these tricks (pictured below) and see which are helpful to you. Measuring gauge is critical to getting the size, shape, and feel you want for your finished project!

4. RELAX AND DON’T OVERTHINK. Knit as normal, letting  your tension develop naturally.  Now is not the time to nitpick, but to appreciate the process and get a feel for the yarn and pattern. After your swatch is finished, evaluate your results. How close are you to the recommended gauge? Do you like how your fabric looks and feels? Did you feel comfortable knitting it?

Remember, swatching is doesn’t have to be a painstaking process that follows rigid rules. It simply gives you insight into your knitting. Ultimately it’s up to your discretion and the only requirement is that you’re happy with your knitting! If that means going up or down a few needle sizes, trying a different technique, or choosing another yarn or pattern altogether, so be it. Now, aren’t you glad you swatched and learned all of that before you got halfway through the body of a sweater?


4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Sandra David
    Mar 30, 2016 @ 18:34:20

    Real knitters swatch, and swatch big! Thanks for excellent commentary and tips. Sometimes it’s hard to STOP swatching if you start playing the “what if” game. I like to buy a skein of the intended yarn and just have fun swatching with it. Then, if I decide to use that yarn for a project, I’ll purchase the project amount, considering any leftovers from the swatch skein.



  2. Pamela Shoemaker
    Mar 31, 2016 @ 09:34:48

    I am one of those Knitter’s that used to knit a small swatch, count, unravel and start my project! This last year, I have progressed into large swatches using several needle sizes and then wash. For me, knitting the larger swatch turned the dreaded swatch into an enjoyable experiment with my yarn.

    Reading the swatching manifesto has given me the idea of actually rubbing my yarn as I wash instead of treating it like a delicate pearl. Your blog has helped push me further. A big thank you. I loved the pictures.



  3. Kathy kithcart
    Apr 02, 2016 @ 09:35:52

    I love to swatch, it lets me try several different yarns. You can see how variegated, solids,tweeds ect look for the same project. Then sometimes when I’m in doubt I can always run it by Emily for some expert advise. Thanks



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