Getting Gauge: Swatches Lie

This is how I make a swatch. I sit in my chair and cast stitches for 4”/10cm. I knit and purl carefully, watching every stitch. I’m impatient because all I really want to do is cast on for my project. I look at it after every single row, asking if this is big enough yet and usually stop too soon. I get out my ruler and measure my gauge. Close enough yet? Do I need to change needles and try some more? Nah, I’ll just change needles and cast on my project. It will be close enough.


This is how I knit the project. I knit while watching TV, waiting in line with the yarn jammed awkwardly in my bag, in the car when I’m not driving of course, while listening to audio books or talking to knitting friends. I can knit without looking at every stitch so I don’t. I use markers to tell me where to pay attention because quite often I’m thinking of something else.

I wonder why swatches don’t work for me.

  1. Obviously we all need to knit swatches while sitting in the car, talking to the driver about the last very exciting audio story where, in order to make our point, we have to keep putting our knitting down to wave our hands around.
  2. We need to knit a swatch so big that you can’t hide how you are really going to knit this sweater after the first 3” where you’re paying careful attention. The more you knit, the truer your gauge will be. Swatches could turn into hats, wristers, cowls, pillow covers or a square for an afghan. Extra cost is involved but an amazingly reliable swatch results.
  1. Start your sweater/project with a part you can live with if it’s not quite the perfect size. Use the sleeve as a swatch and change needles as you go. Does your sweater have a pocket? Well maybe it needs one now that you think of it. I’m a loose knitter so starting at the bottom where a sweater might end up bigger is no problem. More wiggle room is needed there anyway.
  1. Knit as big a swatch as you can stand to get in the ball park. Learn to modify as you go. This is my solution. That’s why I knit Top Down. This may seem like winging it and maybe it is but it works.

The true worth of a swatch is in the washing. This is a Gauge-Free Triangle hat in 100% wool (not superwash) and uses the first of two triangles for sizing. My swatch is part of the garment and is big. Garter Stitch is a stretchy fabric so I’m thinking it’s going to relax. I threw it in a bath. Yes, needle and all.

20170923_095046 - Copy

After washing the triangle is 1” wider so now I can adjust for the right size and carry on. A good sized swatch, check, knit while watching TV, check,  washed as it’s going to be when finished, check. Good to go.

Thanks for reading,


Any Gauge and Gauge-Free patterns by Deb

Cabin Fever patterns

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Author: debgemmellmods

I'm a Knitter. The capital K means every day, everywhere. I'm co-owner of Cabin Fever with my sister Lyn. We have published over 100 patterns and 11 books. I'm also working on a new set of patterns for Any Gauge knitting. Dive into your stash and cast on for a Top Down sweater that fits, or an accessory to use up those odd balls of yarn.

9 thoughts on “Getting Gauge: Swatches Lie”

  1. I also notice that I can use the same yarn for a project but using needle sets made of different substance Denise or Nickel coated. One project comes out way large..So I have to choose the same needles for the yarn if I do another project and don;t want to swatch.
    I learned through the school of hard knocks to wash my swatches . Your post advice today is spot on!


  2. Hi Deb,
    there is a thread about your blog on Ravelry (give you a magic link there) where I have written:
    I´m not sure if I understand the blog post right, but to knit a good gauge/swatch, it is (very) important, to knit this always bigger than 10×10 cm! So 15x15cm is perfect to figure out the stitches and rows for 10x10cm in the middle of the gauge/swatch!
    I hope my writing is understandable – my native language is german.

    Another user has this better formulated: “The larger the swatch, the more accurate the information.”

    Many greetings to you from germany :-);

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That is exactly right. The bigger the swatch the more accurate it is. You relax as you knit so the swatch represents the gauge your sweater is going to have.


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