What is a gauge swatch? It is a pain! A hassle to knit so find out what it is, why and when it is a good idea for one. And how to do it quickly!
A gauge swatch, also known as a tension square, is supposed to be a square piece of knitting that contains the gauge. You are supposed to knit this before beginning your knitting project so that you are sure your finished project will be the size you are expecting.
What is gauge?
In a typical knitting pattern, you will see something like this:
Gauge: 16 stitches and 24 rows = 4 inches / 10 cm
This means that your knitting should produce 4 inches of knitted fabric consisting of 24 rows and 16 stitches using the recommended yarn and knitting needles.
Gauge tells you the specific number of rows and stitches you should expect to make up 4 inches or 10 cm. Gauge affects the size of your knitting.
Why is gauge important?
If I am knitting dishcloths, blankets, or bags, I am not going to check gauge by knitting gauge swatch. It is not a big deal. But I will do so for socks, hats, gloves, and fitting garments.
Why? Because I want my knitted items to fit me and the people I knit them for.
Personal experience taught me that the type of yarns I used, the type of needles I use, and the stitches or textures I am knitting affect how tight or loose my knitting is. So, if I want my finished project to have the same measurement as that of the pattern I am using, I must check my tension against the given gauge.
The recommended way of doing this is by knitting a gauge swatch or a tension square. The general instructions are to make it, wash it, and dry it before measuring.
How To Knit a Gauge Swatch?
The simplest way is to cast on the desired number of stitches and knit the desired number of rows. The most common complaint of this method is uneven edges and curling. This makes measuring them difficult. Another complaint is the likelihood of the swatch or square being too small.
The video tutorial below recommends adding a garter stitch border around the square and adding additional stitches and rows. I find this video quite comprehensive for a beginner knitter. At the 15 min mark, she demonstrates how to count the stitches and rows, which is the whole point of knitting the swatch.
I find measuring and counting stitches and rows in a gauge swatch a real pain. Fortunately, there are tools to help. One of them is a tension square ruler.
What happens when your gauge is different?
I think I can say for all knitters that when we start a tension square, we want to achieve the gauge. Because if we don’t, it means doing it all over again. Ugh!
But missing gauge happens more often than we want it to. So what do we do when we do not get the right gauge?
Firstly, we can ignore the gauge. A knitter wrote that just being aware is enough. This works for items that may not need the perfect fit. I would ignore gauge for mittens, scarfs, cowls, shawls especially if it is off by a little.
If we cannot ignore it, then we need to interpret the gauge difference.
1. What To Do When There are Too Few or Too Many Rows
If you have more rows than recommended, your project will be too long. If you have fewer rows, your project will be too short.
It is unlikely that your mismatched gauge will only be in the rows. But if it is, there is no need to change anything, just knit more or fewer rows to get the measurement.
2. What To Do When There are Too Few or Too Many Stitches
Too many stitches meant that the tension is tight. The project is going to be smaller than expected. The remedy is to use larger needles.
Too few stitches meant that the tension is loose, the project is going to be larger than expected. The remedy is to use smaller needles.
Change the Yarns
Another way to get the gauge is to substitute the yarns. So far, most instructions assume you are using the recommended yarns. So the suggestion is to change the needles. But changing yarns is also an option.
Change How You Knit
I knit using the English style most of the time. But I do know how to do Continental. I noticed my tension is looser when I knit using the Continental style. So, I may choose to use the Continental style to knit items that are tight.
If you are a tight knitter too, you can try practising loosening up a bit.
Shortcuts to Knitting the Tension Square
Although I know what is a gauge swatch and how to knit the gauge swatch, I still do not like knitting them. I am not an A+ student in knitting. So, are there shortcuts?
I think so.
I came across this gauge ruler that only has a measurement for 2 inches (affiliate link).
When I saw it, a thought came to me. Does this mean I do not need to knit 4 inches worth of stitches and rows? 2 inches would do? It would literally halve the time needed.
I can understand why 4 inches was recommended. Without a measuring tool, 2-inch squares would be too small to measure properly.
Techknitter of https://techknitting.blogspot.com suggested knitting practical objects such as potholders and quilt squares to measure gauge instead of tension squares. It is not a shortcut, per se but it definitely appeals to the practical knitter. More details at https://techknitting.blogspot.com/2007/02/gauge-less-gauge-swatches-or-dating.html.
She also suggests thinking of knitting a tension square as yarn dating. Does it make it more appealing?