Sunday, October 21, 2012

swatching in the round

When it comes to swatching, I'm pretty much like any other designer, and I'm going to tell you, that it is indeed, important. 

Sorry to sound like the Knitting Police, but if you want a garment that fits properly, you need to swatch (that and knit the right size for your child, but we might save that topic for another post!). 

I'm going to be honest and tell you, I don't swatch every time. *Gasp!*  

There are certain yarns that I knit with all the time at the same tension and same stitch pattern. If I'm knitting with one of those yarns I don't often bother to swatch if I've knit with it in the past three months. Any longer than that and I will. 

Because your tension does change over time. It can even change depending on your mood, your state on mind, or how relaxed you are. I used to be quite a tight knitter but as I've gotten older, my tension has changed.

I've just finished knitting quite a lot of projects in Red Riding Hood Yarns 'Belle' 8ply. I didn't bother swatching this yarn after the first garment, because quite frankly I was pretty sure what my tension would be and like any other knitter, I will take shortcuts if necessary. The Knitting Police will tell you I should have swatched for each project, but nah....

Recently, I've added the following note in my patterns in relation to swatching;

It is advisable to swatch both flat and in the round, and adjust your needles accordingly to ensure you maintain a consistent tension throughout this project.

I'm not sure why it never occurred to me before to be specific. To point out that a flat swatch isn't enough, or is even irrelevant if you're knitting the garment in the round.

 Let me show you why. 

This is a dress I knit in 2005.  It was knit all on 4mm needles. 

Can you see how in the top part of the photo the tension is tighter? That's where the knitting has gone from knitting flat to knitting in the round.  Obviously, I used to knit tighter in the round than I did flat, which is not unusual for many knitters, but it's not something that we as knitters often consider, or take into account when we swatch.

Had I swatched for this dress, both flat and in the round, I would have discovered that I needed to use a needle sizes smaller on the bodice, the flat section to obtain a consistent tension. The difference in tension is only one stitch over 4 inches, and it's not really that noticeable at a distance. If this was an adult garment, that one stitch difference could make a big difference in the finished size as opposed to the size you're expecting. Even with children's garments, a one stitch difference in tension can mean your finished garment will be at least a size out.

So how do you swatch in the round?

The first thing to remember is to swatch in the manner that you are going to knit. It sounds pretty obvious, but most links on the internet for swatching in the round use circular needles.  It's pretty pointless to swatch on circulars if you're going to be knitting using magic loop or dpns. If you're anything like me, your tension may be tighter when you use magic loop or dpns.

If, however, you're swatching for something like my Rainbow dress pattern, you can swatch using circulars like this:

you tube video from knittinghelp

or quite simply you can swatch on a 40cm circular. Seriously, it's not a great deal of stitches that you need to fill a 40cm circular and knit 5 inches.  I really like the idea of turning your swatch into a hat. I am contemplating including a matching hat pattern for every pattern I write from now on to be used as  the swatch!

If you're knitting something like a sleeve for a cardie and you're using my favourite needle length, a 30cm, there's no reason why you can't just swatch using your 30cm circular. You mightn't be able to accurately measure 4 inches, but if you can measure 2 inches that will be close enough.

As you become more experienced with your knitting, there are things that you learn about yourself as a knitter that you can apply to your swatching.  You may know that you knit tighter in the round than you do flat, so you might start off your swatch with a needle size larger than suggested for the tension. I magic loop tighter and have generally found if I'm magic looping using 4ply yarn I usually need to go up a needle size or two to get tension. 

illustration from Monste Stanley's 'Knitters Handbook'

It is important to knit a good size generous swatch, not one that measures just 4 inches or even a couple of inches! 

The Knitting Police will also tell you you need to wash, possibly hang and pin out your swatch to measure your tension.  Honestly, I'm not always that accurate when I 'm just personal knitting, even though I know I should be.  And I know that most knitters aren't either, particularly busy mums who knit for their kids. 

If I've been a bit lazy with my swatch, I do try to think about the behaviour characteristics of the yarn I'm knitting with and take that into account. For example, if it's a superwash yarn, I know I can expect a bit of growth, possibly both ways, upon washing and blocking.  Some of this can be counteracted with a quick trip to the dryer. 

What about you?
Are you a good swatcher?
Do you swatch, wash, pin and measure religiously?
Or do you take a more laissez-faire approach?


  1. I'm naughty when it comes to swatching too (sometime I do but mostly I don't)... I have heard that some knitters buy a new tape measure for each item the make but I don't do that either. I do use a row counter... So there may be hope for me yet ;-)

  2. Great post - refreshing to hear that you're normal about swatching too ;) I have a question for you - when you do design something new - do you start with the yarn or the pattern?

  3. I'm afraid I don't bother to swatch - but I tend to use the same yarn, same needles etc. If I've knitted the first few inches of a pattern, and it looks off, I'll frog.

    On another note, I just wanted to say something about 30cm circs - they are the most transformative knitting tool I've ever bought. They have changed sleeves from a chore to a pleasure, and are well worth the money. Thanks for the recommendation Georgie!

  4. I love the idea of a matching hat pattern to be used as a swatch! That would probably encourage me to stop cutting it quite so close with the yardage chicken too, if I were counting on extra for a hat...

  5. I am terribly lazy with swatching and not too good with blocking either. I just love being deep in a project, I limit my wips to 3. i prefer one project at a time, same as reading a book.

  6. I never swatch. I'm just too lazy, and I knit too slowly. My tension must be roughly within normal parameters because I've had anything not fit.

  7. It really depends what I'm knitting and if I've used the yarn before. If it's an adult garment then yes I will swatch and wet block properly but some things I might knit 2x2 inches, stretch it out a little and go with an estimated guess. I like what you wrote about understanding the fibre's properties. This plays a big role in my decision on gauge. I know alpaca and bamboo grow, so does superwash yarn. Cotton can sometimes shrink a bit. If I am knitting a garment I always wet block. It makes sense to me to understand how the fabric will react to moisture since we tend to wash our clothes on occasion :-)

  8. Thank you SO much for answering my FB question!! What an awesome post! I'm going to go with either making a hat (should've listened to EZ when I read her first book!), or the open-backed swatch from now on (thanks for the video link).

    I think I've been too worried about yardage, especially when I'm destashing, but Christmas resolution (because 2013 is still too many knits away) is to be a touch more diligent ;)


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