For Perfectionist Knitters Only: How To Knit a Gauge Swatch In a Hurry

Are you the kind of knitter who thinks you "should" knit a gauge swatch -- and hardly ever does?

Tiny Araucanía swatch - lilac
Even perfectionist knitters can learn to make a quick gauge swatch.

Do you say things like...

  • "I really should collect all my swatches and do something with them," or
  • "I want to start my project, but I don't feel like making a swatch."

If this sounds like you...

You May Be Suffering From Swatch Perfectionism

Swatch Perfectionism is what happens when you believe swatches have to be perfect. It stops you from starting projects and certainly adds an unneeded weight to your knitting psyche.

4 inch knit swatch with garter stitch border
Perfectionism - A "Perfect" Knitting Swatch

Where does swatch perfectionism come from? Conventional wisdom states: "When you begin to knit with a new ball of yarn, first, you make a swatch." This is true.

Hank of Araucanía Azapa in light lilac (lila claro)
Do you leave balls of yarn like this unswatched for years?

A swatch helps you:

  • Know what size needles the yarn looks best on
  • Learn know how soft the yarn is and, most of all,
  • Check your gauge so that your garment comes out the right size and looks the way you want.

This is all to serve you in your knitting.

Swatch perfectionism begins to creep in when you get the wrong idea that:

  • Swatches have to take a long time to knit ("They should be 4 inches by 4 inches!") or that
  • Swatches have to be useful ("Maybe I'll make them into a blanket some day...").

Guess What – It's All Lies!

The truth is, the faster you get to making a swatch and checking your gauge, the faster you can get to the good part: knitting something beautiful.

Sidestep Perfectionism By Learning to Knit a Tiny 1-Inch Swatch

Tiny Araucanía swatch - lilac
Even perfectionist knitters can learn to make a quick gauge swatch. Rule of thumb: 10-20 stitches across, one inch tall. That's it. You're welcome!

Here are four tricks to help perfectionism loosen its grip on you so that you can get swatching FAST:

1) Make the swatch only as big as you feel like making it. Two inches across, if you want. The swatch above is 10 stitches across. Cast on 20 stitches to make a small tube if you're swatching for knitting in the round.

2) Make a one-row garter-stitch edging. Knit the first AND second rows of the swatch in garter stitch (knit across) before continuing in stockinette stitch. When it's time to bind off, bind off knitwise on a purl row. This will help the edges lay flat.

3) Tie little knots along your tail yarn to remind you what needle size you used. For example, if you used a size 8 needle, make 8 little knots in your yarn tail. This will serve to remind you later what size needle you used to make each swatch. This is very useful if you tend to make several swatches in various needle sizes to try to get gauge.

4) Quickly block your swatch: stick it in a glass of water with a little soap for 10 minutes, then squeeze it out and lay it flat to dry. That way you can see how the yarn will really look in a finished garment.

Above you'll see my sample of an imperfect, tiny, quick, and totally adequate swatch of that ball of Arucanía yarn. Easy!

Related Tutorials:

If you liked this tutorial on how to knit a swatch, post in the comments.

Resources referenced in this post:

Related Course: Fearless Knitter

Fearless Knitter Cover Knit-and-purl is fine, but greater things await you! Luckily, it is well within your abilities to improve rapidly and start knitting complicated projects. Learn to cast on, purl, rib, choose yarn, fix mistakes, read your work, read patterns, increase, decrease, slip stitches, and more in this fundamental course for beginning knitters.

30 thoughts on “For Perfectionist Knitters Only: How To Knit a Gauge Swatch In a Hurry”

  1. I make my gauge swatches and put them in a binder where I keep my stash. I have paper tags I tie on with the tail and I have holes on the cardstock to weave in the piece with the other tail. And, if using the suggested needle size on the band doesn’t look right to me, I will make another in a different needle size. I write notes based on knitting the swatches because some yarns look nice but are awful to knit with.

  2. I am a reluctant swatch knitter – can’t wait to get started on a new project and always felt it was a waste of time….however I do knit them when it’s a big project because my sweaters etc always come up so big. I try to reduce the size of the needle but still too big. Trouble is I have an enormous stash of yarn ( I see it on offer and cannot resist buying). So then I have to find a pattern to use which matches the yarn I have. I know I know – I can see you frowning at this but I am impulsive. So the usual scenario for me is a nice yarn with a pattern which has ‘similar’ yarn….no wonder I am struggling! I am in the middle of a project for an edge to edge ladies jacket and already I can see it is way too big according to the pattern measurements despite doing a swatch of 4″ and changing needle size to achieve the correct gauge. What else could be causing this problem do you think. I am not a loose knitter so I am stumped.

  3. I’ve always heard that if I’m going to knit in the round, my swatch must also be knit in the round. Is this really necessary? Do you have an easy way to do this (if it is necessary)?

  4. Perfect article! Thank you!! Do you have a video on picking up stitches, say around the neckline? I have the hardest time with picking up stitches, and I just know a video from you would clear up the technique for lots of folks that struggle with it! Thank you so much!

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