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

Blog » Gauge » How To Knit A Swatch Fast

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

Liat Gat - Founder

November 4, 2011

Are you the kind of knitter who thinks you "should" knit a gauge swatch -- and hardly ever does? You may be suffering from swatch perfectionism - when you believe swatches have to be perfect. Here's how to overcome perfectionism and make a perfectly good swatch - FAST.

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.

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

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  1. As a new knitter I so appreciate this, thank you. I have only been knitting hats and scarves and blankets so I don’t have to check gauge because they intimidate me! Ugh!~

    1. Hi Lisa,

      I’m SO glad this helped you! I love it when new knitters find my site because you are the ones that benefit most from solid foundations, before you get into complex projects. If you are at all shaky on reading patterns or fixing all kinds of knit-and-purl mistakes, I recommend you sign up for our Fearless Knitter course. It is designed in a logical progression to get passionate new knitters ready to knit intermediate projects with confidence.

      If you are tired of flat projects and want to move on to mittens, socks, etc, I recommend our Knitting Superstar course. It contains a whole section on reading patterns as well as gauge, plus lots of intermediate projects designed to get you knitting ANYTHING with confidence.

      Let me know how I can support you!


  2. I soooooo appreciate the quick swatch guide. I’ve done small swatches before but your tips, especially the knots for the needle size, will be helpful.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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)?

  6. 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!

  7. Hi Liat!
    You provide such helpful tips! Thanks!
    You previously offered a helpful gauge tool and said that, if we emailed you to request one,, you would send one out … I did, but you didn’t! ;) I know you are very busy and that was around the time of your tv tour, but I really would like to have one. Please let me know … How do I get it?

    1. Hi Liat,
      I am 64yr- young;-)) new knitter, AND CONTINENTAL and so grateful for your generous website and your CAN-D0, make me laugh ATTITUDE, Liat! You are my go-to, every time I pick up a new pattern with a new knitting code. I have worked and trained in the area of addictions forever, and more recently in trauma-informed…and am thrilled with how GROUNDING and therapeutic knitting is! you rock, Liat
      and yes, if those knitting gauges are still available, I would love one! An alternative, if you have, may be to send me a pdf clear picture of one, that I could then copy onto heavy plastic, and cut to size??
      thanks again, Girjaa

  8. I had read a tip about adding yo/k2tog “holes” to indicate the size needle you used. But I almost like the knot tip better. If your pattern is more of a straight stockinette, the lace could change the gauge

  9. Ha! My keenness for swatching was what gave me the clue that I’m a process rather than a product knitter. I will happily knit swatch after swatch in different stitches then tuck it all back into the stash. I should rethink this, maybe…

  10. Thank You Liat, Thank You so much for giving me permission to cheat at knitting swatches . I hate having to waste time knitting up swatches and never could understand why it had to be so large .

  11. I want to get one of your Stix gauges but cannot find to buy. I went to
    The Stix site but get anything there. Thx much & love your videos & learned much! I’m a new knitter.

    1. Oh, I know! Their shoppable website isn’t quite up yet. Just give them a call at (406) 566-5786 and they can send you one. I’m so glad you love the videos! Please keep following my blog, I will teach you everything I know!

  12. So, you can always do the swatch like this? You don’t have to make it the same stitches used in the pattern? Like if you, for instance, were doing some sort of lacy stitch?

    1. Actually, that depends on what stitch was used to achieve the gauge given in the pattern. The pattern will say something like, “Gauge: 4 sts/in in St st.” In this case you would want to do your gauge swatch in Stockinette stitch (like I did, above).

      If the pattern says “gauge: 3 repeats of zig-zag lace pattern in 4 inches” then you’ll have to swatch up a piece of the lace pattern (say 5 repeats) and measure how big 3 of your repeats is.

      It’s easier for knitters when designers give the gauge in Stockinette stitch, but it’s easier for lazy designers to give the gauge in whatever pattern they wrote the garment in.

  13. The other concern would be how much yarn to buy even if you have a pattern that you plan to use. The swatch would take up some yardage, too. Would the best solution be to always buy a extra skein of yarn?

    1. Hi Elaine, good thinking! Like I mentioned to Jill in the other comment, I really don’t think the swatch would take up a significant amount of yardage to make a difference for your pattern. The good thing is, you can always unravel your swatch and use the yarn again!

      One nice thing to keep in mind: whenever a pattern calls for almost an entire skein of yarn, in my experience the designer will tell you – something like, “Caution: you will have just enough yarn to make the large size of this garment” or something like that. That way you aren’t inadvertently wasteful!

      1. joanmariebernadette

        Yes, Liat! This is exactly what you did in your pattern for “Toe-Up Socks, 2@ATime, using Super Bulky yarn”, using the Malabrigo Rasta Super Bulky. You said something to that effect on your pattern, which I was very grateful for. I made a small size; it was just enough. To do this on a 2nd project, with everything else the same, I would buy extra. Anyway, I loved them so much that I barely took them off. I, already, patched them up, using your “How to Darn Socks and Repair Holes in Knitting” video:. It’s very clear, it worked, looks good even on my very first time to repair the thinning spot. Many thanks.?

  14. If you were buying yarn before having a pattern to make it up in, how would you decide how much to buy? Signed, Obviously Not As Addicted As I Thought!

    1. Hi Jill, great question! I usually try to have some sort of project in mind when I buy yarn, so that I buy the right amount. I’m usually thinking to myself, “oh, I’ll make legwarmers with this!” or “this would be great for a cabled beret!” It’s rare that I buy a skein of yarn “just because,” but when I do, I make sure to at least have 150-200 yards so I can make a hat or a pair of mittens or socks.

      I wouldn’t worry about making sure to have enough yarn for the swatch – it uses up hardy any yarn, and if you need it at the end of your project, you can always unravel it and use it.

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