Gauge matters, so knit your swatch!


Yesterday afternoon my husband came in to the bedroom and found me staring at (but not knitting) my Stripes Gone Crazy sweater with a tape measure in my hand. He asked what was up and I said, solemnly, “I’m worried this is going to be too big, and I think I’m going to have to frog this whole thing and start over…”. He asked, “Isn’t there some way to make sure you’re knitting the right size before you have to undo all your work??”. I sheepishly answered, “Err, yes. Yes there is. It is called knitting a swatch before you even start… and I did not do that…”

A pattern’s gauge and knitting a swatch is something I never bothered to do. Checking gauge was for sissies and knitting swatches was a waste of time, … or so I thought. Yesterday, though,

20 minutes to knit a swatch can save you from having to frog months of work.

my opinion on matching gauge and knitting a swatch changed. I have been knitting along for a week or two now and it is slowly starting to take shape, but the more I knit of the project the more concerned I was getting that the sweater was knitting up too big. I didn’t have a specific reason for why I thought it was too big, but each row was making me more and more concerned. It makes sense that it took this project for me to finally understand the importance of gauge. This is, after all, my largest project to date and my first project where fit really matters. As I stared at my possibly-too-big sweater I wanted to kick myself for not just knitting the damn swatch when I started and saved myself from this angst.

I spent a significant amount of time staring at my project and arbitrarily measuring parts of it with my measuring tape I think in the hopes that my measuring tape would suddenly turn in to one like Mary Poppins had. At the time it seemed a reasonable expectation for the measuring tape cooperate, stop stubbornly show me numbers, and instead read something helpful like “Your sweater is the perfect size. Knit on!”. While my measuring tape continued to refuse to be magical, I kept wishing I had just knit a damn swatch back before I started so that I would know if I was knitting in the correct gauge or not. 

The more important it is that the project fit, the more important knitting the swatch and checking gauge is!

And then it hit me…. Why don’t I just knit a swatch now?

And then a second thing hit me…. Why the hell did it take me so long to think of doing this?! Yes, swatches are supposed to be done before you start but there is no reason you can’t knit one after you start a project. Hell, my gauge can change depending upon my stress levels or how tired I am or how fast I am knitting, so maybe re-knitting a swatch periodically throughout a project would be a good idea!

Anyway, I knit a swatch and miraculously my gauge was fine, and actually maybe a tiny bit small if you can believe it! I’m fine with that, I want some negative ease and this knit is quite stretchy, so that seemed pretty ideal. Now that I knew I was fine I have been able to continue on with the project, incredibly thankful that I didn’t have to frog and start over. This was a dodged bullet, though. It was entirely possible/likely that my gauge would have been off and having to frog and restart was a very real possibility. I have definitely learned my lesson in regards to knitting swatches and matching gauge, at least for large projects and projects where fit matters. It is seems like a pretty minor thing to do before you start a project that is going to take weeks and weeks to make and it can save you a whole world of hurt.

So take it from me: Take the 20 minutes, knit the damn swatch and make sure your gauge is correct. You’ll thank yourself later.