Knitting a swatch is an important first step to knitting any project. It can be tempting to skip the swatch, but swatching your yarn gives you a more accurate idea of how your project will come together, allowing you to make adjustments to your pattern or needles before you begin. If you skip knitting a swatch, you could get to the end of your project and find that it knit much bigger or smaller than you thought it would. For example, if your gauge is smaller than the pattern calls for, you could end up with a sweater that doesn’t fit.
To knit a swatch, start with the exact yarn and needles you’re planning on using for your project. Cast on the number of stitches you will need to knit four inches across. Continue knitting in stockinette stitch for four inches, then bind off loosely. Wash and block the swatch as you would the finished garment.
Measure your swatch to the dimensions specified in the pattern. Most patterns come with a gauge indicated at the top of the instructions. Count the number of stitches you have in the space specified in the pattern (often one inch or four inches). For a shortcut, you can use a stitch gauge, a flat metal ruler that also includes spaces for you to check the sizes of your needles.
If you have more stitches than the pattern calls for, go up one needle size and try another swatch. If you have fewer stitches, decrease one needle size. If your gauge is off by more than a few stitches per inch, you might be using a yarn that isn’t suitable for your project. Try a different yarn and see if your gauge is closer. Once you’ve produced an accurate gauge swatch, you can get started. After you’ve knit about six inches of the garment, check your gauge again just to be sure that you are still on track. Your gauge could vary within a project because of factors that affect your tension.
If you’re using a different yarn than the pattern calls for, you’ll probably need to calculate how much yarn you need. To calculate your yardage, look at how many skeins of yarn the pattern calls. You might need to look up the yarn specified to see how many yards come in a skein. Multiply yards per skein by the number of skeins called for and you have the total yards you’ll need for the pattern. To see how much of your yarn of choice you need, divide the total yards needed by the yards per skein of your yarn and you’ll get the number of skeins you need. Round up to the nearest skein. It’s a good idea to have an extra skein, too.
Check out our handy Knit Glossary for more terms and explanations you might need.