Yes, I’m talking about gauge again! Today, I will walk you through crocheting a tension swatch and measuring it to find your gauge.
I will share the other benefits of making a swatch and how the swatching process can improve the overall look of your finished project.
What you need to know to make a gauge swatch
Before you start to make your swatch you need to know the following:
- Hook size – are you using the same hook size as suggested in the pattern?
- What yarn you are using – is it the same as, or a suitable substitute to that suggested in the pattern?
- Stitch pattern – what stitch pattern should you be working? Is there a multiple number of stitches you need to work in your first row? This should all be clear in the pattern
- Is the gauge given in the pattern blocked or unblocked? I give the unblocked measurements unless there is a big difference between unblocked and blocked gauge (which there can be with some fibres and lace patterns), so check to see if it is specified.
Once you have all this information you are ready to swatch.
Note that in the UK, gauge is referred to as tension. In this post, I use the two terms interchangeably!
How big should your swatch be?
Once you have all the info, you need to think about the size of your swatch. To give a useful idea of gauge it should be at least 12.5cm / 5in square (bigger if possible). If you’re working with a chunkier yarn then I would definitely go bigger as 12cm may be less than 10 stitches!
Why can’t I just make a 10cm swatch?
Tension can change around the edge stitches and first row or so, and with familiarity with the stitch pattern, so the larger area you have to work with, the more representative it will be.
A common misconception is that you should make a swatch based on the number of stitches and rows given in the gauge statement and then measure it to see if it’s 10cm. This will not give you an accurate gauge measure.
The first couple of rows and stitches at the edge of your swatch are never going to be reflective of the tension you will achieve when working over a much larger area. Making a bigger swatch and checking the gauge at different parts of it will give you a much more accurate measure.
Making your swatch
Make your starting chain or foundation row, taking note of any stitch multiple the pattern uses.
If you see numbers in your pattern which read something like 4+2, the chances are that this is the stitch multiple. Usually this will be spelt out but in some print patterns it is abbreviated.
Once you have the foundation chain, work the stitch pattern given in the pattern until you have created a large enough swatch to get accurate measurements from.
If there is no stitch pattern specified in the gauge section of your pattern then I would take a quick look at the pattern to see if there is a majority stitch used. For example, if the whole pattern is worked in double crochet then it’s fairly safe to assume that that is what the gauge refers to.
If it’s not clear then contact the designer. I confess that in my earlier patterns I was a little vague about what stitch my gauge referred to – it always referred to the stitch pattern I had used in the garment but I could have been more explicit about this! (I’m working back through them to update!!)
Through constructive feedback, designers can improve their patterns and make them easier to read! I am definitely open to this!
Once you have completed your swatch, block it – if that is required by the pattern.
Should you block your swatch?
The consensus is that you should treat your swatch the same way that you treat your finished item. If you’re making a sweater from acrylic yarn that you will machine wash then stick your swatch in the washing machine. If its a delicate hand wash lace shawl, then hand wash the swatch and pin it out to dry flat.
You can learn more about blocking here.
Even if the gauge is unblocked, washing your swatch will give you an idea of how the finished item will wash (better to wreck a 20 minute to swatch than a whole sweater!).
How to measure your swatch
Once you have your finished, washed, dried and blocked swatch it’s time to measure it.
What you are looking for here is the number of stitches and rows in 10cm across and up so that you can check to see if your gauge matches that given in the pattern.
Lay the swatch out on a flat hard surface and take a ruler or gauge measure. You can use tape measures too, but I prefer something solid as tape measures can move about quite a lot.
Gauge measures like my super cute one from Yarnistry pictured on the (unblocked) swatch below can be super useful but are not essential.
Note that the pictured gauge measure is only 5cm. Generally you get a more accurate measure of gauge when measuring over larger areas. 10cm / 5 inches is the standard but with finer yarn and smaller stitches 5cm can be okay.
You can see that this swatch is unblocked as it curls up at the edges. This demonstrates the importance of blocking and also illustrates the point that tension can change throughout your swatch – so make it bigger than you think you need to!
Whatever measure you are using, place it flat on your swatch and count the number of stitches worked in 10cm across a row. I use a the tip of a crochet hook to help me count as I find it helps me ‘see’ the stitches better.
A common method to stop you loosing count or worrying about shifting the ruler or tape measure by accident is to use pins to mark off the 10cm distance.
So in the photo below I would put 1 pin in at the 10cm mark on the ruler and another at the 20cm mark, This way you can count without worrying about holding the measure still.
Move your ruler to another part of the swatch and re-count.
Do this several times.
Tension can vary within the swatch so it’s good to count in lots of areas to check the count is consistent. Another reason why the swatch needs to be at least 12.5cm! If your count changes in different parts of the swatch then you can either take an average or make another swatch!
This number gives you the stitch count part of your gauge.
Turn your ruler at right angles and, using the same method as the stitches, count how many rows there are in 10cm. Move the ruler to another part of the swatch and repeat the process.
Now you have the second part of your gauge – your row count.
Compare your stitch and row count to that given in the pattern you’re working from.
What if my gauge doesn’t match?
If your gauge does not meet that of the pattern then there are a few things you can do to solve this. You can read more about what affects gauge and how to change it in this post.
However, the first and simplest thing to try is changing your hook size.
If you have too many stitches and rows, it means you are crocheting tighter than the gauge in the pattern. Try increasing the size of your hook so your stitches are larger.
If you don’t have enough stitches in your swatch then you are crocheting more loosely than the designer. Try working with a smaller hook to make your stitches smaller.
What else can you learn from a swatch?
Swatches are vital for checking your gauge but there are other things we can learn from them too.
Making a swatch is a great way to practice the stitch pattern you’re going to use in your project. I don’t know about you but when I’m working a new stitch pattern, I pay a lot of attention the first few rows and this makes me crochet more tightly. Once I get into the groove, my stitches relax. This is another reason we need to make a big swatch!
It follows that, by the time we get to start the project we know what we’re doing and our gauge will be much more consistent! This might not be true for all designs but it’s a good rule of thumb and another way that swatching can improve the look of your finished work.
Swatching is also a good way to check you’re using the right yarn for your project. You may work a swatch and decide that the yarn really doesn’t suit that stitch pattern. Isn’t it so much better to find that out after a bit of swatching instead of 2 hours into a project?
Finally, your swatch will also give you an idea of how the finished fabric will drape and move. When you are crocheting, you are creating fabric and different fabrics behave in different ways. Your swatch is so useful for giving you an idea of how the finished work will look and feel.
So there we have it. Now you can make a swatch and work out your gauge from it, as well as learn a lot more about how your project is going to work up.
I hope I’ve convinced you of the value of swatching and I would love to know how you get on with it so please do share your experiences!
Read more in the Crochet Fundamentals series