In which a swatch is born

I suffered a betrayal yesterday. I called my mother to ask for knitting advice and she told me to swatch. I know, how horrifying?

There’s a good chance you just read the previous sentences and agreed with her, and in that case you are a traitor too. It is wonderful advice, but it does not solve the bigger problem that I want to be knitting something right now instead of waiting for my swatch to dry. Waiting for my swatch to dry is giving me time to think, and worse plan the garment I am about to cast on. It is simply dreadful.


Preparing to knit a garment breaks down into three steps, in my experience. There is easily the most fun step: picking the yarn. Then comes the swatching step with the annoying waiting. Finally, there is the measurement step. I usually give up and cast on after the second step, if I even get to that step.


I am knitting Bonny by tincanknits in madelinetosh Prairie in the “Undergrowth” colourway.  It is a vidid teal-blue that feels unmistakably summer to me which is needed as the sky outside is uniformly white with clouds. It is a surprisingly plump lace weight yarn with a fair amount of twist. The twist may require me to be quite firm when blocking in order to open up the eyelets but hopefully will make for a long wearing t-shirt.


“For a proper fit it is crucial to make a large swatch”. Huh, a “large” swatch? Sometimes it feels like the size of the swatch that is being recommended is getting larger and larger. I took a class with Felicity Ford a few years back, and she advocated swatches that were at least 15 cm^2 from what I remember. She is probably right. The larger the swatch, the more accurately you will know how the finished fabric will behave.


I still do not make them that large. I will make them quite wide. In this case, my stitch gauge is the important information I am looking to calculate. I will want a rough idea of how my row gauge will change after blocking, but it is a reasonably easy thing to adjust for. I know I knit at a different gauge in the round than when working flat so it is very important for me for me to swatch in the round.


For my swatch, I cast on around 40 stitches or what I assume will be roughly 15cm wide. I then knit it the round for about 20 rows and then bound off. I used to knit swatches by knitting across my stitches, stopping at the end of the row. Instead of purling back, I slide my stitches back to the left needle and start knitting again leaving a float connecting the end of my last row with the first stitch on my first row. If that was horribly confusing, have a look at the terrible drawing and when that does not clear anything up have a read here.


Currently, I am trying a new technique. I knit the swatch in the round as I would the actual garment and then I steek it. I pop in a crocket reinforcement before I snip away. Kate Davies has the best instructions for this I have found. It makes for a neater swatch which does not seem like it might fall apart if you carry it around with your knitting. It makes for an easy swatch to measure too. Remember to measure before you block! (It really cannot be said enough. I still sometimes forget.)

That cast off, cut, soaked and hung to dry, I turned my attention to measurements. I guess if you’ve gotten this far in the post (congratulations, may I say), we can talk honestly about this. It is such a sensitive subject. I happen to be quite a small person. I measured while my swatch was drying, and I measure 29 inches around the base of my bra band. Circumference wise, there are about five measurements that are important for a well fitting sweater. From top to bottom they are upper bust (get the measuring tape right up under your armpits), middle bust, lower bust (around the bra band area), waist (bend sideways and find where you bend from) and hips. When picking a size, it is either the upper bust or middle bust that is needed depending on which is larger.  For me, this is over 3 inches larger than the band size of my bra.


Before I measured, I was sat there wondering which size to knit. I was actually a bit scared to measure. The last few jumpers I have knit have been 35 inches circumference or there about and had a fair amount of ease. I was going to go off of that and knit the 32 inch size reasoning that it would probably be zero ease. I shall still knit that size but now I am more reasonably expecting around an inch of negative ease.


I guess know so much more because I swatched. I guess my mum was right.

2 thoughts on “In which a swatch is born”

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