It’s been a few days since we stepped into the confessional and now it’s time to do our penance. I hope you won’t consider swatching as “penance” after our little mini-series on gauge swatching, but I won’t judge if you don’t!
And before you ask, by “G-Spot” I really do mean GAUGE. We’re going to explore finding the right needles to hit gauge, or your “G-Spot.” Get your minds out of the gutter, kids.
But first, a note about my last post. Remember we talked about Cascade 220 and Cascade 220 Superwash? Well, I managed to locate an old ball-band from some Cascade 220 Superwash in my stash, left over from a sweater I had done about a year ago. When I wrote the post I didn’t have that ball-band in hand, so after finding it, I was able to check the listed gauge. Cascade 220 has a ‘suggested’ gauge of 20sts/4″. Cascade 220 Superwash has a listed gauge of 20-22 sts/4″. So it is true that Cascade 220 Superwash could be considered a “worsted” weight (at 20sts/4″), it could also be classified as a “light worsted” at the 22sts/4″ given on the ball band. This is one of those situations that it pays to swatch with your chosen yarn BEFORE beginning your project. That Cascade superwash could go either way, so you’d really want to pay attention to the resulting fabric you’re getting — yet another good reason to swatch!
And while we’re ranting about yarn weights, let me suggest an amazing resource for all of us knitters (and crocheters, too!): The Craft Yarn Council. Here you can find great information on yarn standards, standard sizing, pattern conventions, etc. and if you haven’t visited them before, I encourage you to check them out. The “standard” yarn weights (and this applies to US standards, not UK standards, which is slightly different) is a great place to start when you’re planning a project, especially if you want to do any yarn substitution or deviation from the printed pattern you’re using. You can find the standard yarn weights at Craft Yarn Council.
Now, on to our penance. Well, “penance” really is a misnomer, because I want you to fall in love with swatching. OK, maybe not “love” but at least affection. Or to quote Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, “It was an easy birth, once it had been accepted.” Hopefully you’ll feel better and maybe even a bit excited about swatching when all is said and done.
Today, let’s knit a swatch to choose needle size for any project. But before we begin, let’s look at a ball-band The ball-band will usually give you great information you can use to make your knitting life a lot easier. The information we’re interested in today are fiber content, weight, yardage, gauge, and suggested needle size. Pay attention to this information, as we’ll be coming back to it in another post!
For the ball band we have here, we can note the following:
FIBER CONTENT: 100% Superwash Wool
WEIGHT: 100 grams/3.5 oz.
YARDAGE: 220 yards (200 meters)
GAUGE: 20-22 sts/4″
SUGGESTED NEEDLE SIZE: US 6-7 (4.0-4.5mm)
Here’s an image of a quick and dirty swatch I threw together for you.
This was knitted in… you guessed it, Cascade 220 Superwash, in color #824. Now, confession time: this swatch is not one that I would submit to the Master Knitter program, for the simple fact that I knitted it quickly and not to the exacting standards of the program. This is merely an illustration for today’s exercise.
And here comes the fun part: Actual Swatching! So grab a ball of smooth, light-colored yarn (skip the boucle, tweed, dark colors and other novelty yarns for now) and three CONSECUTIVE sizes of needles, appropriate to the yarn you’re using. Now, you can use whatever type of needle you like; I personally LOVE my Addi-Click long-tip lace interchangeables for a variety of reasons, number one being that I can very quickly change needle tips when I need to. But use whatever you have on hand, in any material needle you like. This little exercise is for YOU. As for the yarn, choose whatever you want out of your stash, or use this an excuse to go out and buy some more yarn. Because, let’s face it, one can NEVER have too much yarn!
GAUGE SWATCH FOR NEEDLE SIZE — This assumes the following skills: Long-tail cast-on, Knit, Purl, yarnover, K2tog, standard bind-off.
Now, look at the swatch photo above: Can you guess what needle size I started with? Go ahead, look — you know you want to.
If you guessed I started with a size US6, you’d be right! A little tip to make identifying needle sizes used if your swatch is unlabeled (we’ll cover that in the next post): Put in some eyelets to denote your starting needle size!
Using your smallest chosen needle size, and a long-tail cast-on, CO 25 sts.
Knit 2-3 rows in plain stockinette. I personally start with a WS row after casting on, but you can do whatever you like — I just like the smooth edge on the public side that I get from beginning my knitting with a WS row.
On a RS row, knit 2 or 3 sts (your choice!), *YO, k1, k2tog* (repeat until you have created the same number of eyelets as your smallest needle size — in this case I worked 6 eyelets to indicate I started with a US6 needle). K to end of row. Remember, when creating eyelets, you need to be careful to not end up with an extra stitch or two — you should begin and end the eyelet row with 25 sts.
Work an additional 2-3 rows of plain stockinette, and on the next RS row, PURL ACROSS. This will give you that little separating ridge. Keep this in mind, as we will be doing it between sections of our swatch.
Still using your smallest needle size, knit 2.5″ of stockinette. Do yourself a favor and keep track of how far you’ve knitted. Measure, measure and then measure again.
HELPFUL TIP: When measuring your knitting on the needles, place your ruler (NOT a tape measure — they tend to stretch out) with the 0″ mark just UNDER the needle — the stitches on your needle have not been knitted, so therefore, they are not actual stitches! Measure to your purl ridge (see why we do that purl ridge? Neat, huh.) You may also place the ruler with the 0″ mark at the purl ridge and measure up to just under the needle.
When you’ve knitted 2.5″ stockinette from the purl ridge to your needle, it’s time to change needle sizes. Go up 1 needle size and PURL the RS row — this is where interchangeables are handy, but use what you have.
Beginning on the WS row (after your brand-spanking new purl ridge), work in plain stockinette using your next-size-up needles. Knit 2.5″ plain stockinette. And then… you guessed it… we change needle sizes again!
Using your largest needle size chosen for your swatch, purl the next RS row, and continue working in plain stockinette (purl the WS rows, knit the RS rows) for an additional 2.5″.
Bind off loosely.
Now, that wasn’t so bad was it? But wait — There’s more! Your swatch isn’t finished until you have blocked your swatch the same way that you would block the garment you wish to make.
So go ahead, knit up a swatch like we’ve discussed, and block it to its natural size. Don’t panic when you see that the swatch will not be a perfect rectangle; the variance comes from changing your needle size. For now, and for this particular type of swatch, you don’t necessarily have to weave in your yarn ends, but it always looks nicer if you do. You’ll note I didn’t bother to weave in these yarn ends on the sample swatch, but before I put this in my swatch binder (more on that in the future!), I will be weaving in those yarn tails and tagging my swatch. Don’t sweat it for now… we’ll do that together in our next post.
Feel free to like, comment (respectfully – all comments are moderated) and share with your knitting friends! And if you have questions, please ask! Your questions help me improve, and will help others too.
Until then, happy knitting!