Category Archives: swatching

When row gauge matters

So, you know what’s really fun to talk about? Gauge. Gauge, gaugegauge. Super awesome, right? Well, okay, sometimes it’s not. Sometimes it is the opposite of fun, let’s be honest, but it’s the reference point that defines so much of what we do in knitting. There are knitters who always get gauge, knitters who never get gauge, and knitters who never even bother to swatch. There are knitters who will swatch several times until they get gauge, and there are knitters who will swatch only once and proceed to modify the pattern completely around the gauge they have achieved with that swatch. It’s all good. The goal is to get a finished knitted item that pleases you and fits you, and if you’re doing that, then you’re doing gauge right.


We’ve talked about swatches before around here. Swatches can be really useful pieces of knitting, especially once you get into knitting larger or fitted garments. Work them up as large as you can stand, because the larger a piece of fabric is, the more likely it is to mimic the way a full garment will behave. When you lay out your gauge swatch with your ruler or measuring tape to count stitches per inch (often we count over 4 inches, and then divide), you’re searching for that all important stitch gauge measurement. We put a lot of stock into stitch gauge (horizontal gauge – stitches per inch) because it’s what has the most impact on a garment’s width or circumference, and this really affects the fit.

(For example, if we are aiming for a stitch gauge of 5 sts/inch in stockinette stitch, and the intended bust circumference of the sweater is 40 ins, then we would expect a stockinette pullover would have about 200 sts. If, however, we’re getting a stitch gauge of 4.5 sts/inch and we knit that 40 ins size, it is in fact going to turn out to be closer to 44.5 ins around at the bust. Oh what a difference half a stitch per inch makes.)


A lot of the time, once we’ve achieved a stitch gauge that works for the pattern, we can easily stop there and not bother as closely with row gauge (vertical gauge – number of knitted rows per inch). This is because a lot of patterns (though not all) will give length indications in inches/cm rather than in rows, and in that case you can often skip the business of needing to count rows. Examples: if you are knitting a scarf and just need to knit until it is as long a scarf as you want, or if you are knitting a sweater from the bottom up with no waist shaping and can knit until X inches before the armholes or until desired length from armholes. In these cases you can pay less attention to row gauge because the more important thing is to decide the real physical length you want in inches/cm. (Also, I’ve not taken an empirical study of this, but I’m pretty sure matching row gauge is about eleventy million times harder than matching stitch gauge. I would bet money on this.)

However, there are some instances when row gauge does matter. Here are a few of them, regarding sweater knitting.

Sweater 1

1. When you’re knitting a raglan yoke sweater.

Raglan yoke sweaters (or, similarly, circular yoke sweaters)  require you to shape the top of the body and the top of the sleeves to the same height, either in one piece seamlessly or in pieces which are later seamed. The raglan yoke pieces then determine the total height from neckline to under-arm when worn, and thus also determine how the sweater is going to fit you around the shoulders.

Let’s say, then, that the raglan yoke decreases (if working from the bottom up) happen over a total of 56 rows (something that you can usually figure out if you count up how many decrease rows are involved in the yoke shaping), and that the pattern assumes a row gauge of 8 rows/inch. This means the total vertical depth of the raglan yoke will end up being 7 ins (56 rows divided by 8 rows/inch). Let us say, however, that your personal row gauge (that you know from your swatch) is actually 7 rows/inch. This means that your actual raglan yoke will end up being 8 ins high – a full inch difference.

Whether or not this is a good or bad result is up to you to decide, relative to how well you think those raglan depths will fit you. If you want your yoke to end up with the intended depth, then you’ll have to adjust your shaping decreases (if working bottom-up) or increases (if working top down) to be a little more frequent to compensate.

2. When you’re knitting a sweater with waist shaping.

3. When you’re working increases (from the cuff up) or decreases (from the top down) to shape sleeves.

Similar to the concern with raglan yoke depth, above, if you’re working a sweater with waist shaping, the amount of vertical space taken up by the series of increases and decreases at the top of the hip and just below the bust will be different if your row gauge is different. You can compensate for this, again, if you know in advance if your row gauge is slightly looser or tighter than indicated in pattern, and either alter the frequency of shaping decreases and increases, or place them slightly differently.

The same goes for sleeves, when you want to make sure the sleeve shaping still leaves a comfortable few inches of even length at the wide part of your upper arm. If your row gauge were significantly looser, then your from-the-cuff-up sleeve increases would stop much higher than intended, and if you were working sleeves from the top down, your sleeves might end up too long by the time you get to the end of the shaping.


Sweater 2

4. When you’re knitting a sleeve cap intended for a set-in sleeve.

Sleeve caps shaping is calculated so that the height and curve of the sleeve cap will fit correctly inside the shaped curve of the armhole where the sleeve will be ‘set in’ when attached to the body of the sweater. If your row gauge is different, then the height of your sleeve cap will also be different, either slightly too tall or too loose. This isn’t quite the emergency that a difference in raglan yoke depth might create, but it’s still good to be aware of in case you are finding your finished sleeve caps just don’t quite sit right.

5. When the pattern gives you instructions in terms of’number of rows’ or number of pattern repeats, instead of in length indicators like inches or centimeters.

A lot of contemporary patterns will give you length indicators to help you out – i.e. they’ll tell you the length from hem to waist, from hem to armhole, from armhole to shoulder, and so on. This makes it really helpful if you need to modify for length (to make parts of the sweater shorter or longer), because you can make those adjustments on each part of the pattern, safely comparing your own desired lengths with the ones in the written pattern.

However, you might encounter patterns that give these indications more obliquely by telling you to work a specific number of pattern repeats, or a specific number of actual rows. When they do this, they are assuming that you are working with pattern gauge, and that you will end up with the same finished size as intended in the written pattern. If your row gauge is different, it’s up to you to decide whether that difference will result in a better or worse sweater fit. For example, I tend to modify to add more length since I’m a bit taller size than most patterns are written for. So, if I have looser row gauge then I might be able to work the pattern as written and end up with the final size that I want anyway – it’s all a matter of knowing what you want and whether this is different than the result you will get by knitting the pattern exactly as written.

In other words, gauge is pretty great to pay attention to – you might be getting along just fine with gauge so far, but in case you haven’t been the best of friends, paying row gauge could help you out!

And in other news, this week I’m off to sunny (or perhaps foggy?) San Francisco for some getaway time, and I’m bringing knitting with me and look forward to some chilling out time, knitting time, drinking wine time. I’ll be sure to report back with some San Francisco photos next post!

Have a great Wednesday!








Filed under fearless knitting, swatching, tutorial, Uncategorized

In which I am the boss of my own knitting

After a brief glorious couple of days over the holidays of “knitting whatever the hell I want, please and thank you very much,” then a bit more after rounding up a few deadline projects, I’ve been able to go back to the beautiful Gwendolyn sweater I’ve had going on since, well, for far too long. I love the colour, the pattern is gorgeous, Fiona Ellis is a skilled and trustworthy designer, and let’s face it, I would love a new knitted cardi in my closet. This is all of the good.

This weekend as I pulled it out for a few more spells of working away on the back piece, I was starting to admire the cable repeats now that I could see them unfolding and they were starting to feel fluid. (I don’t know about you, but I eventually tend to get to a point with cables where the chart meshes with my brain and I only need to glance at it every so often. I love it when that happens.)


But you know, the more I looked at the unfolding work for the back piece, the more I started to doubt my choice of size. The more I worked away, the more it just seemed like it was coming out too small. I tugged at it every so often. “You swatched for this,” my brain argued. “You did the calculations based on your gauge, and it’ll all be fine. It relaxes a bit after washing.” I kept on knitting, and tugged at it a bit more every few rows. “You can block the snot out of it,” my brain reasoned next. “It’ll be fine, you can make it fit even if it does turn out too small.”

I knitted for a bit more, and then when I pulled it out this morning for another look, I realized that I had two choices: Keep knitting, and possibly develop a constant eye twitch worrying until the very last minute about whether it will fit me like I want, or, I could rip it out and start the back over again in the next size up. I thought about it for about five point three seconds, and, well…

I went with door number two.


This is, of course, flying in direct defiance of the extremely rational and gauge-swatch-based decision I made a few months ago back when I started this sweater (dear God this is taking me forever, I need to step on it), at which point I reasoned that since my stockinette gauge was looser than the pattern, that I could knit a smaller size that I needed to, and get the size that I wanted. And it’s a well-reasoned argument to be sure, but neglects the fact that I swatched in stockinette and the entire back piece is completely composed of cables, not stockinette. My gut made the final call. Swatch vs. gut – who will win?

Well truthfully, I’m not sure, but I’ve had to keep so much of my brain free for so many other knitting decisions lately, that I’m willing to give it a break on this one and err on the side of possibly too big, than possibly too small. TAKE THAT, KNITTING. I am the boss of you, and I shall take the consequences.

And um, maybe stock up on chocolate. (You never know.)




Filed under cables, fearless knitting, swatching

Why Swatching Doesn’t Have to Suck

I’ve been having a flurry of swatching over the last couple of weeks, preparing for upcoming and future projects. It’s the sort of process that makes you really stop and remind yourself that actually, you really do love knitting, and even if you don’t think that all those little squares of wool are going to mean something right now, they will eventually. Probably. Hopefully. They’re like little wooly leaps of faith. Or maybe they’re like little square and floppy roulette wheels, where you take a spin and see if your gauge lands on 22 sts/4 ins or 24 sts/4 ins…aaaaaand, go! It’s possible I’m romanticizing this a little bit, but brace yourselves because I’m going in for a little more narrative action there.

The thing is, I don’t love swatching. Not really. I’ve done a lot of knitting and a fair few swatches in my time, and I still don’t love them. But I accept them and their purpose in my life, and wouldn’t want to have to do without them. I never used to swatch in the beginning (I was one of those insufferable knitters who “got gauge” and usually things turned out OK), but the more I venture into this knitting world, the more I have been willing to knit these little squares, especially before I dive into a new design project. If I care about getting a garment that fits me the way I intend it to, with the yarn I want to use, then…a-swatching I must go.

There are different proponents of swatching, and there’s no single way to do a swatch. In case you’ve never encountered this process before, I can tell you what I do, which is to cast on about 5-6 ins worth of stitches (usually between 35-40 sts, depending on gauge), work garter stitch for a few rows, then switch to stockinette for all be the 3-4 sts on each edge. I work until the little square has about 4 ins of stockinette in it, then I finish it off with a few rows of garter stitch before binding off. Then I wash and dry the swatch in the manner I intend to wash and dry the garment. After it’s dry, then I take a gauge measurement for the number of stitches and rows per inch, and along the way make certain decisions about what I like or don’t like about the way the yarn behaves.


Still, I know swatching – or knitting “tension squares” as it is also called – is one of those aggravations of our chosen craft. They delay starting the actual garment you want to knit, sometimes they use up yarn that can’t be reclaimed again for another project, and sometimes they just flat out lie. (There’s a reason why many of the top knitters out there will tell you that the only true gauge swatch is an entire garment.)

Yeah, sometimes those swatches just get no love for their service.

If you’re one of those knitters who doesn’t swatch and does just fine in the process, I commend you and say go ahead with your mad non-swatching knitting skills. If you’ve found a way to make the knitting process work for you in a way that avoids swatching, well, I raise my glass to you good madams and sirs. For me, knowing that swatches are not going to stop being part of my knitting life any time soon, I have started to think of swatches in more of a heroic role. Why must swatches always play the villain? They are indeed little noble steeds.

For example I think that, it’s not so much that swatches are delaying you from knitting your real project – they’re not evil interceptors from the other side of the line, getting in your way. No no, they are your own personal cavalry. They are taking the hit of time and yarn for you, to make sure you’re getting the fabric and gauge that you want in your garment. What if you were to start knitting your whole sweater, and get all the way through the back and halfway up the front only to finally admit that the alpaca blend yarn you’ve been working with feels sort of scratchy and is making you sneeze, even though alpaca never did that to you before, and you’re going to have to pull out the whole thing and give the yarn to someone else (which is now your only hope because you’ve used it already and can’t return the balls to the yarn shop any more), but not before you angrily mis-treat it a little bit during the ripping out part?

See, your little swatch was trying to save you from that. It wanted you to find that out while you were swatching, so you could change yarn sooner. Or maybe your swatch isn’t alerting you to the way the yarn feels – maybe it is trying desperately to tell you that, no matter how much you try, you’re not going to get pattern gauge on this yarn and that maybe you’ll have to adjust your pattern notes as a result, or the yarn, or both.

Or, maybe your swatch’s purpose is actually to speak sweet things to you, confirming your yarn selection and telling you how wonderfully smart you were to pick it, how pretty the colour looks while you knit it up, and oh by the way how fetching you are going to look in that sweater when it’s done.

If swatches could talk, man. I bet they’d tell us all to chill out.


Filed under swatching

On not getting gauge (and being OK with it)

Yesterday I met up for lunch with Austen, and was ready to cast on for Gwendolyn at the same time. (Because, you know, I didn’t have enough to knit already.) Austen has already been zipping along on hers for a few weeks, aiming to be done before she goes off on a trip in mid-September. Mine will not be done by mid-September, but I promised all the same wayyyy back in March or so, that if she wanted to knit that sweater then I would too, in a sort of two-person knitalong. And fall’s coming soon, and one can never have too many nice knitted sweaters (I’m knitting mine as a cardigan), so I was game.

I swatched up for it last week, with some trusty Cascade 220 I bought in Kingston at Wool-Tyme back in June (I can never resist Cascade 220 when it’s on sale), and was surprised to discover I was very close to pattern gauge at 19.5 sts/4 ins on 4.5mm needles over stockinette, where the pattern requests 20 on 5.0mm. Then, I washed and blocked it. (Because I intend to wash and block the sweater.)


Post-washing, my gauge changed to 18 sts/4 ins. I would have been disappointed except for the fact that I have always always always since the beginning of time gotten 18 sts/4 ins on Cascade 220 on 4.5mm. It’s important to make sure, though, just in case, because for all I know that changed since the last time I checked. So you would think this would be the point where normally a person would have to make a decision about what needle size to re-swatch with to get closer to pattern gauge, but actually, I’m good to go. I like the stockinette fabric I’m getting with that needle, and to go down any more snug would probably mean the cabled fabric will wear like iron and stand on its own, so I’ll stay here.

As it turns out, sticking with 18 sts/4 ins and making a size smaller than what I would have made at pattern gauge, will get me the size that I actually want in the end. (I even did the math on that. It all checks out. Take THAT, gauge! You are not the boss of me!) And it also so happens that Austen had the same experience and is proceeding with the exact same plan, and so far that’s turning out well for her.

I’ve cast on with the first sleeve – just in case of problems, it’s a lot easier to rip out a sleeve than to rip out and re-start the whole body – and lickety split I’ve got little sleeves for my portable transit knitting.

What fall knits are you hoping to cast on for soon?

Happy knitting until next time!


Filed under swatching, sweaters

My multiple comparative gauge swatches bring all the boys to the yard

One of my projects this week has been getting design plans off the ground for the inspired-by-Neville fair isle cardigan, and it’s been great fun to map out. (Fair warning: if you’re looking for an exact copy of his Deathly Hallows sweater, this won’t be it. I will be leaning a bit closer to a true Shetland style sweater, and so won’t be including the pockets and hoodie, and will be varying the border and peerie patterns just a bit. But still, I can promise you it’s going to be awesome, I can feel it.)

I was happily swatching it up earlier in the week, getting a sense of the patterns and colour combinations – because as it turns out, even when you are using black, cream, and five shades of grey, you really do have to spend a bit of time getting it right. (I sort of think this is half the fun, but don’t tell anyone.)


So anyhow, I had it nicely planned out and I liked the fabric I was getting at 8 sts to the inch. Then, I did a quick bit of math and realized that since this is going to be a men’s cardigan, therefore even the smallest size was going to have a cast-on number of nearly 300 sts.

Then, I cast on a new swatch, at 7.5 sts to the inch, and it turns out that fabric is still totally awesome and will save everybody a few dozen stitches at the cast-on. I’m thinking of you, dear knitters. It was totally worth it. Start practicing up your colour-work for fall, kids! (I can’t understand why the back-to-school television ads don’t lead with that, tsk.)

Stay tuned until next time, when I’ll have another sock pattern to formally introduce you to. I’ll be coming to you from Edmonton for the weekend, where I will sadly not be running the half marathon that was to be the purpose of the trip (SOB), but I shall have a friendly visit with relatives all the same.

Keep on knititng!


Filed under colour-work, design, fair isle, swatching

Well, it’s speedier, at least

I’ve been doing a bit of swatching this week, toying with some design ideas and playing around with colours and options. Which is also a sort of professional-looking way of saying “I’m sitting in an indecisive mess of yarn,” but then, as Annie tells me, a creative mess is better than tidy idleness, so I’ll take it.


As I am wont to do, I’m looking at colour-work and twisted stitch cables. I have been wanting to start on some more sweaters of my own using these techniques, and finally have a bit of time to sit in the mess to do it. And then I remembered what both of these things have in common, which is how annoying it is to work them flat. Well, for me, at least. I know there are people who love doing stranded colour-work flat and don’t mind purling back in 2 colours at all, but me, I’d rather do it in the round and steek that sucker. Similarly, twisted stitch cables, or any combination of stitches worked as knits ‘through the back loop’, are a heck of a lot more fun on the knit side since purling through the back loop tends to involve mildly contorting your wrists. Ergo, I prefer it in the round if I can help it. (See: almost every sock pattern I’ve designed, ever.)

The simplest way to swatch for a project you’re going to do in the round is to do a full swatch in the round, say on DPNs or a small circular needle. Or, as knitters like Elizabeth Zimmerman and others with a voice of experience have advocated, knit a hat. It’s more useful than a swatch in the long term, and bound to fit someone when it’s done, and then you have both a hat and all your gauge information in one fell swoop. Of course, this also means taking the time and yarn quantity required for a full in-the-round undertaking, which you may not want to commit to at the time. You might actually just want a flat swatch’s worth of time and yarn. So, then, this is when you break out the ‘speed swatch’ approach. I did a whole mess of these back when I was deciding on a colour-scheme for my Venezia pullover, though at the time I didn’t know that’s what they were called and just sort of thought of them as ‘a sort of cop-out way of swatching in the round but not really.’


What you do here is cast on enough stitches to get you a decent amount of fabric – say, 5-6 inches worth – onto a circular needle, and as you work through the swatch, when you get to the end of a row you just slide the whole works back to the front of the needle sort of like the carriage-return on a type-writer. (A circular needle is both flexible in the middle and pointy at both ends, which is why this works. Circular needles: not just for circular knitting any more!) The effect is that you are only ever knitting the Right Side of the work, so you will get a gauge reading similar to what you will actually have when knitting in the round, since knitting in the round will also only require you to work the Right Side.

The other effect is that the wrong side of your swatch will look like a big ol’ mess, since every time you start back at the beginning of the row, you leave a trail of yarn behind.


Once you’ve done the amount of swatching you feel comfortable with, you cast off as per usual, and then get out the scissors and snip those yarny strings at the back, and then you have a flat swatch. Provided your swatch is not 100% non-wool, the strands will not unravel at the sides very quickly and you’ll be fine.


This also works well for just plain stockinette if all you want to do is avoid the process of going in the round – say, for a sock. DPNs would work well enough in place of a circular needle, if they’re long enough to handle what you want to cast on.

When you’re done, there is naturally still the question of what to do with the swatch once you’ve finished it and gotten your gauge reading and had your way with it and don’t need it any more. But everyone likes knitted coasters, right? I thought so.

Happy swatching!


Filed under design, swatching

Work in progress

Much to-doings at the moment here at Knitting to Sane, on all fronts. I’m finally having to get down to brass tacks on term prep, as well as a move coming up next week. (Not far, and not requiring furniture, but enough to involve a relocation for the next several months). So there’s lots going on in progress let alone adding the knitting in, which means there is sort of a steady-state level of crazy. But I am telling myself everything will get done and that means it all will get done, right? Right.

On the knitting front, my Lamplight shawl (previous posts) is close to release – it’ll be up at The Sweet Sheep soon, once Michelle has everything back up and running. She’s been a bit delayed coming back from maternity leave but never fear, when the pattern is available you’ll be the first to know!

I am quite excited about the knitting I’m doing at the moment, though, even if it adds more to my to-do list. I’m working on a cardigan with some delicious Merino/Silk DK from Indigodragonfly (don’t worry Kim – the sweater is actually in progress beyond this pile of swatches, I swear), still have the little cashmere sock shawlette for Tanis Fiber Arts, and just finished up another little yet-to-be-revealed thing with llama. I don’t thing regular wool is going to be the same after this. (“What’s the fibre content? Does it have silk or cashmere or llama? Oh no, I couldn’t possibly knit with it then…”)


I tell ya, it’s been a trip realizing that I’ve actually gotten to make friends with the swatching process. You can’t afford not to, while coming up with knitting patterns that other people will end up making. Once the stockinette gauge is nailed down, then it’s a matter of figuring out any stitch patterns and what matches up or feels good with the yarn or with the concept, and that’s led me to situations that I hadn’t anticipated. As for example, the time earlier this week when I’d only gotten half-way through the swatch I was working on, and I already knew at that point that the stitch pattern wasn’t going to do what I wanted it to do, and I had to ask myself “so are you going to finish that swatch anyway?”

I finished the swatch. Most of the time, I finish the swatch. It makes me feel like I’ve gotten a mini accomplishment to work from. Swatches, you’re OK.

Happy knitting this weekend!


Filed under design, swatching