Keys to Making an Accurate Gauge Swatch

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Let’s talk some more about gauge. If you missed my first post about gauge, go here.

Work a swatch that is at least 4 inches by 4 inches. For garments, the larger the gauge swatch the more accurate.

Swatches can lie so it is always important that you make one that is a decent size. What do I mean by they lie? Well you may work your swatch and get the correct measurements but then you start working the piece. You work for so long, take a time out and check the measurements and it is the wrong size. What? Your swatch lied. The larger the swatch the more accurate it will be because as you work a piece you get more comfortable with it and your gauge may change. Also the size and weight of the actual piece can shift the stitches, thus a large swatch is ideal. A 6 inch square swatch or larger is going to be best.

Block your swatch the same way you plan on blocking your finished item.

This will also help you get the most accurate gauge. If you plan on wet blocking your finished piece, then wet block the swatch. If you plan on steaming it, then steam the swatch. If you wet block your swatch but then steam block your finished piece, you are going to end up with two different measurements. Things can grow and change with blocking. Wet blocking opens up the work a lot while a steam block is more gentle. You want the most accurate information from your swatch so you want to work with it like you will work with the piece. One final note, blocking acrylic isn’t really going to change it much as it is a manmade fiber.

Work the swatch like the dominant stitch pattern and in the same manner as the pattern (ie flat or in the round).

First, always work in the stitches or stitch pattern the gauge information states. However, sometimes gauge will just read so many stitches = 4 inches and isn’t specific. In that case, work in the dominant stitch pattern. This gives you a bit of practice with the stitch pattern as well as a more direct read of the gauge. Second, if your project is worked in the round, you want to work your swatch in the same manner. Believe it or not, folks tension changes with how the piece is worked. I tend to crochet tighter in the round than on flat pieces. Also items with smaller circumferences, like sleeves, folks tend to crochet tighter.

Bring your blocked gauge swatch around with you for a couple of days and fiddle with it every once in a while. This is especially important for garments.

A garment gets a lot of wear and abuse during the day. Think about how many times you push your sleeves up or fiddle with the hem or tug the back down or untuck it when somehow it has miraculously ended up pinched in your waistband. All this abuse and movement can change the gauge of the piece. If you take your swatch around with you for a day or two you will get a more accurate reading. Toss it in your purse or pocket. Pull it out from time to time and fiddle with it and then toss it back in. After a day or so, measure it and use that gauge information. This isn’t really necessary for most other types of crochet.

If substituting yarn, pick a yarn that is the same weight and a similar fiber content.

Using a yarn with a different fiber content, even if if is the same yarn weight, can make it difficult to get gauge. If the designer used a wool, which grows a bit and fluffs up more with blocking, and you choose an acrylic that blocking isn’t really going to do much for…well you may have a hard time get a gauge that matches the pattern. The twist on the yarn, as in how it was spun up, can also affect your gauge. A tightly spun yarn is going to behave differently than a loose spun one. If you can get or see a small sample of the yarn in the pattern and compare it to the new yarn you want to use, that would be best for ensuring you are making a good swatch. Tara Orchard has already had a couple of posts on this blog about yarn substitutions so be sure to check those out!

Next time, I talk about gauge, I will outline how to accurately measure your swatch. Be sure to visit here often to learn more!

—Britt Schmiesing

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