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How important are swatches, and do they ever lie?

Hey there, fellow knitters! Today, we're going to talk about the importance of creating swatches and why they're crucial to ensuring a successful knitting project. But let's be real - sometimes swatches can lie, and we'll discuss when that can happen too.

First of all, let's define what a swatch is. A swatch is a small sample of the yarn and stitch pattern you plan to use for your project. It's typically a few inches square (at least six inches, but larger is better!), and it's used to gauge the correct needle size, stitch tension, and overall look of the project before you dive in.

Image of a knit swatch using pink and navy blue yarn.

So why is creating a swatch important? Well, for starters, it can save you a lot of time, money, and frustration in the long run. If you skip the swatching step and start knitting your project without proper preparation, you may find that your gauge is off, the texture isn't what you expected, or the yarn isn't suitable for the pattern. This can result in having to rip out your work and start over, or worse, abandoning the project altogether.

Creating a swatch can also help you understand the behavior of the yarn you're working with. Different fibers, weights, and brands of yarn can all behave differently when knit up, and a swatch can help you see how the yarn responds to different needles and stitches.

But, as I mentioned earlier, swatches can sometimes lie or can be a waste of time. So when might that happen? 

One instance is when the yarn you use for your swatch is different from the yarn you use for your project - don’t do this! Even if the yarns look similar, they may behave differently when knit up.

Also, if you are using a yarn with quick color changes, your color WILL pool differently in a swatch than it will on a larger project. So, don’t be surprised if your color changes occur in different places, or more rapidly than expected when you start knitting your actual project.

Another instance is when your tension changes throughout the project, resulting in a different gauge than your swatch. This can happen if you are making a swatch for a project that is in the round and if you knit your swatch flat (stockinette in the round and stockinette knit flat can have very different gauges!). Always make your swatch in the same manner that your project will be worked.

And sometimes, even with the right needle size and correct tension, the swatch may simply not accurately represent the final project.

The culprit of this is often the way in which you block your swatch versus your final project. If your final project is a sweater that will be wet block, make sure you block your swatch in the EXACT SAME WAY that you will be blocking your sweater – and even once it is dry, allow your swatch to relax a bit after you release it from the blocking pins -- you can even hang it vertically for a couple of days to simulate how the fabric will be worn. This can help prevent surprises!

So what can you do to minimize the risk of swatches lying? First, use the same yarn for your swatch as you plan to use for your project. Second, knit your swatch in the same manner that your project will be knit. Third, block your swatch in the same way you will block your project. Finally, don't rely solely on the swatch - continue to measure and adjust your gauge throughout the project to ensure it stays on track.

In the end, creating a swatch is an important step in the knitting process. While it's not foolproof, it can give you a good sense of what to expect from your project and help you avoid some common pitfalls. Happy swatching!

1 comment

  • Nora McDonald

    Love all your info! I can relate to all your points. Your words just flow and very easy to read

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