Today we are going to talk about knitting a gauge or tension swatch for the Wash-Ashore sweater!
First let's talk about what a swatch is and why we should knit one. A gauge or tension swatch is a rectangular piece of knit fabric, usually measuring 4-5". The purpose of a swatch is to match your knitting to the designers measurements to ensure that you are recreating the pattern as it is written. You can manipulate the size of your gauge swatch to match the designs required measurements by adjusting factors such as your yarn weight or type, or by changing your needle type or size.
Gauge swatches tell us the measurements of our knitting so that we can match the designers knitting, but they also show us how the fabric will behave in terms of drape or stretch, as well as give a sense of how the fabric will change once it's washed. That is why it is important that you wet soak your swatch in warm water and air dry, verses steaming your swatch or measuring your swatch without blocking. Eventually you will need to wash your sweater and you'll want to make sure the fabric doesn't change after it is washed.
Swatching is also a great way to learn about different needles, yarns, and your own knitting style. Often times people talk about how knitting a swatch is a waste of time, but I think that is completely untrue. Knitting a swatch will will make your finished garment better, but it will also expand your knitting understanding as you will learn about your tools, materials, or personal knitting style.
Typically gauge swatches are measured by counting the stitches and rows across 4 inches, therefore you will want your swatch to be slightly larger so that you are able to get a clean measurement.
The Wash-Ashore pattern recommended gauge is 20 Stitches by 28 Rows, so to swatch for this project I would recommend casting on 28-30 stitches and knitting 34-36 rows. I like to start and end my swatches with a bit of garter so that the edges do not curl and the piece will lay nice and flat while I'm measuring.
Now with any gauge swatch you want to mimic the knitting that you will be using in the garment- as the gauge swatch is a small fabric sample. If your sweater is knit in garter stitch, you would want to knit your swatch in garter stitch. If you're sweater is knit flat, you will knit your swatch flat. Now the Wash-Ashore sweater is knit in the round, so we will mimic knitting in the round on a flat swatch.
To knit a flat swatch "in the round", you will knit a couple rows of garter stitch, then when you're ready to start the body of your swatch, instead of turning the work, slide it to the other end of your cable needle, carrying your working yarn across the back of the swatch (make sure you leave a nice loose tension), and then knit your next row. So instead of knitting and purling, you'll be knitting every row and carrying the yarn across the back.
If this is not making any sense to you right now, please check out this helpful video from Webs Yarns on YouTube.
Once your swatch if finished you are going to want to wet block it as I mentioned above. I like to wet block my swatch and then trim the back threads before laying out my swatch- i think the side stitches stay in place better. You do not have to cut your back threads however, if you leave enough tension on the back threads and make your swatch 5-6" than you do not have to cut the back threads and you can rip out the swatch after you have gotten your measurements.
If I am going to rip back my swatch then I'll leave the ball of yarn attached to the swatch and wash the swatch with the working yarn hanging out- you can see what I mean below.
I put a little merino sweater soap in with my swatches when I wash them, because that's how I intend to wash my sweater- but you certainly don't have to add soap. Make sure you allow your swatch to soak for a good 15-20 minutes to make sure that it is fully soaked through. When it's done, gently rinse out the water and roll it up in a towel. Or you can do like I do and throw it in a top load washer and spin out the extra water. If you use your top load, make sure it has a spin out only setting and doesn't add water or agitate at all.
You might be tempted to measure your swatch before casting off or without washing, I do not recommend this, your stitches will change once the swatch is washed. If you measure unwashed and blocked and get gauge- than knit your sweater off of that information, but then you wash your sweater and the measurements change you will be very disappointed....as me how I know.
Once you have removed the excess water, you're going to lay your swatch out nice and flat, evening out the sides. You do not want to pull or stretch your swatch, you want to be able to read the stitches as they dried naturally, you don't want to force your swatch into submission. You can pin your swatch if you like, but I just usually lay mine out on blocking mats.
For this project I swatched Plush Single held double in Wayward, and Plush DK in the colorway Narwhal. I only did both because I wanted to show you how you can cut the threads on the back, as I have done with the Wayward swatch, and how you can leave the threads in the back attached and repurpose your yarn as I have done on the Narwhal Swatch.
I used the recommended needle on both swatches, a size 6 24" cable needle. I used a metal Knitters Pride knitting needle, which is favorite needle to work with.
I got the required gauge for the Narwhal swatch and had two extra stitches on my Wayward swatch. So this means if I were going to use Plush Single held double to knit my sweater than I would need to adjust my needles- yes this means you will need to knit another swatch. I got the correct row gauge so it was only the stitch gauge that I would need to adjust. In this case I would change the needle type, I think I would try a size 6 needle that is made of wood because I know from past knitting that I knit more loosely on wooden needles so that might be just enough to get the correct gauge. If I had say 3 or 4 extra stitches on my swatch, than I would go up a needle size.
If you have too many stitches per inch on your gauge swatch, you need to go up a needle size. If you have too few stitches per inch on your gauge swatch, you need to go down a needle size.
I have to stop and really think about this every time I measure a swatch so I wanted to write that out really clearly. Maybe someday I will have that fully memorized but today is not that day.
Once you have gotten the correct measurements on your gauge swatch then the real fun can begin and you can cast on your sweater. Cake up the rest of your yarn, or at least a couple of balls, gather all the needles and stitch markers you will need and read through the entire pattern. I also look up any techniques that I might not be familiar with or that I need to be refreshed on. I like going through this check list before I officially cast on my sweater because then I feel confident that I know what I am doing and that makes the knitting more fun for me!
I know all of this seems like a lot of extra work, but I also know that a lot of you are nervous to knit a sweater and not like it. Knitting a gauge swatch is absolutely worth the time and effort to ensure that your sweater will fit you correctly. Do I knit a gauge swatch for every project I make- most definitely not, but I do for every sweater that I knit because I LOVE to wear my sweaters and I want them to fit!