Gauge Swatching

Once we've chosen the pattern and bought the yarn, we are always so excited to get home and cast on our new project. Who wants to do a gauge swatch when there's all that fun knitting to do?

However, for certain projects, a gauge swatch really needs to be the first thing you cast on. If you're knitting a scarf or a shawl, the gauge doesn't matter a lot. But if you're knitting a garment intended to fit the person you're knitting it for, gauge matters.

Unfortunately, having gotten gauge on the last garment you knit doesn't necessarily mean you will get gauge on this one. Knitting tension changes due to several factors (e.g., yarn, stitch pattern, number of colours used, stress level), and it's never worth the risk to just dive in.

Spending some time knitting a swatch can save you many hours of reknitting and much disappointment.

How to Do It

Patterns usually give you the gauge over four inches square. It's best to cast on some extra stitches to knit a swatch that's about five or six inches square so that you can count the inside stitches (edges can roll or otherwise create problems for measuring accurately). The gauge swatch may need to be in stocking stitch (often abbreviated st st) or seed stitch or a cable pattern or any number of other stitch combinations.

Ideally, you should also wash and block your gauge swatch, especially if the yarn is a natural, not synthetic, product because the size can change with washing.

Didn't Get Gauge? 

Getting gauge on the number of stitches across is more important than getting gauge on the number of rows because you can often knit more or fewer rows.

But even if you had more or fewer stitches in the four inches, you have options. If the difference is minimal, you might decide to cast on anyway. The best course of action, though, is to knit a second swatch on a different-sized needle. If you had too many stitches in the four inches, try a bigger needle. If you had too few stitches in the four inches, try a smaller needle. 

For the sweater I most recently cast on (see gauge swatch above), the called-for 4.5 mm needles gave me a swatch pattern slightly bigger than the four inches, but the 4 mm needles gave me a swatch pattern that was more than an eighth of an inch too small, which would result in nearly two inches less around—a significant difference. One of my options was to use the larger needle size and knit a smaller size sweater. Alternatively, I could use the smaller needles and knit the sweater a size larger. Or I could live with the extra positive ease and knit the sweater in the originally chosen size (which is what I've decided to do).

Without creating a gauge swatch, though, you really are taking a gamble on getting a garment that will fit. To save yourself the disappointment (not to mention the money spent on the yarn and the time spent knitting), do the darn gauge swatch! 

Do you have any tips or tricks or insights to share about gauge swatching?


  • Hi Cathy.
    Thank you for this blog on gauge swatching. I haven’t done that in many a year. Time to get back to basics. Will use the above information on my next project. Good to have in black and white how to check gauge, what to do if not enough stitches, and what to do with too many stitches in that 4 inches.
    Much appreciated,

  • That was so helpful! I didn’t know what to do if the gauge wasn’t right!!! Now I have solutions! Thanks!


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