Wednesday, 18 December 2013


When I started knitting, I had no idea what a tension square otherwise known as a swatch was. Much less the importance of doing one. And when I read up on them it seemed like a lot of complicated maths and hassle. But as time has gone on, I have learnt the importance of going through this process, no matter how tedious it is! The difference in fit on a garment is huge. If its fingerless mitts, its unlikely to be an issue unless you have unusual sized hands and arms. A hat... might become an issue if your hat doesn't stretch enough for your noggin, or your hat is too big for example. Anything larger like a sweater or cardigan... it cannot be ignored!

I have started a sweater for my son, so I thought I would share the swatching process I went through to begin the project. It was an essential part of getting ready more so than ever as the 'pattern' is more a cleverly built set of mathematical instructions already worked out on you, based on a few measurements AND... the exact stitches per inch you are getting for the exact combination of yarn and needles you intend to use. Yeah. I needed to swatch!

So, the yarn! The yarn is Wollmeise 'Pure', 100% superwash merino in black and red (Schwartz and Vamp colourways if anyone is interested).

I chose a 3mm needle to get a fabric I wanted. I cast on I think about 50 stitches, did about 6 rows of garter stitch, then carried on with a border of 3 stitches in garter, and the centre section in stockinette till basically, I ran out of patience. And this is the result.

That little ruler doodad at the top is for more than just scale. That is  my KnitPro needle sizer, which has not only a handy 6 inch ruler in built, but a handy 4 inches and 10 cm section marked out within a special clear magnified section, specifically for measuring swatches! Very, very handy.

So how did my swatch measure up? I am sure this is not terribly interesting at this point to you, but it is necessary for comparison purposes later. Based on measuring 4 inches in width and 2 inches in length

7.12 stitches and 9.5 rows to the inch.

Now for the important bit. Treat the swatch as you will treat the final object! In this case, because I know the yarn, and its being made for a school age child, that means into the washer, then the dryer, as will be done when he wears it. The yarn has been chosen precisely because it holds up against this abuse.

Now its dry, its somewhat different:

As you can see, its somewhat shorter in length. The fabric is firmer, and what I was aiming for in the finished sweater, though when knitting it it seems kind of loose. I must stress, the yarn has NOT felted. But the drier has snapped it up nice and tight, as SOME superwash yarns need. I find Wollmeise needs it to get the shape and fit back of garments and socks.

So what are the new measurements?

7.5 stitches and 11.5 rows to the inch.

Here you can see what this yarn and needle combination at my tension has done. There is not much difference in the width, but a significant difference in the length. What this means is that I have to do a little maths to figure out what lengths I want to knit to to achieve the final correct length once the sweater has been washed, otherwise I could have ended up with a sweater and sleeves which could have been too short! Very worth knowing about. Length is fixable of course, but I would have been massively irritated had I gotten that wrong, so knowing ahead, is really great.

So there we are, the process, and why it is so important to swatch where fit is important! Even if it is boring and tedious as hell! Well worth the tedium I assure you! So give it a go and see how those knits fit better for the effort!

Till next time!

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