Saturday, November 9, 2019

Should you work your swatch in the round?

The answer to that question is, "It depends." Some knitters can get away with working the swatch flat and some may need to work the swatch in the round. If your knit stitches are not the same size as your purl stitches, then you definitely should work your swatch in the round because the sweaters from patterns are all worked in the round. So they are made up entirely of knit stitches (except for a little bit on the shoulders of course). So naturally if half the stitches in your swatch are purled then your gauge for the swatch would not match the gauge on the sweater. So you would need to knit your swatch in the round and enter that gauge when you create your pattern.

How can you tell which you are? There are two ways to find out.

  • If you have a Stockinette stitch swatch that was knitted flat, look carefully at the back of the swatch and see if there are gutters between every other row of purl bumps. The gutters are the result of knits and purls being two different sizes. So if your swatch has them, you should knit your swatch in the round. Here are pictures of a swatch that has gutters.  Notice that you can also see enlarged rows of knit stitches on the right side. But sometimes these are even harder to notice. By looking across the swatch, the gutters and the enlarged rows, also call "rowing out," are more visible. 

Gutters, looking straight at the swatch
The same gutters, looking across the swatch
Rowing out, looking across the swatch

  • However, some people who are not used to looking for gutters just don't seem to see them when they are there. I know because I review submissions to the Master Hand Knitting program of TKGA and the first thing to do in the program is knit a swatch and answer the question, "Do you see gutters on the back?" It is not uncommon for people to say "no" when I see very prominent gutters. So if you are not sure, here is the sure way to find out. Knit a swatch in the round and then knit a swatch flat and see if the two gauges are the same or not. You don't have to do this every time you start a project. Just do it once and then you'll know whether you need to work your swatch in the round or not if the project is worked in the round.

How to knit a swatch in the round

You should always knit your swatch using the same needles you will use to work the garment. I assume that since we are knitting sweaters, that means you are using circular needles (I guess you could use very large double-pointed needles. I don't recommend that though). The obvious, but slower method, would be to cast on enough stitches to knit your swatch in the round, probably using the magic loop method or the two circular needles method to avoid having to work a 16 inch circular swatch. You could then steek (cut) the swatch from top to bottom, flatten it, block it, and then take your gauge measurements. 

But here's a simple method. Using your circular needles, cast on enough stitches for a 5 or 6 inch swatch plus about 5 or 6 extra stitches. Knit a row and then push the stitches back to the other needle. Drape a loose section of working yarn across the back of the swatch and knit another row. Push the stitches back to the other needle and continue in this manner until you have worked the size you need to work.

You can still use the two swatch method I described in an earlier blog entry. Just create each one as I just described with drapes of working yarn across the back.

You should block your swatch before you measure the gauge since blocking can change the gauge. And you also should cut the loops of yarn that are draped across the back so they don't mess with your measuring. Finally, there will be as many as three loose stitches at each edge of the swatch, so don't include them in your measurement. That's why we added 5 or 6 extra stitches when we did the cast on.

And please do not skip the swatching step. As I said in the earlier post, there is nothing more important to create a garment that fits. Your gauge will almost never match the gauge on the yarn band. 

My Workshop Last Weekend

I had the great privilege last weekend of leading a workshop for the What the Knit Guild in Bakersfield, CA. Sixteen women took part and worked through all the details of knitting a crew neck and a saddle shoulder sweater using the pattern on We has such a good time and I can't wait to see the sweaters they now produce. Check out (or click the Forum link at the top of any page) to meet some of the women who were there. Hopefully we will also get to see their works in progress and their finished garments as well.

The What the Knit Guild is led by one of my favorite teachers, Suzanne Bryan. If you are not familiar with her videos, check out her channel Knitting with Suzanne Bryan.

Happy knitting!


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