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How to get the best fit: Knitting a swatch

You’ve found a sweater you want to knit. The perfect yarn. And you’ve chosen the right size to knit. But you really should knit a swatch first.

I have to admit when I am about to start a sweater the thought of holding off while I knit a swatch is not at all appealing. However, knowing that if I don’t I might be ripping back hours (if not days!) worth of work later on does encourage me to do it. It’s not as fun as getting started on the sweater, but if you weigh that against how frustrating it will be to have spent weeks or months of time on something that doesn’t fit…

There are a few key bits of information to help you knit a useful swatch:

Make a big enough swatch

You’ve convinced yourself to do a swatch so do yourself a favour and make it big enough to be useful. There are two main ways I’d suggest getting a useful sized swatch.

1. Make it using the exact same stitch and row count as the 4″ pattern gauge is.

When blocked this will give you a very good indication as to whether your gauge is right on target (is it 4″ x 4″?) or if you’re a bit tight or loose. Do not add garter or other stitches around the edge in an attempt to prevent rolling because these stitches can distort the stitches next to them giving you a false reading. Instead, use pins but make sure you don’t stretch the fabric out, just enough that it won’t keep rolling in on itself (mostly a factor if it is a stockinette swatch).

2. Make a big massive momma of a swatch.

This is the way I try to do it when time and my patience allows. Using enough stitches & rows to make a swatch at least 6.5″ x 6.5″ will give you plenty of information. It will let you take measurements from several different spots along the swatch to see if your gauge is consistent.

I will typically take a stitch count measurement in 3 spots along the swatch. All on different rows, and different left to right sections. If the stitch count is the same in all 3 I move onto measuring row gauge, otherwise I’ll continue to measure a few more spots and see what my average is. Using one rouge stitch count could really offset your whole sweater. You might also find your tension is tighter or looser near the edge and if you only have a small swatch this will affect the gauge you use for your main garment.

Try a couple different needle sizes

The point of a swatch is to make sure your yarn and needle size get gauge. If it doesn’t you’ll have to try another needle size. If you know you are generally a tight or loose knitter you might want to try a second swatch at the same time in a larger or smaller needle size and then throw it in the sink to block with the other one. I find this also will prevent the “oh, it’s a bit small but I can’t be bothered to knit another swatch” Or “the next needle size up will be fine…” scenario. It happens. And it hasn’t usually worked out for me 😛

Label your swatches

There are a few tips I’ve read about how to keep your swatches labelled so you can tell which one used which needle. If I’m only knitting 2 swatches I mark one of them with a removable stitch marker at the corner. Remember to note somewhere which one has the stitch marker, you would be surprised at how easy it is to forget what seemed obvious the previous day. Another method is working a purl bump or ‘yarn over’ near the corner. This gives you a tally to show the needle size (4 yo’s = size 4 needle). Although, you would only want to do these techniques if you’re going with the massive momma swatch so you don’t change the dimensions of your measurable swatch area.

Treat it like you will the finished sweater

Your swatch is like a little version of your sweater. If you don’t wash and dry it the same way you will your sweater it won’t be very useful in showing you how much your sweater will change. There will be different factors in why your sweater might still grow more than expected. For example, the full weight of the sweater pulling it downwards overtime. The best thing you can do is to wash your swatch as you’ll be treating your main garment. If you’ll be a daredevil stress-free knitter who will be putting it in the washing machine then throw your swatch in with a load of laundry. It needs to go through the same experience as your sweater will. This goes the same for drying. Whether it will be a drying rack or the dryer, put your swatch through the same paces your sweater will be.

And finally, use the same needles as you will be using on the sweater (nickel plated/wood/acrylic

The smoothness/friction differences in these materials really can make a difference in your final tension.

Checking your gauge before starting a sweater is definitely a worthwhile investment of time. If you are going to invest your time in knitting a sweater you will want it to fit!

Hopefully these tips get you on your way to making a useful, worthwhile swatch!

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Save your knitting! How to easily add lifelines

What are lifelines? They allow you to safely and easily go back to a previous line of knitting.

If you’ve dropped stitches you can’t recover, or if you realise the item is not the right size you’ll be grateful for them. It provides a nice little safety net that you can rip back to.

Typically this is done by threading a contrasting bit of yarn through a row. It can be difficult to stop knitting to thread a lifeline through. I knew a lifeline provided a safety net but I still seem to put it off for ages. I’d rather just be knitting!

The quicker, easier, minimal effort way?

If you use interchangeable needles you already have a very handy tool at your disposal. You can add lifelines almost effortlessly while still knitting!

Grab yourself a second interchangeable cable, the same length as the one you’ve been using, and a couple of cable end caps. Twist one of the needles off the live cable and pop an end cap on. Make sure the cap goes on the side with the end of the row.

Put that needle on your new cable with the second end cap to save your stitches from falling off the other side. You now have two cables, each with a needle on one end and an end cap on the other. Using the new empty cable knit across your next row, leaving the original cable in place. When you are done the row transfer the second needle to your new cable and pop its end cap on the original cable.

Now you have a lifeline built in and ready to be pulled out later. Or otherwise, it’s ready to have the needles just popped back on the end should you have to rip back!

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Knitter Natter : Brighton
Saturday, 10th Aug 2013

Knitter Natter : Brighton

Want to find out more? Register your interest below:

Sign up for our newsletter

I am planning a knitting event in Brighton on Saturday the 10th of August and would love you to join us!

Knitter Natter is a free event with cake, competitions, and knitting (of course!) with more details to be announced soon!

If you think you might be interested, enter your email in the form above. I will be in touch soon with more details!

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How to get the best fit: Choosing the right size

Choosing the right size to knit is one of the most important things you can do! By following the wrong size then all your hard work will only end in tears when it doesn’t fit.

Always choose the size based off your high bust measurement.

How to measure for high bust High bust measurement is the measurement taken directly below your underarms and will run above your bust. Full bust measurement would have been taken lower down, across the fullest section of your bust.

This will give the shoulders, neckline, and everything except the bust area has the absolute best fit. Using the full bust measurement your bust will fit but it is very likely the rest of the sweater will be too loose.

Now that you have the overall fit sorted you can add any alterations later on, such as short rows, to accommodate for a larger bust or hips. I also highly suggest adding lifelines throughout your work so you can double check the fit as you go. Especially at key areas such as pre/post shoulders, armholes, bust, and waist.

In most of the patterns, I design the size range increments by 2″ from size 32 to 46. I suggest you drop down to the smaller size if you fall in-between one of these sizes. So for example, if you have a 35″ high bust measurement you should make the 34″. Since knitted fabric has stretch to it I find rounding down to the smaller size gives a better fit.

If you want a looser fit rounding up to the larger size might be a better option for you. So using the same example of a 35″ high bust you would knit the 36″.

As long as you are going by the high bust measurement You are on the right track to a successful fit!

If you are still unsure about what size you should knit please let me know, I’d love to help.
Twitter: @sewspace

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How the contiguous construction works

After my last post where I raved about how wonderful and amazing contiguous is I realised it could probably do with a bit further explanation and have made a (not so) fancy but hopefully helpful diagram showing how the construction works.

The example below shows a sweater being knit top down and in the round. The view shows as if laid flat, with a sleeve cap on each side and the neckline in the center. Each of the plus symbols represents an increase.

Contiguous construction (knitting in the round)

Ready to knit a contiguous sweater? Why don’t you try the Summer Dawn Cardigan. A gorgeous lightweight cardi with a beautiful but simple to knit lace style back. The instructions are very clear and there is plenty of help available if you need it.