Gauge Swatching: Is It Really Necessary?
Honestly, how often do you make a gauge swatch? Rarely, almost never, sometimes, always?!? While I was learning to crochet, I used to skip, or maybe better term is to ignore this step when following a pattern. I mean, why bother? What’s the big deal if my project is one or two centimeters larger? Right???
Wrong! Very wrong! This is also one of the things I learned the hard way.
I totally understand, though, how you feel when you are about to start a new project: excited, eager to start, to try out this beautiful new yarn that has just come by mail. Making a swatch really seem like a waste of time.
The reality is quite the opposite. Making a swatch will, very often, save you a lot of time. And a lot of nerves.
Is a small sample, a test (very often square) piece of crochet fabric, usually worked in the same stitch pattern as your future project.
For example, if you are making a simple single crochet sweater, you would want to make a square piece of about 15×15 cm / 6×6 in using only single crochet stitches. Ideally, you should wash and block this swatch piece. What can we learn from this piece?
Firstly, you can see how the yarn you chose works with the project you are about to make. You can see if it changes with washing – will it shrink, or maybe stretch out, does it hold the shape. You can see if you like the color you chose for that particular project. And least, but definitely not the last, you will be able to calculate the gauge.
GAUGE is a measurement of the stitches (in one row) and rows, within the crochet piece, usually shown in 10×10 cm/4×4 in. That means you want to know how many stitches exactly fits in 10 cm / 4 in, and how many rows of the same stitches fits within 10 cm /4 in.
Example of the written gauge:
15 sts x 10 rows = 10×10 cm / 4×4 in
meaning 15 stitches in a row = 10 cm/ 4 in and 15 rows of the same stitch = 10 cm / 4 in length.
How to Swatch for Gauge:
· Usually, the gauge is measured by making a swatch that consist of one, specific stitch used in a pattern. Example on the photo is hdc stitch.
· Sometimes, if there are more stitches used, the swatch can be the stitch pattern used in the largest section, or in the section where size is the most important. Example double crochet and post double crochet stitches.
· And then, there are designs where gauge is measured in pattern repeats, not stitches and rows, so the measure is not necessarily 10×10 cm square, because of the complexity of the pattern. Example: 5 repeats=5 inches
If you are following a certain pattern, you need to meet the given gauge in order to be able to make the same item. If your gauge is smaller (you have more stitches and/or rows), your project will be smaller. If your gauge is larger (you have less stitches and/or rows per inch), your project will be larger.
When to Swatch for Gauge
Now, there are times when the gauge is not crucial – and that is only if the size of the project you are making is not that important. If you are crocheting a washcloth, or even a long scarf, a blanket for yourself, maybe you don’t really care if it is slightly smaller, larger or wider than in the pattern. Even in these cases you should still swatch, but you don’t have to insist on meeting the gauge exactly.
On the other hand, if the size is essential for your project, if you are making a hat (you don’t want to make a baby size hat for your lovely partner!), a sweater, a crop top, a vest… well, the last thing you want is to make a 4XL vest for your dear sister who wears 2XL (like yours truly) and spend so much time, energy and yarn just to realize that you need to do it all over again.
Every stitch counts!!! “Just” one extra stitch in a gauge becomes “just” five extra centimeters in a project, and “just” one size up. Bottom line, learn not to skip this step. Even more, make it a starter step of your every project or design.
If you are a designer, gauge will give you all the numbers you need to know and you will be able to calculate the stitch count for every size, length or width, and successfully grade your pattern.
If you are a crochet pattern tester, meeting the pattern gauge is an absolute must! Your entire test is based on it if the size of the project matters. Failing to meet the gauge will result with the wrong feedback and can ruin the designer’s work. For a pattern tester this step needs to be followed through without exceptions.
When swatching to check the gauge, you should always make the piece larger than 10×10 /4×4 in, so you can get the most accurate result (first couple of rows are often tighter than the rest of the piece). So, the larger the swatch, more accurate the gauge is. And, even if you are using exactly the same yarn and hook size as the pattern asks for, it doesn’t mean that your gauge will be the same. Why is that? Well, it is because of the tension.
Is the pressure / stress we apply to the yarn while we crochet. It is how tight we hold the yarn while making the stitches. I feel that it is very important here to say that everyone crochets differently and the tension will come naturally to you.
A lot of crocheters at the beginning tend to be so called “tight crocheters”. That is probably because while we are still learning, we are trying too hard to accomplish something and to keep every aspect of the process under control. This is why we are not relaxed and the result can be a stiff, even “curly” project.
When I was asked to explain how I hold my yarn while crocheting, I was like: ”Hmmm… I don’t know!” I had to actually pick up the yarn and hook to see how I do it. What I am trying to say here is that it will come naturally to you in time. You won’t think about it at all. It will become a routine soon enough.
I also believe there’s not too much to do about the tension, except to relax and hold your yarn and hook the way it feels comfortable to you. There is no right or wrong way to do that. Some crocheters wrap the working yarn around their index finger several times and slowly let it go. Others let it slide between a little and ring fingers. Just do whatever feels the most comfortable to you and try keeping it even.
Do not hold your hook too tight – it’s not going anywhere! If you feel your shoulders are under tension, stop and intentionally relax your body. That way you can also avoid the pain in your hands and shoulders. Trust me about this – very soon you will not think about the way you are doing it at all. Once again, the most important thing about the tension is to try to keep it even throughout the project.
And since we all crochet either too lose, or too tight – we swatch. And we try to match the gauge. If you are following the pattern, you will typically use the hook size recommended by a designer. If your gauge differs from the one in the pattern, try using different sized hook. If you need your gauge to be larger, try using a larger hook (usually 0.5 or 1 mm larger should be enough). Do exactly the opposite if your gauge needs to be smaller.
If you are still having trouble meeting the gauge, think about the yarn you are using. If you’ve chosen a different yarn than the pattern calls for – double check if it’s a good alternative.