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Have you heard about making a gauge swatch in crochet or come across swatch information in the pattern you bought? Were you like me, when I first saw it – totally confused? Gauge? Swatch? Huh?
Have you also heard from other crocheters how much they loath swatching? Or maybe you heard about makers that swear by their swatches and never making a project without them?
Swatch lets you work out the order of stitches and an overall stitch design on a smaller scale without trying to do it with a whole project. It is used to figure out how many stitches and rows you need to get the size of the project you need and how much yarn you will need for a crochet pattern.
You might be totally anti-swatch or barely heard about the term, but, since I learned my lessons the hard way and would love to save you time and frustration, I’m asking you to hear me out about swatching.
When it comes to swatching or creating a swatch, the crocheters out there seem to split into three camps:
- Ones that have no idea what swatches are
- Ones who hate swatching and refuse to do it
- Ones who understand how important swatches are made their peace with them and use them with every project
I’ve been in every camp, in that order, and would like you to join me in the last camp and I hope to convince you why.
So, first things first…
What is a swatch
A swatch is a small sample of a bigger project, usually about 4” x 4”, but can be larger, depending on the complexity of the pattern design.
You can think of it as a small cardboard model of a real-size building you see architects make. Swatch gauge would usually have the stitch(es) repeating in the same way/order they would be in the larger, complete project.
How to measure a crochet swatch
There are few ways to measure out the crochet swatch.
First, make the swatch, of course. It’s recommended to make a crochet swatch a bit bigger than is asked for in the pattern. Standard gauge measurements are 4”x4”, but it will be much easier to measure and count rows and stitches if you make it at least 5”x’5” or 6”x6”.
Once you have the gauge swatch, you can measure it using just a regular school ruler. Even though you might have a measuring tape, it’s not the best choice since it’s flexible and can give you skewed counts.
If you are feeling really fancy, you can invest in a crochet gauge ruler. They are designed specifically to measure the crochet gauge swatches and usually come in a form of a square or rectangular ruler with a square opening inside that is 4”x4” like this ruler from Clover.
Importance of the swatch
Why do we create a swatch? Why can’t we just dive, headfirst into creating the actual crochet project? Makers from the second camp view it as a waste of time but creating a swatch for your future project, especially a large one like a blanket has so many benefits.
Here is why creating a swatch is important:
Swatch lets you work out the order of stitches and an overall stitch design on a smaller scale without trying to do it with a whole project, spending a ton of time (and then needing to unravel the whole thing because you were off on a count or order of things).
By using the swatch, you can figure out how many stitches and rows you will have to get the finished correct size you want, the size hook or needle size you need, how much yarn it will take, and more.
Gauge swatch lets you estimate correct measurements for your future project without first spending a lot of time making the project.
Creating a gauge swatch while working on your own design
If you are working on your own design, a swatch creates a basis for all the calculations you would need to get your crochet project just right.
It can help you figure out the number of rows and stitches you would need for the size and the shape of the project you have in mind.
It also gives you the counts you need to figure out the larger or smaller variations of the project you have in mind.
Swatch lets you see how your particular yarn would look using the stitches you had in mind (and believe me, there were so many times I thought I had a great idea for a design, just to swatch it and see how ugly or weird it came out with the yarn I chose).
Swatch even helps you calculate how much yarn you would need for the whole project before you even start it (saving you from under- or over-buying, or running out of yarn ¾ of the way in).
While designing, the stitch gauge can help you see if you need fewer stitches to get the look/size you were going after or even if you need to choose a different type of yarn.
Using stitch gauge while working on someone else’s pattern
Swatch is even more important when you are working through someone else’s pattern.
When the designer creates a pattern, they are working with a certain yarn and a certain hook size. They also have their individual tension (how tight or loose they crochet).
To make sure you are able to match all of these as close as possible and get their design looking and fitting as intended, you need to create a swatch they suggest and see if your swatch matches theirs.
If you don’t swatch and go ahead with a project, you might end up with a result that is too big or too small, and let’s admit it – no one likes to frog!
I hope I’ve convinced you to give swatching a try. So many benefits a small crocheted sample can offer!
Before you jump into the creation of a swatch, here is something to keep in mind when it comes to the relation of yarn size and hook size.
Stitch gauge vs Row gauge
When working with the gauge swatch, the two measurements you will be working with will be Stitch Gauge and Row Gauge.
Stitch Gauge refers to the number of stitches in a row of a swatch.
Row Gauge deals with the number of rows in a row of a swatch.
Those two gauges work together, but they are also independent. Sometimes you will find that you got the width of the sample right (that is stitch gauge), but the height is still off (that is row gauge).
How yarn size and hook size affect your swatch and finished project and how to solve crochet gauge problems
When you are working on your own design
On each ball of yarn (the one that comes from a big-box store, anyway) you would find a tag with a suggested crochet hook size for the thickness of the yarn you are using.
This size is just a suggestion, a starting point. You can start with the hook size that is recommended for the yarn weight you have, but you are not mandated to use it.
You can see how to match yarn weight with a hook here.
While you are creating a swatch, you can try using a slightly smaller or larger hook and see how the fabric of the swatch changes.
Generally, the smaller hook causes the crochet fabric to be tighter, more condensed, with smaller holes, stiffer.
The larger hook causes the crochet fabric to be looser, softer, fluffier, with larger holes, more air coming through.
By using smaller or larger hooks you can achieve different tension of the crochet fabric and that will, in turn, affect the height and width of your crochet swatch and then the project.
For example, the large fluffy blankets I love to make with the bulky weight yarn, use yarn weight 6 which calls for hook size 9mm, however for me, size 9mm creates a fabric that is too stiff.
To make the blankets soft and fluffy, I use a 15mm plastic hook to create looser tension. Using a large hook affects the size of your stitches. It also affects the final size of the blanket, so I create a swatch first and then figure out the number of stitches and rows I need for the size of the blanket I have in mind.
Once I have the swatch I’m happy with, I can design the blanket, but I make sure to design the blanket with the same hook size and yarn weight I used in the swatch.
When you are working on someone else’s pattern
When you are working through someone else’s pattern, the pattern designer will suggest a yarn weight and a hooks size, as well as how many stitches and rows made with this yarn and hook should fit in the pattern swatch. The swatch is given to help you get the accurate measurement of the project you are making.
The first step would always be to follow the recommended gauge. Crochet the swatch with the yarn weight/brand and the recommended hook size the pattern calls for. If your swatch matches the one in the pattern – yay, you got the correct gauge and you are good to go with the rest of the pattern.
If, however, your swatch came out smaller, you have a bit of work to do.
Here is what might be going on and here is how to adjust the crochet gauge.
It can be that maybe you are a tight crocheter. In that case, using a hook that is a size bigger can help you get the stitches (and the swatch) to be the right size.
It is also possible that the yarn you are using (if different from the one in the pattern) is lighter in weight/thinner than what’s suggested. You can try to use a different, thicker yarn to get the crochet gauge swatch to where it needs to be.
If your swatch came out bigger, you need to work out why it is as well.
It can be that maybe you are a loose tension crocheter. In that case, using a hook that is a size smaller can help you get your stitches a bit tighter and closer to the ones in the pattern.
It is possible that the yarn you are using (if different from the one in the pattern) is heavier in weight/thicker than what’s suggested. You can try to use a different, thinner yarn to get the size of the pattern gauge.
Additional tips on achieving the correct gauge
If you did all the things that you needed and you are still a bit off on your crochet gauge measurements, there are a few things you can try.
When measuring the swatch, make it bigger than 4″x4″ to measure the inside stitches only as the edge stitches are often more stretched or pulled taught than the ones inside.
You can block the swatch using steam and wet blocking methods.
To block a swatch, lay it on a flat surface, preferably a foam or a blocking mat, pin it in place to get the size you want, and, using a steamer, bring in some moisture to your swatch. Let it dry. Usually, after the process of blocking, the swatch will retain the needed size. You will need to block your finished item as well. To see how you block crochet project, see the video here:
Other uses for gauge swatches
If you are still on a fence about swatching, and wondering why you would spend time and yarn making these crochet squares, I have some ideas of other uses for the swatches.
- You can use them as examples of your crochet work or examples of crochet stitches and create your own library of the samples by creating a binder with pages holding all of your swatches
- If you are a designer, you can keep the swatch together with your written out pattern design notes so you can refer to it later
- You can create a blanket or a pillow or a table runner by grabbing a bunch of swatches and arranging and stitching them into different designs
- If you have kids, you can use swatches to make dolly blankets or book covers or pencil pouches
Creating a swatch doesn’t have to be a chore. Use this time to explore your ideas, practice your techniques, try out new yarn or hook, or test before you embark on the new pattern you just got and want to come out well.
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