Making a gauge swatch is important, but is it accurate if it hasn’t been blocked? Learn how to block your gauge swatch and why it’s critical for success.
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If you’ve been knitting or crocheting for very long, you’ve probably heard at least a little bit about gauge. (If you’re not familiar with what gauge is or why it’s important, learn more about gauge here.)
Gauge is the measurement of the size of your stitches. It is usually measured by counting how many stitches or rows fit into a certain measurement.
Getting the correct gauge for a project can make the difference between failure and success. This is why it is best to make a gauge swatch before beginning your project.
What is a Gauge Swatch?
A gauge swatch is a small sample or test piece of your knitted or crocheted fabric. It is used to measure the size of your stitches (your gauge).
By making a test swatch with the yarn and hook or needles you plan to use for your project, you can determine whether the yarn is suitable, and whether you need to adjust your hook or needle size to match the gauge in the pattern you’re following.
Even if you use a yarn in the same weight category that the pattern calls for, and you’re using the same hook size or needle size that the pattern recommends, your stitches may not be the same size as the pattern specifies.
Because every knitter or crocheter is a little different, and each of us works with a slightly different amount of tension on the yarn.
Your tension may be a bit different than the pattern designer’s tension, so you may need to go up or down a hook / needle size to get your stitches to turn out the same size as the pattern calls for.
Always remember that the hook or needle size given in the pattern is a recommendation only. It is much more important to match the pattern gauge than to use the same size hook or needle as the pattern recommends.
To learn how to make a gauge swatch, check out this blog post.
Why You Should Block Your Gauge Swatch
When measuring gauge, it’s important to keep in mind how the finished item will be used. Most projects will be blocked or washed. Blocking can affect the look, feel, and drape of the finished fabric, as well as the size of your stitches.
Blocking relaxes the fabric and helps it find its final shape. (If you’re not familiar with blocking, you can learn more about how to block your knitting & crochet projects here.)
Because blocking can affect the size of your stitches, it is important to measure your gauge AFTER blocking your gauge swatch.
If you measure gauge without blocking your swatch, and then you wash or block your finished project, the size of the stitches in the finished project may turn out differently than the size of the stitches in your swatch.
This is why blocking your gauge swatch is necessary. Measuring gauge on a swatch that has not been blocked may result in an inaccurate gauge measurement, as the gauge changes after blocking.
Blocking is especially important for open or elastic stitch patterns, like lace and cables. Unblocked lace tends to have a crumpled look to it, but blocking helps to open up the fabric so that the lace stitch pattern really shines.
How to Block Your Gauge Swatch
How you choose to block your gauge swatch will often depend on the fiber content of your yarn. Wet-blocking or spray-blocking tend to work best for natural fiber yarns, while acrylic yarns often prefer steam blocking (tutorial for steam blocking here).
In fact, some machine-washable acrylics can just be washed and dried instead of blocking!
In the video below, since the yarn I was working with was a wool, alpaca, and acrylic blend, I chose to wet-block my swatches.
Here are the tools you’ll need for wet-blocking:
– Foam Blocking Mat (or several layers of thick towels)
– Rust-Resistant T-Pins (or sewing pins)
– Small Bowl of Water
– Small Towel
Follow the instructions below to wet-block your gauge swatch:
- Get your swatch wet!
Submerge the swatch into the bowl of water, and swish it around a little. Let it sit for a few minutes if needed to soak up the water. You want the fabric to be saturated with water for best results.
- Squeeze out the excess water.
You don’t want to wring, twist, or stretch the swatch out. I like to gently squeeze the drippiness out of the fabric, then lay it out on the towel. If you roll the towel up with the swatch inside, and then press on the rolled-up towel, it helps remove the excess water. This will help the blocking process go a bit faster, as it will not take as long to dry.
- Pin the swatch out onto the mat.
With a finished project, you might need to stretch the fabric slightly to match the finished measurements given in the pattern. However, with a swatch, it’s important not to distort the fabric as you pin it out. You want the fabric to assume its natural, relaxed state so that your gauge measurement will be accurate. So I suggest gently spreading the swatch out on the mat, being careful not to pull, stretch, or distort it. Then, use the T-Pins to pin the edges of the swatch to the foam mat.
- Let your swatch dry.
One little trick I have found for speeding this process up is to lean the mat against the wall and put a little fan in front of it.
- Unpin your blocked swatch.
Once your swatch is dry, you can remove the pins and lift the swatch off of the blocking mat. You can now take accurate stitch gauge and row gauge measurements for your project. (To learn how to measure gauge, click here.)
(I do not recommend including the edge stitches in your gauge measurement. Stitches along the edges of the fabric can be slightly distorted. It is best to measure gauge from the middle of the swatch so that no edge stitches are included in the measurement.
Gauge Swatch FAQs
If you measure your gauge after blocking your swatch, and it does not match the gauge requirements in the pattern you’re following, you’ll need to adjust your hook or needle size.
Gauge is measured by the number of stitches or rows that fit into a certain measurement. For instance, a pattern may say it requires “20 stitches in 4 inches”.
If you have more stitches or rows in the specified measurement than the pattern requires, then the stitches are too small. In our example, if your gauge was too small, you may have 21 stitches in 4 inches instead of the 20 stitches in 4 inches that the pattern calls for. To fix this, use a larger needle or hook and swatch again.
If you have fewer stitches or rows in the specified measurement than the pattern requires, then the stitches are too large. In our example, if your gauge was too large, you may have 18 stitches in 4 inches instead of the 20 stitches in 4 inches that the pattern calls for. To fix this, use a smaller needle or hook and swatch again.
Adjust your hook or needle size until the size of your stitches after blocking matches the pattern gauge.
If going up or down one hook or needle size changes the gauge too much, you could try changing to a different hook or needle material instead. Different needle materials provide different amounts of friction against the stitches, which can slightly affect your gauge.
Metal needles and hooks tend to be more slippery, while many wooden needles and hooks, like bamboo, have more friction. More friction can make the stitches slightly tighter.
So if your stitches are just slightly too large, but going down a needle or hook size makes them too small, you might try switching to a needle or hook in the same size, but with more surface friction.
My Favorite Metal Knitting Needles
My Favorite Wooden Knitting Needles
My Favorite Metal Crochet Hooks
My Favorite Wooden Crochet Hooks
Could you try it? Yes, you could. But I generally do not recommend trying to use a different yarn weight or work at a different gauge than the pattern requires.
The finished project will not turn out the correct size unless you recalculate and rewrite the pattern to be worked at a different gauge.
Working at a different gauge will throw off every measurement, every stitch count, every row count, and every pattern repeat in the pattern instructions. It will also affect the look, feel, and drape of the finished fabric.
Crochet and knitting patterns involve a lot more math than many crafters realize.
I do not recommend trying to knit or crochet your project at a different gauge UNLESS you are comfortable designing and writing your own patterns from scratch, and are willing to recalculate some or all of the numbers in the pattern.
Making gauge swatches does take a little extra time, but every step in the swatching process is totally worth it. No one wants their sweater to turn out the wrong size! Taking time to swatch, block, and measure your gauge will help make sure your project turns out beautifully.
Pin the image below to save this tutorial for later!