Swatch in the Round--Faster!

comments (0) June 26th, 2008     

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Cranky_Daphne Daphne Adair, contributor
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Cast on a few extra stitches on a double-pointed or circular needle.
Beginning the new knit row: The working yarn is held across the back extremely loosely so it wont pull in.
The swatch in progress...a bit messy.
Cast on a few extra stitches on a double-pointed or circular needle.

Cast on a few extra stitches on a double-pointed or circular needle.

Photo: Daphne Adair

My friends and fellow knitters Emily and Martine and I have pondered the question many times: Why does a swatch for a hat, carefully measured and multiplied, often yield a too-big, floppy, and wholly unsatisfying end product? Of course, we were mainly talking about our whimsical, instantaneous, no-pattern cast-ons, and we have no one but ourselves to blame for those horrors, but we’d also seen this problem with perfectly good patterns with perfectly good gauges.

What happens to us knitters is that often our gauge in flat knitting is different from in the round, because our purl stitches and rows are looser than our knit rows. Usually the difference is negligible and the knit and purl rows balance each other out in a flat, back-and-forth piece. However, if you’re knitting a hat or other garment in the round in mostly stockinette stitch, you may find your nice even, tight knit stitches pull each other in so snugly the hat you envisioned for your dad is suddenly sized for your coworker’s friend's premie.

What to do? Elizabeth Zimmerman actually recommends making a “hat swatch” when planning a Fair Isle sweater—it takes a night or two, but you really learn your pattern and you end up with a nice hat for someone (depending on who it fits). But being of the frugal persuasion, I recommend saving time and money with a faked in the round swatch. It’s a little like i-cord, so if you’ve done that, you’re halfway there. Here’s how to do it.

Using double pointed or circular needles to cast on the appropriate number of stitches for a regular, 4-inch by 4-inch swatch, plus 6 to 10 stitches, depending on your gauge (more for smaller gauges and fewer for larger). In the first image above, I’ve cast on 24 stitches in worsted weight.

Purl one wrongside row, then knit one row. Now, when you get to the end of your knit row, do not turn your needle around. Instead, loop the yarn very loosely around the back of the swatch:


Beginning the new knit row: The working yarn is held across the back extremely loosely so it won't pull in.

... and begin knitting again. Here's approximately how it'll look midway through:


The swatch in progress...a bit messy.

Continue this way until you have 4 inches. You’ll have an inelegant back of your swatch, but it’ll do the trick:


The back of the swatch.

Slide it off the needles and measure:


Slide it off the needles and measure.

 

This swatch is not the easiest to wash and block; if you’re worried about the gauge changing a lot with washing, go ahead and bind off your swatch and wash it in a small garment or lingerie bag before blocking and measuring. But in that case, you might want to go ahead and do a "real" in the round swatch as the edge stitches here could throw you off. This is definitely meant to be a quick easy way to find out just how different your all-knit gauge is from your knit and purl gauge. You should come much closer to gauge now. Remember, if your pattern has lots of knit and purl texture, you a flat swatch for knitting in the round is completely fine.

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