Swatching & Blocking

Swatches

Over the weekend I asked a question on Instagram about why people do or don’t swatch before a sweater and why they don’t block finished objects. I got a lot of responses about swatches and thought I’d bring the conversation over to the blog.

Pile of swatches
Piles of swatches from projects of the past.

I typically always swatch before starting a garment. Now if the gauge is super close and I’m using the same yarn I used on another project at the same gauge, I won’t swatch. My knitting and tension are very consistent so I usually know what to expect.

Swatch examples

Example I swatched for the sweater on the left but didn’t swatch for the sweater on the right. Both had a gauge of 22×30 and for both I used Miss Babs Yowza, so I knew the needles to use already when I knit the second one and saved myself a step. But if the yarn is new, the gauge is something I’ve never gotten or it’s in a stitch pattern I haven’t used before I definitely swatch. Typically I want to know how many rows per inch I get because if I want to adjust a sleeve or the pattern says ‘knit for 3 inches’ I know how many rows per inch will get me that inch. I’m not always spot on but I’m definitely very close to what a pattern requires, hence why I get a good fit with my garments.

I also block my swatches because the gauge can change based on the fiber and how much it stretches. A lot of people said they didn’t swatch or block their swatches because they didn’t want to waste expensive yarn. Even if you block your swatch, cut it from the ball you can still use it if you need it or lost a game of yarn chicken. I’ve done it before. A lot of people also said they just didn’t swatch because they wanted to jump right in – instant gratification knitting. I get it but it is always a gamble. Now when it comes to blocking.

I ALWAYS block, whether it’s a deep wet block, steaming or throwing a superwash yarn in the washing machine – I block. Blocking helps to loosen the stitches and help smooth out your knitting, especially with colorwork. A lot of people said they don’t block because they just don’t have the space but I feel like it’s the final step in finishing your knitting. So tell me, why do or don’t you swatch? And why do you or don’t you block your knits?

36 Replies to “Swatching & Blocking”

  1. I knit for years without swatching but got tired of garments that didn’t fit. I always wanted to leap right into a new project. But then I decided, I love to knit, swatching is knitting, what’s the problem?😉 I always block. I love how a finished garment looks after blocking.

  2. I fall into the always swatching and always blocking cagetories – my gauge rarely matches either the designers or the yarn, so if I want a sweater that fits, I must swatch!

  3. I will swatch if doing a sweater. But do not for accessories – mittens, hats or scarves.

  4. I never swatch, almost always block. Since my favorite thing to knit is lace shawls I don’t really need to swatch as long as I am sure I have more than enough yarn. Blocking is pretty much necessary with those projects though. My other favorite thing to knit is hats, which could benefit from swatching, but for such a small project I’ve just never bothered to learn how to properly swatch in the round.

  5. I swatch and block before making a garment but rarely swatch for a scarf or shawl.

    1. I have swatched for knitting in the round but also found my flat knitting gauge is pretty close so I just do that.

    2. My circular gauge is different than my flat~especially with small things like sleeves. It’s a pain, but I swatch in the round. And when I start a sleeve, I go up a needle size then block after a couple of inches to check gauge. Sometimes I’ll use a sleeve as a gauge swatch.

    3. I’ve seen the light, so to speak, and swatch and block for most all – I am knitting my first sweater, so we shall see. Adding length. Your sweaters are amazing! Inspiration for sure!! 🙂

    4. Very similar to you. If it’s a yarn I haven’t knit with before or I’m unsure of the drape I will knit a swatch. My tension is very even and consistent. I rarely use the recommended yarn for patterns so I want to be sure it is suitable or I understand how the knitted fabric will be different. I always block. It makes a big difference especially to shawls and lacework. The way I block depends on the garment and yarn.

  6. I always swatch- unless it’s a yarn I use all the time. I have a massive pile of Madeline Tosh Merino light, and I know my gauge on various needles for that one. Even so, if I was going to knit a sweater in it, I would double check, as that’s a lot of knitting. I enjoy swatching, and I don’t feel like the swatch is helpful unblocked. I won’t know what the finished fabric will be like until it’s blocked. And gauge changes, sometimes by a lot, when you wash knitting for the first time.
    Also, I don’t consider my knitting finished until it’s blocked. It’s an amazing magic trip that turns knitting into fabric. I have converted non-blockers in my knitting life by spreading the word. Keep doing the good work!

  7. I don’t really enjoy swatching and like you, often use yarn I have knit before, so I don’t swatch if I know the yarn and I’m knitting a simple stitch. My most recent cast on I used yarn I had knit with before and then dunked it after I had knit a few inches of the body, just to make sure it really was OK. With a seamed garment, a good way is to knit a sleeve first. A sleeve is a really big swatch and they are more likely to be accurate.

    I always block everything, but I don’t do a fancy pins-and-wires block. I just was everything and leave it to dry flat. The knit looks so much better, I’m too vain to skip that step.

  8. Like others have said, I swatch and block the swatch for garments. We had a “knit sweaters that fit” program at Guild last spring that changed my life. Many sweater patterns don’t reach my size and I try to knit from stash so I swatch to find the gauge I need for my size and yarn. I knitted a cardigan that was listed as tight in the arms and shoulders and called for Aran yarn in bulky on bigger needles, did the math to change from Large to XXXL, and made a sweater I barely take off. I’m a swatch convert. Next I want to make a 5 Points sweater since I can’t stop looking at yours. You are so inspiring!

  9. Swatch and block – circular and flat. Like others, I’ve now gotten used to sweaters that actually fit me – hah! And that’s the magic of swatching. Because I knit continental, my gauge is almost never what the pattern calls for. That was my mistake for years. I thought that if I used the weight called for, I could use the needle size called for – mais non! I’ve got all kinds of swatches kicking about. I’m thinking of one day making them into a blanket.

  10. Sage advice, Dana! I, too, swatch and block. And if you swatch 4” or 5” squares, you can donate a bunch of them to a charity organization that sees them into blankets.

  11. All good points! I think you covered EVERYTHING that’s important about blocking! 😉

  12. I never swatch for accessories, but usually do for sweaters. However, even if I hit gauge on my blocked swatch, it almost is never the same when I start knitting the actual garment. So I have years of making pretty but ill-fitting sweaters that I eventually donate and only managed one that actually fit. I keep trying in the hopes that one day I’ll hit a miracle and a sweater will fit properly. Lol! I am so awe struck by how gorgeous and well fitted your sweaters are.

  13. I swatch and block everything, garment or otherwise, flat and circular!! I’m a novice knitter and learned a LOT
    about the subject from reading Patty Lyons! Swatching is like “dating” the yarn to learn about the fabric it produces before “marrying” and committing to the project 😁

  14. The last 3 garments I knitted, and the last 1 I crochet, I didn’t block because I liked the rustic handmade look they had.

    All but the crocheted garment (an octagon jacket) were 100% wool, and that jacket was mostly acrylic, part wool.

    I did block the one shawl I knit, plus a matching tunic, both out of fingering yarn. They both needed a lot of shaping after completion.

  15. I knit a lot of shawls, so swatching isn’t super important to me because.. it’s a shawl! And if for some reason I don’t like the way it fits, I have several knit-worthy friends I can gift it to. When I start things like mitts or socks, I usually start knitting and measure my gauge while I’m knitting. When I start my sweater, I’ll definitely be swatching and blocking! I block my shawls, but I typically just wash the socks (if they’re superwash) and let them dry. Lazy blocking! 🙂 I’m actually a very lazy knitter in general, haha!

  16. I always swatch and block. My swatching can get a little sloppy because I mostly knit top down sweaters, mostly from sock weight yarn, mostly on 4mm needles. I don’t block my swatch unless it’s a fancy pattern and something new to me. I always block, but I’ve become experienced enough that I no longer use blocking as an attempt to rescue a sweater. Even simple blocking makes a sweater look so much nicer!

    By the way, I really enjoy this blog! It’s such a happy place! And I’m amazed at how many sweaters you knit!

  17. I get what Shelley B. is saying… MATH! Hate it, hate it… and after a year or two working with blocking boards, I now admit I’ve gotta do it if things are going to fit me. Being an odd size has me really motivated not to end up with one more ill-fitting garment no better than what I could buy. But yes, I’ve definitely learned the hard way, trying shortcuts that didn’t work. I still need to be reminded to do color work swatches, as my gauge is often affected when I’m dealing with floats. About what to do with swatches: I really think there’s good value in keeping a scrapbook with details noted next to each swatch. Saves time when you find a yarn you love, especially if it’s a pricey one.

  18. I always swatch-total instant gratification! I hate having to rip out a swatch to use the yarn for the project, though. One day I’d like to make a blanket of all my swatches, the knitter’s version of a crazy quilt. 😊

    1. I’ve used swatches a couple of times to make catnip toys😻

  19. Blocking is one of my favourite parts because it’s like magic! I still can’t believe sometimes what a difference it makes.
    Swatching is a different story. I never ever did because it feels like such a waste of time, but I mostly got away with it because I wasn’t making fitted items and nobody cares if my blanket comes out 3 inches bigger than it’s ‘supposed’ to be.
    I did bite the bullet and swatched before starting a Flax Light, but I was bored and impatient (which probably affected my gauge now I think about it) and by the time it was done I didn’t want to spend another second on it so I never blocked it. I don’t think I’ll ever be a happy swatcher, but I can see the value in it.

  20. I always block, but rarely swatch these days. My gauge varies with my mood, time of day, stress level, etc so a swatch rarely tells me what I really need to know. I once had a sweater with two sleeves with the same row count, but an inch different in length! So now I’ll treat the beginnings like a swatch, and consistently measure and remeasure as I knit. I’ll adjust as needed? And never hesitate to rip back. Luckily I don’t mind ripping back sweaters if it means a better fitting product.

  21. I’m with you! I always swatch — and I wash/block my swatch, too. (Because unblocked swatches have lied to me too many times.) And I always, Always, ALWAYS block my finished knits. (Sometimes – when I’m knitting a sweater in pieces – I’ll get started knitting a sleeve, and use that as my swatch. Sometimes it works out; sometimes it doesn’t.)

  22. I always swatch and block before I knit for gauge and block after finishing. I learned the hard way with a red cardigan that was large enough to drive a bus through. It had to be ripped and re-knitted = 2 sweaters one of which was never worn.

  23. After spending 8 months and $250 (in yarn) on a sweater I couldn’t wear I have swatched in anything not for a child. I purposely make their things big since they grow so fast.

  24. I swatch for things that matter. And by that I mean where size matters. So, I’ll swatch for a sweater because I want that to fit and it’s a lot of work to end up with something that doesn’t fit. However, I don’t swatch for shawls because for me it’s more about whether I like the fabric or not. I don’t often swatch for hats as my feeling on that is the swatch is the hat and I’ll just rip it out if it’s way off and start over. I do wash my swatches too as I know the gauge will change with washing and I intend to wash my sweaters.

  25. I should have added that I learned this the hard way. I started knitting a sweater for my 5 year-old daughter and I did not swatch. When I *finally* finished it when she was 9, it fit. Yeah, it turns out that I’m a very loose knitter and gauge matters. So, this time it worked as my daughter grew as an adult I’m hoping to avoid growing to fit into my sweaters.

  26. I rarely swatch squares – but that is because on all the garments that I have made I have started them at my LYS and always had help correcting my gauge after a couple rows. But I have learned how important blocking is…and now I block.

  27. I swatch for almost everything, but I rarely block my swatches. I have, however, in the last few years become an ardent blocker! It makes your knitting look so much better–not just for lace!

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