Before you start working on a crochet pattern you are supposed to create a gauge swatch. Most of us know this. And many of us don’t do it (including myself). As far as crochet topics go, it seems to be one of the most controversial. I’ve had people react really negatively towards me because I don’t swatch for gauge and it’s because they passionately believe in practicing this step in the craft. I wanted to a deep exploration into what swatching for gauge is all about, why people say you “have to” do it and why some of us choose not to do it. That’s what this post is about.
What is Swatching for Gauge?
For those who aren’t sure, what this means is that you create a small piece of the pattern (usually, but not always a crochet square) to check that the measurements that you get from this are the same as the measurements laid out by the designer of the pattern. You meausre the width and height of your square to make sure it matches that in the “gauge” section of the crochet pattern. If they are not the same, this is your chance to change your hook, yarn or tension to get those same measurements so that your finished work comes out (at least theoretically) the same as the finished size intended by the crochet designer.
10 Reasons People Swatch for Gauge
1. The crocheter wants to crochet the item exactly as the designer intended it. If you’re using someone else’s pattern and the same yarn and hook that they suggested in the pattern and trying to get the same fit or size that they’ve created then it only makes sense to swatch for gauge! Basically, you don’t want to waste time. Swatching for gauge may not guarantee you the perfect fit but it will tell you if your sizing is totally way off. If you’ve ever made the error of following a pattern but somehow ending up with a piece that is ten times bigger or smaller than intended then you know how easy it is to waste time crafting the wrong size item.
2. The crocheter is adapting a crochet pattern and wants to make sure it is the right size. For example, you are following a crochet pattern but have done a yarn substitution and you aren’t sure if the yarn that you are chosen is going to work up the way that the original yarn did. People may do this when following someone else’s patterns or when using a different yarn with their own original patterns. Again, the point is that swatching for gauge is designed to help you get the right dimensions as laid out in a crochet pattern. But it’s also more than that; if you’re choosing a completely different color yarn (especially a variegated in a pattern that calls for solid) then your gauge swatch will help you figure out if the color is going to actually work with this pattern.
3. You’ll have a practice item to wash before you wash the real thing. You can use your gauge swatch to see how the item you’re creating is going to do in the wash – if it will shrink or felt or change dramatically. That’s information you may want to have.
4. It offers a chance to practice the stitches in the pattern. A gauge swatch often includes a nice chunk of the pattern so that you can get a sense of what you’ll be working on. This offers a great opportunity to practice some of the stitches that you may be less familiar with so that you can learn them and perfect them before you actually start crocheting the item you intend to devote time and effort to.
5. It shows respect for the hard work of the crochet designer. I can’t remember where I heard someone say this but it was the first thing about gauge swatching that actually really resonated with me. Crochet designers take a lot of time to figure out the right yarns to use for their projects and to create the right gauge to make it work out for you. By swatching for gauge, you’re showing that you respect the information they’ve taken the time to put together for you.
6. You will be able to see if you’re getting the right drape. The thing about gauge is that it’s not just about size but can also show you the thickness and texture of the pattern that you are making. In a post on gauge swatching crochet designer Tracie Barrettshares how she once didn’t gauge swatch for an afghan and if she had she would have learned that “because I was a tight crocheter, this was not going to be a wonderfully drapy blanket. It instead was going to mimic wet cardboard.” This same sentiment is reiterated in a crochet quote from Kate Haxell who says, “an edging can be made crisp and sculptural or delicate and light by changing the gauge and hook size.”
7. To see if the pattern is going to be hard on the hands. One other really interesting thing that Tracie said in that same post was that the pattern she was working was really hard on her hands and that she could have adapted for that by playing around with a gauge swatch first and makign the right changes. I didn’t ever think about this being a reason to swatch for gauge but since a lot of people do have hand pain when crocheting it’s definitely a reason to pay attention to!
8. In preparation for sharing your own crochet patterns. If you want to be a crochet designer then you will need to know how to create gauge swatches for your own projects. By doing gauge swatches when following other people’s patterns you’ll learn a lot about this part of the crochet design process.
9. It can help you build confidence for starting an intimidating project. An article from Annie’s all about gauge includes the line: “Understanding how to make a proper gauge swatch is a crucial step toward enhancing a crocheter’s confidence and ability to make a successful project every time.” The line stood out to me because it made me think about how swatches might have the potential to encourage confidence. I think if you’re unsure that you can complete a crochet project but then see that you can get the gauge swatch right then you might have the confidence that you need to move forward with the rest of the project.
10. Gauge is considered a part of the process and one under our control. Dora Ohrenstein once said to me in an email: “in every endeavor that is worth my time, I want to do it as best as I can, which includes some aspects that are not totally fun.” She was talking about things like swatching for gauge and blocking your finished crochet work. This got me thinking about how many crafters really enjoy the satisfaction of doing each and every step of a project and doing it perfectly. Although I am not like this at all, I can totally understand and respect this. Crochet is something we can control, in a world where we control so little!
For those of you who do create crochet gauge swatches, check out my post on 10 creative things to do with swatches when you’re done with them.
10 Reasons People Don’t Swatch for Gauge
1. The crocheter doesn’t typically follow other people’s patterns. You crochet for gauge so that what you make matches what the designer intended so if you’re not following a pattern then you’re not following someone else’s gauge. I should say that there are plenty of people who do gauge swatch even when creating their own patterns; it’s what crochet designers typically do. For me personally, I prefer to crochet without patterns and to adapt the fit of things as I go. As a result, I’m not at all in the habit of swatching for gauge so when I do work on someone else’s pattern I never even think to swatch for gauge.
2. A preference for adapting size as you go. I just said this but I want to reiterate it because it is the main reason that I don’t bother to swatch for gauge. I like playing with the shape and fit of things as I go even when I am using someone else’s crochet pattern. I’m comfortable enough in my crochet skills that I feel okay adapting patterns in the works (although I do certainly make mistakes sometimes). I would rather do this than play around with gauge swatches and try to get things perfect in the beginning. It’s just a more fun part of the process for me. Another crocheter also hinted at this in a poem about gauge swatches that she wrote, published by Dora Ohrenstein on the Jimmy Beans Wool blog, that says in part: “it’s sometimes less frustrating just to plunge in/ And use trial and error – it’s not such a sin”.
3. The size of the finished item doesn’t actually matter. If the size of your finished item doesn’t matter to you then there is no reason to try to match the size that the designer intended and therefore you don’t need to swatch for gauge. For example, I don’t care one whit about the size of the scarves I make since I wear scarves of all sizes so I wouldn’t ever bother to swatch for gauge on a scarf. Stuffed animals and blankets are other examples of projects where size often doesn’t matter. In contrast, if you’re making a garment that you want to fit perfectly then size would obviously matter.
4. The gauge swatches never seem to work out. What I mean by this is that a lot of people have posted about how they swatch for gauge and get the gauge correct but then the actual finished object doesn’t come out the right size anyway so it seems like the whole process was pointless.As far as this point goes, the problem could be several things, including the crocheter’s tension changing as she works and an actual problem with the pattern as it is written. Or maybe there’s a bigger reason: Poetry in Yarn did a great three-part post that is a Rumplestiltskin-style fairytale about gauge swatching; one moral of the story is that sometimes gauge swatches lie! Of course, it isn’t the real reason that gauge swatches sometimes don’t measure up but it’s a fun explanation nonetheless and worth a read. By the way, the aforementioned Dora Ohrensenstein article has some great information for crocheters who don’t want to swatch but find that gauge lies.
5. The item is a small item. A gauge swatch is usually about 4″ square. If you are crocheting a small item that is around this size then there is very little point to doing a gauge swatch. You may as well just make the item and if it doesn’t work out to the right size you can rip it back and re-do it.
6. You’re working on something you’ve made many times. If you frequently crochet the same patterns using the same yarn and you’ve done this one before multiple times then you probably don’t need to check for gauge because you’ve already got it down.
7. It doesn’t bother you to frog items that don’t turn out right. Some people make very specific items for specific reasons and they want to get those items right. Other people make a variety of different items without a specific purpose in mind and are at least as interested in the process of crochet as they are in the end product. I’m one of those people. If I make something and it doesn’t turn out to be something I want to wear or use in the end then I just put it in a pile. A few times per year I go through that pile and I either donate the items or I frog them to use the yarn for something else. It’s a part of the process that I actually like and it doens’t bother me a bit.
8. You have plenty of a yarn or don’t match dye lots. One of the things I didn’t mention above in the “reasons to swatch” is that getting the right gauge helps you to make sure that you’ll use approximately the same amount of yarn as the pattern calls for. If you are the type of crocheter who goes to the store and purchases the right number of skeins for your pattern and wants them to all be in the same dye lot then this will matter to you. I’m not one of those people. I buy yarn and keep a large stash of it and later find projects to use for that yarn. I usually use different yarns in a pattern, rather than the same yarn, and I’ve never once paid attention to dye lot. It’s just a different preference.
9. You want to be surprised by your end product. A gauge swatch gives you a sneak peak into how the item is going to look when you’re done with it, which is something that most people want. But maybe you enjoy the curiosity and pleasure of seeing it all unfold in front of you as you work it and you don’t want to spoil that.
10. Swatching makes the process of crochet not as fun for you. Ultimately this craft is about having fun and enjoying ourselves and relaxing. If creating gauge swatches is something that you don’t enjoy then it’s okay not to do it – as long as you are aware of the potential problems that can result if you choose not to swatch for gauge!
So, I have to ask – do you swatch for crochet gauge? Why or why not?