Knitting Advice and Tips

Why do I have to do a Gauge Swatch?

Should I check my knitting gauge?

"Do I really need to knit a gauge swatch?"

It's a common question when you knit from a published pattern.

And even me, a (ahem!) well-seasoned knitter, will try to skip knitting a gauge swatch whenever possible. But here are FOUR scenarios where you might not want to skip this important step (sorry!):

ONE: When the finished size matters

The biggest lesson I've learned from past projects gone wrong is that if you really want a finished project to fit correctly, take the time to do the gauge swatch! And I don't mean CO and measure after you've knit a few rows. This is a situation where you will be spending HOURS lovingly knitting a sweater, vest, or what have you, for yourself or a deserving friend or relative. If the end result does not fit - how annoying would that be? To give yourself the best assurance that your finished measurements will match what the pattern has intended, follow these steps to properly swatch: Whispering Leaves Lace Top-Down CardiganFor example, it'd be a real shame if this slim-fitting cardigan was knit up in the wrong gauge - resulting in a cardigan that's too tight or baggy!

    1) With the suggested yarn (or a similar yarn in weight and look and feel if you are substituting) and suggested needle size, knit up a swatch that is at least 4" x 4" in the specified stitch pattern that the gauge is given in.

    2) BO the swatch and then block it however you will plan to block the finished item. You might even wash it if it's to be a often washed item. 

    3) After it's fully dry, unpin and measure it on a flat surface. A tape measure, ruler, or special gauge measuring tools (like the 2 shown here) are all fine.  You can use sewing pins to mark the 0" point and then the 3", 4", 5", or more point (choose whichever of those inch measurements lands most precisely between 2 sts, rather than in the middle of one since trying to count partial sts is too inaccurate).Should I check my knitting gauge?

    4) If you have more sts per inch than the pattern's stated gauge, re-swatch with a bigger needle size. If you have less sts per inch than the pattern's stated gauge, re-swatch with a smaller needle size.  Repeat these last 4 steps until you match gauge.

    5) At any point, if you don't like how the swatch is looking (at gauge or even before you get gauge) you might decide to try a different yarn. Swatching gives you the chance to test out the yarn with the stitch pattern and at the gauge needed by the pattern. 

    6) Once you've figured out what needle size will give you the exact gauge needed by the pattern, you can proceed. Hint: I will still measure as I go to double check that my gauge is good . . . it's never too late to turn back if you see a big problem!

REMEMBER - even being a half stitch off can make enough of a difference in the finished size (esp. for a fitted sweater) that you won't want to skip this step. For example, if the sweater is 4 sts to the inch, but you are knitting at 3.5 sts to the inch. . .  over a 40" bust, that's say 160 sts. With the slightly off gauge of 3.5, those 160 sts at the bust now measures 45 ¾", which turns a fitted sweater into a baggy one. 

    7) Matching the pattern's exact row gauge is generally not as important as getting the right stitch gauge, but it does depend on the pattern. Needing to work a few extra or less rows here and there won't matter for most patterns, but read through your pattern and you might decide it matter enough to change yarns.

TWO: When you are substituting a yarn

This is probably the most common reason to knit a swatch. You'll be able to check your gauge AND test if you like the look and feel of the yarn for the pattern. Different textures will result if your yarn weight is a little different, if the yarn content is different, if you are using a smooth yarn vs. a textured one, etc. Swatching is the BEST way to decide if you like your yarn choice before you've knit (or purchased!) a bunch.

THREE: When you might not have enough yarn

Yardage estimates in patterns are BASED on the stated gauge! Particularly for patterns that are "one-ball" patterns, you can't expect the yardage estimate to be accurate if you are knitting at a different gauge. For example, if the pattern gauge is 4 sts per inch and you are knitting at 3.5 sts per inch, you will end up with a larger scarf (or whatever) than intended in the pattern. You'll definitely use up more yards of the yarns to finish the instructions, so plan accordingly. Many published patterns will pad their yardage estimates 10-15%, but that is not an industry standard you can rely on. PLUS, yardage estimates on ball bands are estimates based on the weight of the ball or hank, so there's always some room for error there too.

FOUR: When there are new stitch patterns or techniques in the pattern

Challenging yourself with a new and interesting stitch pattern with this new project? Swatching in that pattern will allow you to learn it before you work it in the actual project. Maybe you'll discover that it's too easy (and therefore "boring") or too hard (which means frustration and/or ripping out rows later). Great things to discover while swatching vs. after you've already started the project!

Hope the above has been helpful. While I'm with you in wanting to skip the step of checking gauge, I'm too aware of the risks, so I almost always swatch first!

FYI - All of my SweaterBabe patterns state the gauge on the pattern sell pages. I find that it helps my customers to select their yarns for my patterns. 


Why is it better to measure across 3 or 4+" vs. 1 or 2"? Less room for error and/or slight inconsistency in knitting tension or stitches. If you measure across just 1" of sts, you may not get an accurate measure that would match if you measured 1" elsewhere. But measuring over 4" or more of sts will average out all those slight variations.

Don't measure too close to the CO, BO, or the edges. How loosely or tightly you CO or BO could skew your measurement, so measure in the middle for best results. This is also why you don't measure when sts are still on the needle, as how they are spread out or bunched up on your needle can skew your measurements easily (plus, you're supposed to block the swatch first!)

Pattern gauges will not always be to the 4" measure.  . .  sometimes, a true gauge will be something like 23 sts = 5", or 4.6 sts = 1". This does not convert nicely to a 4" measure, as it would have to say 18.4 sts = 4". How does one measure 18.4 sts??

Try to swatch using the actual needles you'll use for knitting the project. For some people, their knitting tension (and therefore their gauge) will vary on bamboo needles vs. ultra smooth aluminum, etc. Even working in the round vs. rows can change your gauge a little.

Happy Successful Knitting!

Measuring Knitting Gauge

Here's some advice I gave to a knitter working on the very popular #77 Vine Lace Top-Down Cardigan knitting pattern.  The gauge for this pattern is a little unusual - 8 sts over 3" in St st, but correct! 

The suggestions I made for her might be helpful to anyone who wonders about how to match the gauge of a pattern. . .

Hello SweaterBabe!
I'm having trouble matching the gauge on pattern 77 (topdown vine lace cardigan). I can get 8 st/3" on 13 needles but then I have about 14 rows/4". If I use 11 needles I get the rows right but am more like 10 st/3". Is the gauge duo as listed, 8st/3" and 17rows/4", correct? (I suspect from absence of comment on this on your blog that it is, but wanted to confirm before launching in probably with size 13 needles).

-- Best, Sarah O.

Hi Sarah O.,
Yes - the gauge is correct as stated. I think it's most important to get the st gauge right on. AND, I would be sure to measure the gauge across a wide swatch, even 5" or so so you get a true average.

Please be sure to measure the gauge in the middle of the swatch, away from your CO or BO edges, and to block the swatch first and let it completely dry.

Hopefully some of those things may help get the 10sts/3" that you are achieving on the size 11 needles up a bit?? OR it could be that the yarn you are using will not work? Could it be that it is too thin?

The Brown Sheep Lamb's Pride Bulky is a true bulky with enough fullness in the yarn to fill in the holes. . . I don't know what yarn you are using.

Anyhow, that is my recommendation. If after all that, the size 13 needles are still closer to the gauge, then you can try those and watch the length as you go. . . as you may wish to adjust for the difference in row gauge throughout, which should be easier given this is a top-down design that you can try on as you go. Hope that helps!

-- Best, SweaterBabe

Hi SweaterBabe,
Thank you so much, this is very helpful! I think I'm going to go with the smaller needles and make the sweater one size up. (I've done the math and it should work out OK.)

My wool is definitely less bulky than yours (though it is bulky) and it doesn't look right on 13 needles. I know this is a bit risky but I think it will be OK, and I should be able to block the finished thing to make it a big roomier if I need to.

-- Best, Sarah O.

Hi Sarah,
Great! And now for sure I agree with your decision to go with the size 11. You definitely don't want to use the 13's if with the yarn you are using it looks too loose and holey. Knit on!

-- SweaterBabe

Buy the #77 Vine Lace Top-Down Cardigan knitting pattern here.

Chic Cowl Neck Cable Question

Hi Chic Cowl Neck Sweater Knitters (pattern #90)! 


I occassionally get questions about the Cabling on the Cowl and thought I would share some of my answers that have helped clarify how the Cowl is worked.


At the beginning of the pattern, the Cowl cables are established.  Here is Round 5.


Round 5 [Cable Twist]: [P6 (6, 6, 7, 7, 8, 8), Work Round 5 of Braided Cable over next 14 sts, p6 (6, 6, 7, 7, 8, 8), Work Round 11 of Braided Cable over next 14 sts] 3 times.

So, the Cowl patterning looks like this:

[Rev St st] [Cable A] [Rev St st] [Cable B] [Rev St st] [Cable A] [Rev St st] [Cable B] [Rev St st] [Cable A] [Rev St st] [Cable B] [end of Round marker]

i.e. sections of Rev St st separating the 6 Cable Panels.  The 1st, 3rd, and 5th Cable panels (Cable A) just did a Round 5 Braided Cable Twist, whereas the 2nd, 4th, and 6th Cable panels (Cable B) just did a Round 11 Braided Cable Twist.

Working in patterns as established means this:

On Round 6 of the Cowl, cont with Round 6 of the Braided Cable for the 1st, 3rd, and 5th Cables and Round 12 of the Braided Cable for the 2nd, 4th, and 6th Cables.  Keep purling the Rev St st sections.

Then, on Round 7 of the Cowl, cont with Round 7 of the Braided Cable for the 1st, 3rd, and 5th Cables and Round 1 of the Braided Cable for the 2nd, 4th, and 6th Cables.  Keep purling the Rev St st sections.

Then, on Round 8 of the Cowl, cont with Round 8 of the Braided Cable for the 1st, 3rd, and 5th Cables and Round 2 of the Braided Cable for the 2nd, 4th, and 6th Cables.  Keep purling the Rev St st sections.

etc., etc. through Round 48 of the Cowl.
You'll notice that all the NON-Cable Twist Rows are just k2, p2 ribbing (essentially) for the Cable Panel stitches.  So, it's only on the Cable Twisting Rows (every 6th Row) that you need to REALLY PAY attention and do the correct Cable Twist.
I hope this helps clarify any confusion!  I staggered the Cables this way to make it LOOK more complicated and textured, not to confuse knitters ;-)

Although the cable-lover in me thinks the end effect is totally worth the extra effort!

Grafting the Cowl

My chunky cowl pattern, #103 Luscious Cabled Cowl (available to Knitting Club Members now and coming to the Pattern Shop in 1-2 weeks) is joined together as a cowl using a "grafting" stitch that is like doing a Kitchner stitch (commonly used to do the toe seam on socks!).  Here are some diagrams to show how I did it.

(Of course, those of you who like to do provisional cast-ons can do that with this cowl pattern.  Then, use the Kitchner stitch to join the "live" stitches of the cast-on to the last row of sts left on the needle.)

Anyhow, back to how I grafted it:

Here is a photo showing how it looks after grafting a few stitches.  Basically, grafting it (or using a Kitchner-like seam stitch) makes it look like you have no seam at all and just continuous knitting (see the photo below after a few grafting stitches have been done). 

So, your seam will follow the path of a knit row and blend right in to the fabric.  It's similar in feel to doing a duplicate stitch (if you are familiar with that).


You will have the RS of the work facing you AND you need to have a yarn tail that is approximately 4 times the width of the cowl to make sure you have enough to complete this seam.

Each "grafting" seam stitch begins by going under the base of a "knit" stitch from the cast on row (which you see above the knitting needle).  The yarn tapestry needle is inserted under the base of the "V" of a stitch, so it's under 2 strands of yarn as shown below.


Then, pull the yarn through.  Now, insert the tapestry needle under the LEFT strand/half of the knit stitch that just came off of your knitting needle and then into the stitch on your knitting needle (as if to purl it) as shown below. 


Pull the yarn through.  That's the basic seam stitch.  Here are a few more seam stitches repeating what you just did to continue illustrating it.

Insert needle under the next st to the left under the 2 strands of the "V".

Pull yarn through and insert needle under the LEFT half of the knit st that just came off your knitting needle and into the next st on the knitting needle as if to purl. 


Pull yarn though.  And another time:



And so on, and so on.

Be very careful with this project that you don't miss the 3 sts that are kind of hidden under the cable twists of Cowl Row 1.  You need to dig in a little to find them and make sure you catch them.  There are 48 sts on the cast on row and 48 sts on your knitting needle at the end... you want to be sure to match each stitch for stitch so the seam lines up nicely.

Good luck and enjoy the finished cowl!!

Wool versus Cotton in warmer climates?

Dear SweaterBabe,

I live in southern California, so I've knitted with primarily cotton blends. There are gorgeous yarns containing alpaca and wool.

What are the pros and cons of these fibers especially for someone that lives in an area that stays warm throughout the year?

-- Minerva, from the Knitting Club

Dear Minerva,

I think that yarns can be such a personal choice... what feels good to knit with, what feels good against your skin when wearing, how much time you have to care for your knitwear, etc.

I live in Los Angeles, as you may already know, and the weather has been so warm this year! I do wear my non-cotton items, but not as much as I'd like because I work from home (vs. the offices I used to work in that would be so heavily air-conditioned that I could wear scarves and wool sweaters almost year-round!).

I choose to knit mostly with alpaca blends, merino wool blends, etc. because I personally don't find many cottons that feel good to knit with. Cotton does not have as much elasticity as wool and it makes my hands ache after a little bit of knitting, whereas I never have that issue with wool!

I also like the look of alpaca and wool blends. They look more expensive to me and therefore make my finished knitwear more luxurious. . . but that is my own perception.

What do you think?

The other thing about cotton is that it is often a bit heavy compared to the lightness of alpaca and merino. Totally depends on the blend, of course, but I like lighter sweaters.

I'm sure there are opinions across the board on this topic!  Please chime in! 

-- SweaterBabe

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Straighter Edges in Knitting

Dear SweaterBabe,

I have tried to achieve straight edges by knitting into the back of 1st 2 and last 2 stitches of each row it seems to be a bit better but not completely straight.


-- Angelina, from the Knitting Club

Dear Angelina,

I haven't tried that trick... but I have taught students to make neater edges by increasing their tension just a bit as they do the first stitch on every row.

So, just pull your yarn a bit more (holding it with a tighter tension) when you are working that first knit or purl stitch. That can often help tighten up the edges and make them neater.

My suggestion does assume that you are holding your yarn consistently in your right hand (assuming you are a right-handed knitter!) to maintain even tension as you knit. If not, that may be something that you can practice to make things more even in general and therefore, your edges too!

Hope that helps!

Now - Stockinette Stitch edges are not all that pretty in general for anyone.

I rarely leave a Stockinette Stitch edge "raw" for a finished project. Usually, that edge gets seamed with another edge to form a side seam of a sweater or stitches are picked up along the edge to work a neckline or armhole edging. . .

The other "trick" that is used sometimes is called a "selvage" or "edge st". This means that the 1 st at either edge is worked only every other row on purpose to create a tighter looking edge.

To work a "knit" selvage, you can slip the first stitch on every row (as if you were going to knit it, i.e. knitwise), and then knit the last stitch on every row. This will create an edge that looks like a nice chain going up your work. Give it a try!

-- SweaterBabe

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Using a Steamer for Blocking

Minerva S., a Member of the Knitting Club, asked me this:

Dear SweaterBabe,

What is your opinion on using a steamer to block knitted or crocheted items?

-- Minerva S.

And here is what I suggested:

I use a steam iron to do all of my blocking these days, unless I feel that more blocking is necessary.

If I want more blocking, I use wet handtowels (mostly wrung out) and lay them on top of the pinned down items and let it all air dry.

Are you asking about a steam iron or one of those fancy steamers that has a big water tank that you use for hanging items?

If you mean a steamer that is intended for use while an item is hung, I would definitely NOT recommend that. Most knitwear is too heavy and will stretch out if hung, especially if moisture is added.

-- SweaterBabe

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[K1, yo] 3 times, k1 - all in same stitch?!

Hello Sweaterbabe,

I have been knitting for years but never come across this knitting direction before.

Could you please explain how to to do "k1yo, k1yo, k1yo, k1, all in same stitch". This has got me stumped!!

Thanks in anticipation, Wendy.

Dear Wendy,

Yup - it's a tricky one!

This is how:

K1, but do NOT slip the st off of the left-hand needle,


now, K1 into the BACK of that same stitch (and still don't slip it off of the left-hand needle),


now, K1 into the FRONT of that same stitch (like you just did at the beginning of this!),


and lastly, K1 into the BACK of the same stitch,

let it slip off of your left-hand needle.


The directions could have mentionned that you need to do the knitting into the front and back of the stitch (alternating) in order to fit all that in.  I think that would have been a helpful note!

Does it make sense now?  Must be a cool looking, textured stitch pattern!

-- SweaterBabe

Vine Lace Hat question

Dear SweaterBabe,

This question is regarding #78 two skein vine lace hat (a free pattern).

Please help! I am very frustrated trying to figure out the vine lace- I have knitted it and taken it out 5 times trying to get the math correct.

I am ready for row 10 which is row 2 of the vine lace pattern-

Row 10: K2, work row 2 of Vine Lace to last st, k1.

Row 2 (of Vine Lace): K3, *yo, k2, skp, k2tog, k2, yo, k1: rep from *, end k1.

I am ending up with extra stitches and not ending on a k1.

Pattern states Mult of 9 sts plus 4

Can you please tell me stitch by stitch how I should knit Row 10?

Thank you.

-- Gail

Hi Gail,

Ooh - didn't mean to make this pattern frustrate!

Let me see if this helps:

This is what the Lace Row is for your Row 10:

Row 2: K3, *yo, k2, skp, k2tog, k2, yo, k1; rep from *, end k1.

There are 70 sts total, but only the middle 67 are the Lace pattern, i.e. there are "7" repeats of the lace.

It can help to have 2 markers separate the Lace from the 2 edge sts at the beginning and 1 edge st at the end (of the Even Numbered Rows).

So, for Row 10: K2, slip marker (if using),

then the Lace part: K3,
*yo, k2, skp, k2tog, k2, yo, k1;
*yo, k2, skp, k2tog, k2, yo, k1;
*yo, k2, skp, k2tog, k2, yo, k1;
*yo, k2, skp, k2tog, k2, yo, k1;
*yo, k2, skp, k2tog, k2, yo, k1;
*yo, k2, skp, k2tog, k2, yo, k1;
*yo, k2, skp, k2tog, k2, yo, k1; k1.
Then, k1.

I would also suggest double checking the TOTAL number of sts you have. It will be 70 until you hit the shaping at the top of the hat. The lace does not mess up the stitch count. Does that help? Hope so!!



Right versus Left in a knitting (or crochet) pattern?

Dear SweaterBabe,

Hi I have a question about a knitting pattern for a baby hooded jacket.

The patteren gives instructions for a boy's left front and a girl's right front ect. but does that mean the actual front of the item as when it's worn or is it the front left that would be facing you if it were lying flat in front of you?

Thanks for any help.

Dear Knitter,

The standard convention (at least here in the U.S., and in the patterns I've done for Vogue and seen in magazines like Rowan and Rebecca) is to refer to the Right and Left AS WORN.  So, the Right Front is the Right Front of the sweater-wearer.

I think it is the convention that makes the most sense and you should find most all patterns follow it.

I can't vouch for all patterns, so it's a good idea to read ahead (like you do for recipes!) and just make sure things make sense, especially if there are differences between the left and front (e.g. buttonholes can be on the right vs. left depending on the gender you are knitting for!). 

I hope pattern writers are using the standard convention, but you never know!

-- SweaterBabe