A stockinette swatch is often all we need to know our yarn and needle selections are a good match for our pattern. However, that same swatch is of limited use when knitting something like Hitofude, our summer knitalong project. Hitofude is a lace cardigan bordered in ribbing — there’s no stockinette! It’s imperative that we find out what our gauge is in the lace pattern that comprises the bulk of the garment, information that will actually be useful and relevant to the real-life knitting we’re about to do and wear! Luckily, Fukatsu gives us lots of information to work with. First is her general gauge, 20 stitches and 30 rows equals 4 inches following Chart A. Unfortunately, Chart A is 12 stitches wide and 8 stitches tall, which won’t divide evenly into 20 stitches and 30 rows. This bit of information will be useful on a larger swatch, or for checking the sweater itself once we’re a little ways into the knitting. She next tells us her measurement for two repeats of Chart A: 24 stitches and 16 rows resulted in a swatch that was 4.75″ wide and 2″ tall after blocking. That’s much more helpful! It’s far easier to eyeball two repeats of a lace chart than it is to count stitches across partial repeats, as the increases and decreases can make it difficult to tell exactly how many stitches we’re looking at. To help even further, you can add a garter stitch border to your swatch to encourage it to lie flat when you measure. Ready to begin?
Cast on 28 stitches using your preferred cast on method (I like the cable cast on). Knit 4 rows. On your next right side row, knit 2, place a stitch marker, work two repeats of Chart A, place a second stitch marker, and knit 2. The 2 stitches at either end will remain in garter stitch throughout your swatch, which isn’t difficult — but I often find myself zoning out while I knit, and like to use those markers as a reminder that I’m on the border. Work the 8 row lace chart at least twice. The larger your swatch, the more accurate your results — I did three sets of 8 rows to make it just a bit taller and give me more fabric to measure, as I often struggle to obtain row gauge. Finally, knit 4 more rows (garter stitch again!) and bind off. Cut your yarn and head for your iron to do a quick steam block! You can gently pump steam into the swatch, or lightly rest the iron on the wrong side of the knitting. Don’t press down, because you don’t want to completely flatten the stitches. It’s imperative that you block your swatch to see whether your work will grow. Wouldn’t it be heartbreaking to knit a sweater that fits beautifully off the needles, but grows to be enormous after blocking? Don’t do that to yourself — block your swatch! Check out the huge difference between the blocked and unblocked state of my swatch:
When your swatch is dry, it’s time to measure. Grab a gauge checker like the metal Susan Bates Knit Check one we’ve used. It’s important to avoid fabric measuring tapes, because they can stretch with use and are not as accurate. Let’s begin with stitch gauge (photo on the right). Working in from the edge at the first stitch past the garter stitches we added, carefully position the beginning of the ruler (zero line) at the left side of the first V-shaped stitch you’re going to measure. Take note that you are measuring full V-shaped stitches, so that you know exactly what you’re looking for. If you did just the two repeats wide, your stitches between the garter edgings on either side should measure 4.75″ wide. I’m a little small — we’ll talk about how to fix that in a moment. If you did more than two repeats wide, use your finger or a knitting needle as you count across 4″ of fabric, remembering that you should count 20 stitches to 4″ if your gauge is correct. Now it’s time for row gauge (photo on the left): turn the gauge checker 90 degrees to the left and position it at the base of the first full V-shaped stitch you’re going to measure, above the garter stitch border we added. Again, take care to place your checker carefully and note that you are counting full V-shaped stitches. If you did two repeats tall, your rows between the garter edgings should measure 2″ tall. I did three repeats, so I should see my work measuring 3″ tall. I’m a little small here, too.
Let’s take a look at the results: My swatch measured 25 stitches and 40 rows to 4″. That means it took me 5 stitches and 10 rows too many to get the same measurements Fukatsu had — I told you I struggle with row gauge, but my this time my stitch gauge is way off, too! However, this is an awesome learning opportunity, and I’m happy to share it with you. How bad would it be if I just cast on and went for it? Time to do the math and find out. The pattern states a gauge of 20 stitches to 4″. I have 25 stitches to 4″, a difference of 5 stitches over 4″. I’ve chosen to knit the small, stated to have a 17.5″ finished body width or 35″ bust. A quick calculation using proportions reveals that my difference of 5 stitches over 4″ will translate to a difference of 44 stitches over 35″, or 7″ too small around the bust. That’s a sweater with a 28″ bust — no thank you! So how do we fix it? A difference of 5 stitches over 4″ is easily fixed by changing needle size. We know that in the range of needle sizes from 3-10 or so, each needle change will mean a gauge change of approximately half a stitch per inch. I need to adjust by a little more than one full stitch per inch, so I’ll go up two sizes. Chances are, I’ll get 20 stitches over 4″ on my size 6 needles. Back to work for me!
As you prepare to swatch, here are a few quick tips to consider:
- Let’s take a look at the chart. There are 8 rows — 4 right side rows, and 4 wrong side rows. The wrong side rows aren’t exactly mindless, resting, purl back rows because there are knits and purls happening. However, the two knit stitches in the center of each wrong side repeat correspond with two purl stitches on the right side, which means you can simply work the stitches as they appear on wrong side rows. In other words, knit the knits and purl the purls. Easy!
- The ssk (slip, slip, knit) decrease is not everyone’s favorite. Feel free to try an skp (slip one, knit one, pass slip stitch over) decrease instead, and decide for yourself which one looks better.
- Watch out for the first yarnover on row 1 — it comes before a purl stitch. You’ll knit two together, yarn over, and continue wrapping your yarn around the needle to bring it to the front of your work in order to purl. The first time you do this it’s a little tricky, but you’ll get it — promise!