We all know that we have to be very careful about the gauge. When we make a project from scratch, we should knit a swatch, count the number of stitches in 10 cm / 4″ square and do a few basic calculations to come up with the number of stitches to cast on.
I myself explained this concept in steps 2 and 3 of this tutorial, so I’m not going to say that all those preparation steps are not important. They are. And I still highly recommend following these steps when you make a hat, a sweater, a cardigan or any other item that is either close-fitting or is supposed to be of an exact size.
But what if we are ok with a slight difference in the size of the project. For example, what if we don’t mind making a scarf or a blanket that is a bit wider or narrower than we initially planned? Do we have to make a swatch and all necessary calculations? Not really.
In this situation, we can get away with a simple trick that I used many times to make quick scarves and blankets, including this lovely scarf that I made out of a single ball of yarn that my niece brought me from her travels.
Here’s how this little knitting hack works step by step (you can also watch it in this video tutorial):
This trick is good for any yarn and any size of the needles. The only thing you need to think of is how the size of the needles works with the yarn you plan to use for the project.
The rule of thumb is – the needle should be about twice as thick as the yarn. Needles thicker than that will make looser fabric, thinner needles will form a denser fabric.
In this tutorial, I’ll use chunky wool yarn and 10 mm / US size 15 needles.
Cast on a number of stitches that you feel is about right for your project. This part is totally up to your knitting intuition. Don’t worry if you cast on more or fewer stitches than you need. We will easily correct that number in step 3.
To make my swatch, I cast on 10 stitches.
As to the type of cast on, out of the four methods I tested – long-tail, knit-on, cable and backwards loop – long-tail and backwards loop cast on methods provided the closest estimation.
Spread the stitches on the needle as wide as you can. Watch how to do it in this part o the video.
Measure the work at the top part of the needle if you are aiming for a certain measurement in centimetres or inches, or simply decide whether the width is good enough for the project you have in mind.
Adjust the number of stitches. If you want to make the project wider, cast on more stitches. If you think that you cast on too many stitches in step 1, unravel some of them.
Another thing to keep in mind is the pattern repeat of the stitch pattern you plan to use in your project. Adjust the number of stitches so that the total number is a multiple of the pattern repeat.
For example, I plan to work in a stitch pattern that has a multiple of 3 stitches, so I need to either add two more stitches to my cast on edge or unravel one stitch. I’d rather make a wider swatch, so I added 2 more stitches to the 10 stitches I already have on the needle.
Also, think of the borders or selvedge stitches that you’d like to add to your project and adjust the number of stitches to include these design elements.
Once you are happy with the width of the cast on edge, start to work on the project.
When I spread my 12 stitches on the needle, they measured almost 11 cm / 4.5″.
Then I worked on these stitches using a simple fully reversible stitch pattern that has a 3-stitch repeat. If you’d like to re-create the texture of the swatch in the photo below, repeat the sequence of [knit 2, purl 1] in every row.
The actual width of the swatch turned out to be 11 cm / 4.5″ – remarkably close to the estimated width of the cast on.
Of course, a lot depends on how tightly you cast on stitches and how much you stretch them on the needles. And let’s not forget that the stitch pattern also affects the size of the project – for example, ribbing is usually narrower than stockinette stitch.
But if the exact width of the project is not crucial, this simple trick with save you from the hassle of making a swatch, measuring it and calculating the number of stitches to cast on. If you are knitting a quick chunky project, you will probably finish half of it in an hour or so you would have otherwise spent swatching.
If you enjoyed this tutorial,
here’s something else you might find helpful:
“Neat Side Edges” Book
Learn twelve ways to make side edges of a knitted project nice and tidy. Plus, ways to fix side edges, and a way to improve edges of finished projects.