The short answer is – not necessarily. But before you dive in headfirst into your next knitting project without making a swatch, let’s talk about what is that thing called “a swatch”, and why almost every knitting pattern recommends making it.
A knitting swatch is a piece of knitted fabric that is at least 10 cm / 4″ wide and 10 cm / 4″ long. It should be made with the same yarn and needles that you plan to use for the project and in the same stitch pattern that is recommended in the “Gauge” or “Tension” section of the pattern.
As you see from the above photo of three random patterns, there are precise instructions as to the size of the needles and the stitch pattern we should use to make a swatch.
The swatch for the first pattern should be made in stockinette stitch (St st) using 4 mm (US size 6) needles.
The second pattern tells us to use seed stitch, 15 mm (US size 19) needles and 3 strands of yarn held together.
The third pattern instructs us to use 6 mm needles (that’s US size 10) and work the swatch in a Textured Pattern – a stitch pattern used throughout that project and described in a different section of that pattern.
It is not a coincidence that all these instructions are provided in the “Gauge / Tension” section. The main reason why swatching is so important is to make sure that the number of stitches and rows we get in a 10 cm / 4″ square is the same as (or at least very close to) the numbers stated in the pattern.
You see, when we start working on a project, we can’t try it on right away. Sewing is more predictable that way – we cut the pieces, stitch them, try on the project and see whether it is too big or too small. Then we can work on adjusting the size and the fit.
In knitting, it’s a bit of a guessing game. Of course, the fit is not completely random. If you properly plan the project (the tips explained in this tutorial should help), the chances are very high that the project will fit well.
Every knitter has a slightly different tension, so making a swatch, blocking it and counting the number of stitches and rows in 10 cm / 4″ of the fabric (also called gauge or tension) is one of the most important preparation steps that gives us peace of mind when we work on the project later on.
So, if you plan to make a sweater, a cardigan, a vest, a summer top or any other project that should fit well, it is always a good idea to make a swatch before you embark on the project.
Once you are done measuring the swatch, you can unravel it and re-use the yarn. Or, you can use that swatch as a washcloth or a potholder. Or, give it to a kid in your family to use as a blanket for toys (this option is the most rewarding :-).
On the other hand, if you plan to make a scarf, a blanket, or other projects where fit is not THAT important, you can skip swatching.
Unless you want to see:
a) How the yarn you picked looks in the stitch pattern used in the project;
b) Whether the stitch pattern instructions are clear enough for you to follow without scratching your head every other row;
c) Whether you like the look and the feel of the texture, or maybe you’d rather make this project with a different yarn or in a different colour.
Answering all these questions is another benefit of making a swatch.
a) If you use a yarn that you know you enjoy working with;
b) If that yarn is in a colour that you like (it’s safer to use yarns in a solid colour because multi-coloured yarns do not look good with some stitch patterns);
c) If the stitch pattern used in the project is simple and straightforward with no complicated unusual elements;
d) And you are not worried whether the project turns out to be a bit smaller or bigger than the project featured in the pattern.
If all of these “ifs” are in place, it is quite safe to start working on a project without making a swatch.
If you have at least a hint of doubt about any of the “ifs”, take the time to make a swatch and see how the yarn works with the stitch pattern, whether you like the texture, and whether you are comfortable with the stitch pattern instructions. It is well worth the effort!
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.
Dealing with Unfinished Projects
Dictionary of Knitting Symbols and Abbreviations – E-Book
Eastern (Russian) Knitting Simplified
Knitting Collection #6
Simple Socks in Any Size with Any Yarn
Top-Down Hat in Any Size with Any Yarn