We all know how important it is to measure the gauge before we start knitting a project (if you have any doubts, take a look at this tutorial).
Even though making a swatch and counting the number of stitches and rows in 10 cm / 4″ square takes an extra hour of our time, usually it is a fairly simple and straightforward task.
Things get more complicated when we use yarn in cobweb, lace or fingering weight. These fine yarns form tiny stitches that are hard to count without squinting even when the swatch is well-lit. Attempting to count stitches in poor lighting moves this simple task to a whole new level of difficulty.
I felt this frustration first-hand when I was recently planning a beret made with gorgeous mink yarn in fingering weight. After recounting stitches for the hundredth time I remembered a tip that Joyce B kindly shared with me in an email a while ago. This tip is so helpful that I decided to share it with you in this quick tutorial.
The general idea is simple (like everything ingenious :-)) – place a ruler on the swatch, take a photo, enlarge it and count stitches without straining your eyes.
Here’s how I did it step by step.
First, I made a swatch and steam-blocked it (read how to do it in this tutorial). I haven’t even bothered to bind off stitches. I had only one ball of that fancy yarn and I knew that I was going to need every bit of it. So once the swatch was measured I unravelled it to re-use the yarn.
The swatch shown in the photo is made with an equally gorgeous hand-dyed silk yarn that, when double-stranded, is about as thick as the mink yarn I used for the beret.
The second step is to place a pin a few stitches away from the left edge of the swatch. Then place a ruler parallel to one of the rows so that the zero mark on the ruler is aligned with the pin.
After that, place another pin at the last full centimetre or inch before the right edge of the fabric. For the swatch in the photo, this mark is at 8 cm.
Ideally, we want to make a swatch that is more than 10 cm / 4″ wide. Then we’ll be able to mark 10 cm / 4″ on the swatch (not including edge stitches).
But when we work with fine yarns, it is not easy to guess how many stitches to cast on for the swatch. Besides, given that we want to get over this “swatch-making business” as fast as we can, there is always an inclination to cast on fewer stitches 🙂
To make a swatch shown in the photo I cast on 36 stitches, but it wasn’t enough to get a clean 10 cm / 4″ square.
One more thing to remember – edge stitches of any knitted fabric are usually a bit looser than the rest of the stitches. That’s why we exclude them when we measure the gauge.
Now let’s take a photo of the swatch with pins and ruler.
It is convenient to use a tablet (like an i-pad) because tablets have bigger screens, but there is nothing wrong with using a smartphone or any other camera you have on hand.
If your swatch is made with a dark yarn, adjust the brightness setting on the camera to make sure the stitches are well-lit and clearly visible in the photo. It’s ok if the colour of the swatch changes when you make the photo lighter. The purpose of this photo is to make the stitches visible, not to preserve the shade of the yarn.
If you used a dedicated camera (not a smartphone or tablet), transfer the photo you’ve just taken to a computer.
It is time for the magic! Enlarge the photo (use your fingers or zoom function on your device) and count the stitches between the pins as they are seen in the photo. Without any squinting, I can easily count 28 stitches between the pins on my swatch.
If you are like me and your swatch is smaller than 10 cm / 4″, divide the number of stitches you counted in the photo by the number of cm / inches you have between pins.
For me, the calculation will be 28 stitches / 8 cm = 3.5 stitches in 1 cm
Then multiply the result of the first calculation by 10 cm or 4″.
3.5 stitches X 10 cm = 35 stitches in 10 cm
Now repeat the same steps to see how many rows you have in 10 cm / 4″ of the swatch. If your swatch is made in stockinette stitch, it is easier to count rows on the wrong side of the work.
Because I mostly knit in the evenings, this little trick was a life-saver (or should I say “eye-saver” :-)) for me as I worked on the beret. I’ll definitely use it again and again with every project knitted with fine yarn. I hope that you too will find this tip helpful.
Once again, huge thanks to Joyce for sharing this brilliant idea.