Briar Rose Vintage KAL: Gauge swatches

This week’s knit-along post is about gauge and swatching.

Gauge is one of the most crucial elements to successful garment knitting. For newer knitters, or knitters who haven’t spent a lot of time knitting things that eventually make it to a body part of a specific size (think a sweater, a hat, gloves, socks), you might not be as familiar with the concept of trying to ‘get gauge’. Gauge is just as crucial with vintage patterns as it is with modern patterns.

What is gauge and why does it matter?

Here’s a concise summary of gauge from one of my vintage pattern booklets:

From Bernat Handicrafter Book No. 53, 1956.The term “stitch gauge” is the most important part of all knitting directions, since the sizing of any knitted garment is planned on this gauge. You MUST work to the gauge which is given or your finished work will not be the size indicated in the directions.

What this boils down to: if you aren’t knitting at the same gauge as the pattern says, your knitting isn’t going to be the same size as the pattern says.

If your gauge is looser (less stitches per inch), your knitting will be bigger. If your gauge is tighter (more stitches per inch), your knitting will be smaller.

Granted, we have a little more leeway here in our knit-along, because many of us will be resizing the pattern, so ultimately we could always change the gauge, too. I’ll talk about that more when we get to resizing, but for now, let’s work under the assumption that we’re trying to get the gauge stated in the pattern.

For Briar Rose, as written in the pattern:

Gauge/tension using needle size 3.25mm (US 3): 13 sts over 2” by 17 rows over 2”. This works out to 6.5 stitches per inch by 8.5 rows per inch.

You’ll more commonly see modern knitting patterns measuring gauge over 4 inches, while our vintage pattern measures by 2″. A lot of vintage patterns measure gauge over only one inch, but it’s a much better idea to measure gauge by 2″ or 4″ for accuracy (just multiply up as needed). Our pattern gauge is 6.5 stitches per inch. Have you ever tried to measure half a stitch?

Sure, it can be done, and in a pinch I’ve done it. But multiply 6.5 times by a 4” swatch, and you get 6.5 x 4” = 26 stitches. Our pattern recommends measuring your swatch over 2″, so you’d get 6.5 x 2″ = 13 stitches. Much easier to measure over 4″ or 2″, isn’t it?

And before we talk about how you knit your swatch, here’s a little example to show why gauge is so important.

Our pattern as written has 220 stitches at the bust. To figure out how many inches this would be, divide our gauge 6.5 stitches per inch into 220. 220 ÷ 6.5 = 33.84″ at the bust.

What if your gauge was too loose, and you ended up getting 6 stitches per inch? 220 ÷ 6 = 36.7″ at the bust.

What if your gauge was too tight, and you ended up getting 7 stitches per inch? 220 ÷ 7 = 31.42″ at the bust.

And those few inches might make the difference between a sweater that fits great and a sweater that doesn’t. So don’t cheat! Make sure you get gauge! 🙂

Knitting a gauge swatch

Get out your project yarn. Get out a pair of knitting needles that is similar to the size specified in the pattern. If you know you have a tendency to knit tighter, consider going up a needle size. If you know you have a tendency to knit looser, consider going down a needle size. If you have no idea, then just start off with what the pattern recommends: US 3 (3.25mm). Personally, I tend to knit looser, so I did my swatch on US 2 (3.0mm) needles.

There are tons of resources online about how to knit a proper gauge swatch, so I’m not going to reinvent the wheel here. Instead, I want to point you to a couple of quick reads on the subject that should really tell you everything you need to know if you’ve never knit a proper gauge swatch, and then I’ll tell you what I did at the end.

  • Knitty’s Swatch Out is a great article about why you need to swatch, how to block your swatch, and how to measure your swatch. The only thing I would add to this is I always measure my swatch before as well as after knitting, just to have an idea how the yarn reacts to blocking.
  • Need a little more? The KnitPicks article about gauge is also a good resource.

But what if you plan to knit the sweater in the round?

Here’s where swatching can be a bit of a pain. Let’s say you’d prefer to knit the body of the sweater in the round. That means instead of knitting back and forth (knit one row on the right side, purl one row on the wrong side), you cast on all the body stitches (front + back together) and knit in the round. Meaning no purl rows, and no seaming up to the armholes.

I do this a lot. Most vintage knitting patterns aren’t written like this (actually I’m not sure I’ve seen any pattern from the era of Briar Rose written like this). However I am a big fan of using a variety of techniques to help me achieve my goals. I am not such a stickler that I will only knit from a vintage pattern using the exact techniques they specify. If there is an easier or better way, odds are I will use it (or invent it). I’m all for modern shortcuts when available and useful.

Back to knitting it the round. Swatching for something you’re going to knit in the round can be tough. You technically shouldn’t just knit a flat gauge swatch normally, because your gauge may be different from knitting flat to knitting in the round. So you’ll need to knit your swatch like you’ll knit the sweater. And you’d likely be knitting the sweater on one circular needle. But you’re surely not going to knit a swatch as big as your sweater! That’s just called casting on. 😉 If you use a smaller diameter cable or double-pointed needles to knit a smaller swatch, your gauge is liable to be a bit different than what it will be with the needles you’ll use for the sweater. Fear not. There is a great technique for knitting a swatch for circular knitting. If you’re planning to do this, watch this video from KnittingHelp. I’ve used this method and while a bit fiddly to execute and a bit trickier to block with all the strands in the back, it works nicely. Tip: if you’re not planning to re-use the swatch yarn, you can always cut the strands in the middle and tie them off as knots at the each end.

Now if you’re interested in knitting Briar Rose in the round, I do have one recommendation before you start swatching. Most people tend to knit a little tighter on knit rows vs. purl rows, so your gauge may be a little tighter working in the round than flat. I’d recommend saving the slight hassle of swatching in the round until after you’re in the ballpark of your gauge working flat. Whip up a mini little swatch knit flat, and see what your gauge is. If you’re knitting tighter than you need (say, 6 stitches per inch), odds are that if you stick with the same needle size you’ll still be knitting too tight in the round. You may try going up a needle size and then swatching in the round.

Row gauge

Row gauge is the number of rows per inch, i.e. measuring vertically vs. horizontally. Don’t worry too much about the row gauge stated in the pattern, which is 17 stitches over 2″. You really just need to know your row gauge. This will primarily be of importance to you when we start talk about working increases between the waist and bust. All I’ll say right now is don’t kill yourself trying to match both stitch gauge and row gauge. Get the stitch gauge right (6.5 stitches per inch), and simply make note of what your own row gauge is. I’ll go into more detail as we go along.

How did I knit my swatch?

I’ll walk you through the steps I took to complete my own swatch. As I said above, I tend to knit loose, so I swatched on 3.0mm needles (US 2). This is one size down from what the pattern recommends.

I cast on about 35 stitches. If our stitch gauge is 13 over 2″, that’s 26 stitches over 4″, so I made sure my swatch would measure larger than 4″. I knit a couple of rows of garter stitch, then just knit in stockinette stitch until it was a little longer than 4″, knit a couple of more rows in garter stitch and cast off.

It looked like this.

I like to measure my gauge before and after blocking my swatch, so I have an idea how the yarn performs. So I pinned it on my blocking mat without stretching it out at all.

I then used my measuring tape to measure the number of stitches across (stitch gauge)…

and the number of rows (row gauge)…

Note in that second photo the blue arrows. Fingering weight yarn means lots of stitches and rows per inch, so it can become a bit difficult to keep track as you measure (I always recommend measuring a few times just in case). I like to place a pin at the beginning and end of where I’m measuring to help me keep on track.

Next up, I washed my swatch the way I’d normally wash my sweater, with a bit of delicate soap and in lukewarm water. I didn’t need to fill up a sink of water for a tiny swatch, so a Pyrex bowl worked as my mini sink.

After about 10 minutes and some swishing around, I rinsed it in cool water and squeezed it dry in a towel. Then I went back to my blocking mat and carefully pinned it back out. Note I used different pins this time. Make sure you use rustproof pins! My cute daisy pins aren’t, and for that matter neither are these T-pins though they’re supposed to be, but they’re more rustproof than the others so I used them.

Once the swatch was completely dry (and I mean completely dry), I unpinned it. I never measure the “final” gauge with it pinned, in case the pins are causing the yarn to stretch out more than it normally would. In fact, I usually fiddle around with the swatch in my hands a bit, then measure my gauge.

Then I measured the stitch gauge again.

Now look carefully at the next photo. It’s the same as the above, but shows the actual stitches. I have 13 stitches over 2″, meaning I’m at our desired stitch gauge of 6.5 stitches per inch!

And then I measured row gauge.

And here you can see the actual stitches I measured. I have 20 rows over 2″, or 10 rows per inch, when the pattern calls for 8.5 rows per inch. This is just fine, as I said above. (And I’m not surprised, because my rows always tend to be a bit short.)

And I’m done swatching! I’ve hit our gauge and I’m pleased with how my yarn performed and how it feels knit up at this gauge.

Any questions on the process? Let me know, or post in our Flickr group. Next week I’ll be going over resizing the pattern, which might end up being broken into two parts because there’s just so much good information to cover. Ready for it? 🙂

Happy swatching!

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Golly, 21 Comments!

  • You are amazing! I wing it on everything, knitting, sewing, I am so ashamed!


  • Hey Tasha, I can’t wait to start. I hope my yarn is in the mail today.

    I’ve just given you the Stylish Blogger Award

    Here are the rules for accepting the Stylish Blogger Award:
    -Link to the person who gave you the award.
    -Share 7 facts about yourself.
    -Pass the Stylish Blogger Award on to 7 of your favorite bloggers.

    Then get knitting…just kidding…enjoy the rest of the weekend.


  • @Straight Talking Mama! Ha ha don’t be ashamed! I often cheat and make a teeny little swatch. But not when I’m running the KAL, and using yarn I’ve never used before. LOL

    @Sassy Lassies Vintage Life Oh you’re so sweet! I really have to post a big thank you, I’ve gotten a few of these and have been remiss in making my post about it! ♥


  • Great explanation of making a gauge swatch–it’s definitely more important to go ahead and wash it than most people think. Washing can totally change the gauge! I finished my gauge swatch Friday night and it came out all right. What a relief! I’m ready to get going on the sweater.

    By the way, I love your ring and your kitchen stuff. Awesomeness.


  • hi tasha!
    i came across your knit along when casey mentioned it over at elegant musings, a bit late to the party but i’d love to join in, its very aptly timed, i’ve been contemplating knitting my first garment & your KAL posts look super helpful 🙂


  • @Lauren Hairston Thanks Lauren! And yes, washing a swatch is very important. Glad to hear your swatch worked out!

    @aviewintomyworld Welcome, Louise! Glad to have you. Hopefully I’ll have lots of tips for you along the way for your very first garment. 🙂


  • I am always in a hurry to start knitting. I have never gauged. I will this time for sure. Darn that there is no mail today and I still don’t have my yarn yet.


  • Sorry I’m late to the party!!! I just found your lovely blog and would love to join in. 🙂

    Any excuse to buy more yarn…. heh

    Your blog is going in my google-rss reader asap! hip hip


  • @Sassy Lassies Vintage Life I hope your yarn arrives tomorrow! Always so hard to wait.

    @zilredloh Awesome, you are most welcome to join! Such a chore to have to buy more yarn, isn’t it…? 😉


  • That ring is just amazing, I’ve never seen anything like it!!
    My yarn finally arrived! Not as vibrant a green as it looked online, but still nice and so soft. Starting my swatches tonight!


  • Just did my swatch. Using the same yarn that you are using and #3 needles. The swatch has not dried completely yet…but it is looking like I knit tight. I am getting 11 stitches to 2″. Would I go to a size #4 needle and do a whole new swatch. Ugh. This is I know why my hubby’s sweater was a bit small even though I used the same yarn the pattern suggested.


  • @Sassy Lassies Vintage Life Actually that’s the opposite problem, your gauge is loose. You should be getting 13 stitches over 2″, but instead you’re getting 11. So that makes your gauge 11 / 2 = 5.5 spi instead of 6.5 spi. So you have less stitches than you should have over the same area.

    Did you stretch your swatch a lot when you laid it flat to dry? 5.5 spi seems pretty loose for 3mm needles, so I think before you re-swatch, I would consider re-blocking it. Measure as you block and see what your gauge is then. Knitting is more malleable than we sometimes think. Also, give it a try measuring it over 4″ (if your swatch is big enough to do that).

    But before all that, let it dry completely, then unpin it and see what the gauge is. Could be a little tighter once there’s no tension on it, you never know!


  • OMG I get all wacky in the brain. Although not a true dyslexic things like loose, tight and their opposite get me all jingled up in the brain. I thought that if I had less stitches it meant I knit tight AKA the sweater would be tight. Loose knitter meant, loose sweater.

    If I am correct, what you are saying is loose means less stitches( but in my brain it means I pull my stitches tight). Ugh! I will go check my gauge in a bit. I did do a 4 inch.


  • With my dry swatch I get 23 stitches over 4 inches..doing the math = 5.75 instead of 6.5 spi

    For some reason I can not wrap my brain around this. What I understand is that if I changed nothing my sweater would end up being too small for me.

    As I said..there is a bit of dyslexia with me and I need understanding on a different level. Thanks so much. I am all confused. I just looked at my needle and it is a US #3 3.25 mm Does this explain my conundrum? I used the wrong needle size. Ugh again!


  • @Sassy Lassies Vintage Life Okay, let me see if this helps. It’s sometimes hard to think of it in the small scale, so let’s just multiply that up. You mentioned you have a 32″ bust in the other post, so I’ll just pretend that’s how big you want your sweater.

    To figure out how many sts you’d need for the pattern’s gauge of 6.5 spi, multiply that by 32 = 208 sts. I’ll use that to show you why at your current gauge your sweater would be BIGGER. So we know 208 / 6.5 = 32″.

    If your gauge is 5.75 spi, and you knit 208 sts, how big would it be? 208 / 5.75 = 36.17″. Too big!

    You have too FEW stitches per inch, only 5.75 and not 6.5. So if you don’t have enough sts per inch, it’s going to mean that to get to the same number of sts, it’s going to take more inches. So too few stitches per inch, and the knitting will be too BIG.

    If you have too MANY sts per inch, like 7 and not 6.5, you will have the opposite issue. It will take you less inches to get to the same number of sts.

    I hope that helps a bit! And yes, if you were swatching on 3.25mm, I would recommend trying on 3mm. My swatch was coming out definitely too big on 3.25mm.


  • You are a peach, a saint and a splendid teacher. As I’ve said my brain works in a strange way..but I get it. I need to visualize I put your words into a picture and it worked. One last question…honestly I am a good is THIS stuff that confuses me…How LONG are the needles you will use for this. I don’t have anything smaller in straight needles so I will need to purchase some and although I have circular needles in the proper size I want to do it in a vintage way.


  • @Sassy Lassies Vintage Life I’m glad I’ve been able to help you out!

    I use modern knitting needles. Generally for a sweater, I go with a 24″ circular needle. I honestly can’t really help you in the straight needle department because I never use them, but I think you’d need at least 10″ long, if not 15″. Your knitting can be scrunched up a bit on the needle as you knit, but you don’t want it so scrunched you can’t move the stitches.


  • Hey Tasha
    My gauge swatch knit up at 6 spi on 3.25mm straight needles. Hypothetically, if I DID want to size up to a 40″ bust (I know I said I wasn’t going to but I think it may be finally dawning on me how it works) would I multiply 6 (spi) by 40(inches) to get 240 st in total, then split this number up between the front and the back pieces?? (As I’m knitting on straight rather than circular)


  • @Miss P Yes, you are exactly right!

    You could knit to 120 sts per side. If you want it to be exactly 40″ you’d probably want to add one stitch per edge to seam, otherwise 2 of the sts on each edge of the front and the back would be eaten up by your seam.


  • Yay!! Ok, so, I notice that the pattern knits up to measure 32″ across the bust but this is to fit up to a 34″ bust. Is this the “negative ease” you talked about in another post? If so, to fit a 40″ bust would I have to knit to a 38″ measurement to allow for stretch??
    I think I may have changed my mind about yarn too! Gah! I’m knitting up another gauge as we speak (well not literally as we speak since I haven’t YET mastered knitting and typing at the same time!)


  • @Miss P Yep, if you want to have 2″ of negative ease (meaning it’s a little smaller than you are), you would want the final sweater to be 38″ at the bust. But if you don’t want negative ease than you could knit it 40″ or 41″!


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