Knitting designer series: Swatching in the round

by contributor on 30/10/2012

in Guest series Knitting 2012, knitting+crochet+yarn

Knitting designer series:  I invited a few of my favourite knitwear designers to discuss their design process and inspiration and to share some tips and ideas too.

Hunter Hammersen recently abandoned the glamorous life of a grad student to write knitting books full time. Strangely enough, she still spends most of her day at the computer in her pajamas. Her books include The Knitter’s Curiosity Cabinet, Rabble Rousers, and Silk Road Socks. Find out about her books and follow her adventures at violently domestic.

Loasa lateritia Sock from the book “The Knitter’s Curiosity Cabinet”

I am an alarmingly slow knitter. I’m also lazy. Very very lazy. This deadly combination means that, if I ever want to get anything finished and off my needles, I have to be as efficient as possible in my knitting. That means swatching. Lots and lots and lots of swatching.

But, this isn’t going to be a lecture on the virtues swatching. I’m going to assume that you already know that swatching is a good thing, that it saves huge amounts of time, and that it dramatically reduces the amount of heartbreak and swearing in your life. We’ll just take all that as a given. So instead of a lecture, I want to offer a little help as you go about your own swatching.

I want to show you how to swatch in the round

Now the first question to spring to mind might be ‘and just why would one bother swatching in the round?’ Two main reasons.

First, your knitting may well be different when you’re working in the round than when you’re working back and forth. If yours is, and you swatch flat for a project worked in the round, your swatch will lie to you. Lying swatches lead to the aforementioned heartbreak, so we want to avoid them.

Second, some things are just a pain in the neck to knit back and forth. The list of what qualifies as a pain to knit flat will likely vary from knitter to knitter, but for me it includes twisted ribbing, anything where you’re cabling on a wrong side row, and anything where you need to do fancy decreases or increases on a wrong side row.

So if your project is in the round, swatching in the round will give you a more accurate gauge swatch. And if your project uses any fancy stitchwork, swatching in the round will likely be less of a hassle.

So that takes care of why, the next question is likely something along the lines of ‘and just how do you do this nifty thing?’ There are two ways.

The first and most obvious is to knit a tube. This has a few drawbacks. It’s fiddly (knitting tiny tubes just is, there’s not much of a way around it). You also need to either knit a tube twice the size of your intended swatch (which doesn’t sound all that great to me) or steek your tube after you knit it. It’s a hassle. It’s easier to just do it on 2 dpns. This is one of those things that’s easier to see in picture than to read about.

Let me show you how

One tiny thing to note before we start. I’m using two different colors of dpns so you can tell the needles apart. We’ll call the brown square needle A, and the pink round needle B.

Step 1, Cast on on needle A. I used the long-tailed cast on. You’ll have your stitches and your working yarn hanging out over on the left side of needle A.

Step 2, Shove your stitches over to the right side of needle A (this is an easy one).

Step 3, Reel off a nice long loop of yarn (more than enough to span the whole length of your swatch plus a few inches). Grab needle B and start on the first row of your swatch. That long loop of yarn you reeled off will just dangle in the background. Knit all the way across the row.

Now let’s check in and make sure we’re in the same point in the process. Your stitches and your working yarn are now hanging out on the left side of needle B.

Now you just keep going, repeating steps 2 and 3 until your swatch is tall enough. Shove your stitches over to the right side of the needle, reel off another loop of yarn, and knit back across your swatch.

Notice that you’re never looking at the back of your knitting. You’re not flipping your knitting back and forth and working right side and wrong side rows. You’re always working on the right side. You’re knitting in the round, you’re just using those long loops of yarn to finish up the back side of the circle for you.

Here’s what it looks like once you’ve done half a dozen rows or so.

Once your swatch is tall enough, bind off. Grab the nearest pair of scissors and slice all those long loops of yarn in half. Block your swatch, and measure away.

And just as proof that I really do this, here are a handful of swatches grabbed from my jar of ongoing projects. The yellow and green one is a mass of twisted ribs, the pink one has lots of increases and decreases, and the brown one uses some cables that are easy in the round, but would be tedious to work flat. Each of them would have been cumbersome to swatch flat and it saved me lots of time and irritation to work them in the round.

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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Suzanne October 30, 2012 at 8:51 am

Wow, it’s refreshing to hear Hunter describe herself as a slow knitter. I fall into the trap that prolific pattern designers must all be lightening fast with needles in hand. The tutorial on gauge swatching in the round is not only helpful, it yield pretty swatches with fringe. Thanks!

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2 suesue October 30, 2012 at 8:51 am

What a great, informative lesson! I’m terrible about swatching and therefore have to start projects over. I love the way you swatched in the round and as soon as I saw the swatches I thought, perfect for cuff bracelets if you make them big enough! Thanks so much for sharing!!

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3 lawheezer October 30, 2012 at 1:45 pm

That is the best swatching trick I’ve seen! Love it!

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4 GeniaKnitz November 2, 2012 at 4:53 pm

Wow, that is SO non-intuitive, and I love it. Should save all kinds of time. I love spending time knitting, but haste wasting time. And even when I know swatching is good, in my head it translates as wasting time, especially in the round.
Thank you so much.

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5 GeniaKnitz November 2, 2012 at 4:55 pm

P.S. It’s kind of an open I-cord, isn’t it?

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6 Lindsay V. November 2, 2012 at 5:35 pm

Awesome! BTW, what stitch is that for the swatch. I really dig it!

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7 Tony Starratt November 2, 2012 at 10:41 pm

Techknitter describes this method along with a similar one:

http://techknitting.blogspot.ca/2011/02/circular-swatches-knit-flat-back-and.html

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8 Alverdine November 4, 2012 at 5:22 am

*looks for DPNs* I’m going to have to try this before I can grasp the concept… The in-progress photos will be invaluable, as I try to work this out. :)

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9 Beki March 3, 2013 at 9:49 pm

Great tutorial! Thank you!
I don’t usually buy extra yarn, or I’m working with a limited supply of handspun yarn, so do you think it would work as well if I had two balls of yarn going for the swatch– one at each end so that in the end, I could block the swatch, measure it and then unravel it and reuse the yarn? Thank you again for your help!

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