Swatching and gauge are the two least-sexy topics in knitting—and yet they are also the most vital. We swatch to know how many stitches our hands form in a particular yarn when we use a specific pair of needles. Without that number, we have no way to match our stitches to a design or shape we’d like to replicate. It’s like driving a car without a speedometer or a gas gauge and expecting to reach Boise the same time as someone else and without running out of gas.
How do we get that number? We knit a gauge swatch, and then we count the stitches and rows across a given unit of length within that swatch.
You can use a ruler, measuring tape, or any of the sundry square or rectangular tools with markings on them. You place the tool over your swatch, lean in to squint and count your stitches and rows, usually with a fingertip or needle to help you keep your place as you go. This technique has worked, mostly, though there’s always been room for improvement.
That improvement has come in the form of the Akerworks Swatch Gauge, a simple, lightweight plastic tool that costs $16 and is available online from Akerworks.
What It Is
The Swatch Gauge is a mostly square-shaped tool made out of a thick piece of translucent plastic. Narrow vertical and horizontal slots form a plus-sign that intersects in the middle. The slots are numbered with inches on one side, centimeters on the other, along both axes.
All four corners of the tool are given a blunt, slightly downturned edge with six little “teeth” that help secure the tool into your swatch. They’re just ridges in the plastic, nothing sharp enough to harm your stitches. Yet they are distinct enough to hold the tool in place, and they are what turns this tool from cute into genius.
I call them “honesty teeth.” They prevent you from tugging or jostling your swatch in any direction while doing your measurements—which may happen, say, when you discover your stitches aren’t quite wide enough to reach your intended gauge.
You could easily (and without thinking) use your hand to “smooth” the swatch around the edges and, in the process, stretch it to match the gauge you need. (It’s a miracle!)
But with those teeth, the fabric beneath those measured slots won’t go anywhere. They keep the swatch honest. Which, ultimately, will help you knit what you intended to knit and not a sweater that only fits an elephant.
Counting stitches presents an optical challenge that can often cause your eyes to get overwhelmed (usually halfway through a row) and lose the ability to distinguish one stitch from the next. Counting rows works much the same.
Here, you’re given a narrow slot—a sort of linear peep-hole—through which your eyes only need to focus on one thing. Because the body of the tool is slightly opaque, you have no distraction of surrounding stitches and rows to cause optical overwhelm.
The teeth and slot make it quick and easy to capture an accurate stitch and row gauge anywhere in your swatch.
All Over the Place
Note I said “anywhere.” Common practice is to knit a swatch slightly larger than four inches, flatten it, measure those four inches, and call it a day. But the larger your swatch, the more diverse gauge samplings you can get. Measure near the cast-on row, then measure along the edges, then take a nice sample from the middle. You may well discover that your gauge changes depending on where you are in your work—a discovery that will help you better prepare for (and execute) your next project.
I applaud the people of Akerworks for putting thought into a clever new design that actually makes the gauge-measuring experience better. It takes skill to improve upon something so utterly basic and fundamental. Akerworks, based in Knoxville, Tennessee, is a family owned and operated business that focuses on “modern, mechanically inventive gadgets and musical instruments meant to foster imagination while functioning as beautiful objects.”
Which is the other thing about this tool: It’s pretty. It feels good in your hands. It’s substantial yet weighs nothing and slips neatly into any knitting bag.
Will your knitting life be incomplete without a Swatch Gauge? Of course not. People have been knitting well-fitting clothing for hundreds of years. But if it makes the much-dreaded, often-mistrusted gauge swatch process any easier or more accurate—which it really does—this is a home run in my book.
* Source of review product: This tool was in my teacher bag at DFW Fiber Fest.