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.
Get your Swatch Gauge from Akerworks.
* Source of review product: This tool was in my teacher bag at DFW Fiber Fest.
Myra Webb | May 18, 2017
Your site format has gone bonkers on the Akerworks swatch gauge page if I click on the Read On link in your just-sent email blast.
Rae Creedle | May 18, 2017
Same here. If I directly type in the URL, it is fine.
Excuse all caps, this comment site wouldn’t let me do lower case.
Jenn C. | May 19, 2017
It seems your link is directing us to us httpS instead of http – switching to http does the trick for making the site work correctly.
Vaux | May 18, 2017
What happened to the Polls?
Clara Parkes | Author | May 18, 2017
The poll system stopped functioning with a recent site update – I’m working on getting them back up!
WENDY PETERSON | May 19, 2017
“hONESTY TEETH”! tHAT IS A VERY COOL IDEA.
WENDY PETERSON | May 19, 2017
Excuse caps lock!
Kathryn Dahn | May 19, 2017
Um, not yelling:) but this is a fantastic invention. My old eyes seem to have more difficulty (and trust worthiness every year or project. Must get one pronto. Thanks.
Beth Gregory | May 19, 2017
So clever! Immediately purchased 3 – 1 for me and 2 for knitting friends. Thank you so much for getting the word out. (Not sure why post is in all caps :->)
Sophy0075 | May 20, 2017
Well, somehow I was able to get to the Akerworks site before the zillion other knitters who love your site and who, like me, said “wow! THis is a cure for how my eyes cross when I try to count gauge!” ordered their gauge swatcher.
Anyhow, thanks for posting this nifty little gadget. Counting gauge in a swatch is tough enough. I never get integers, or even nice, neat fractions – so over the course of an adult-sized garment that makes a huge difference.
Tara-Lise Gagnon | June 5, 2017
I’ve Had Mine For A Few Months Now, I Believe I first Saw It On The Knitgirllls Podcast, And I Really Enjoy It, Great Little Tool.
Adan Akerman | June 5, 2017
(Hmm – very sorry about the all CAPS, I’m not sure how to prevent it?) Hello all! First, thank you so much to Clara for the wonderful review of our Swatch Gauge. I really appreciate it: we’ve worked hard on the product and it’s super nice to hear such positive feedback on its usefulness. Next, thank you so much to everyone who ordered one after reading the review. We’ve been swamped with orders (yay!) but it’s caused slower shipping times (boo!) and we’ve had difficulty communicating with some of the customers whose orders are affected. Please know that if you’ve gotten your confirmation from PayPal we’ve definitely received your order and are working as fast as possible to get you your Swatch Gauge. Thank you again!
Jeri | July 10, 2017
Thank you so much for posting this. I have used it for my last two projects and it is a terrific tool.
Ann | July 10, 2017
Could not get knitters review in my email.
michelle forbes | January 20, 2018
Hi just found this great review. Is this neat little tool available anywhere in the Uk, or does anyWhere in the States ship to the UK ?
Clara | January 20, 2018
Hi Michelle! I do believe Akerworks does ship to the UK. I went to http://www.akerworks.com and found it there.
Michelle Forbes | January 25, 2018
Hi Clara. Thank you so much for the information regarding the Ackerman Swatch Gague. Unfortunately the cost of shipping to the UK is almost as much as the cost of the gauge. Having used this little tool yourself, do you think it is worth investing in?
I have a Birthday coming up soon, maybe I could persuade my Husband……
He encourages all things Knitting, Isuspect it’s because if I’m occupied I’m quiet!. Would appreciate your thoughts.
Annabel | May 18, 2018
I have just purchased the Swatch Gauge and I love – it is so easy to use and work out your tension. It made me feel very confident about my knitting.
I am in Western Australia so I was up for shipping and also the currency exchange but I don’t regret it at all
Joanna | January 26, 2021
I bought this gadget earlier last summer, and I’m frankly gobsmacked that anyone likes it. It wasn’t cheap, and I found it a complete waste of money. I tried it once, and have never used it again. It doesn’t stay put on the fabric, and it’s very difficult to read/see how many stitches you have per inch (or whatever measure you’re using)……save yourself the trouble and just count them the ‘old fashioned way’. Sometimes the ‘experts’ don’t always know what they’re talking about, and I’m sorry I listened to one.