techniques: speed swatching for colorwork

swatching for colorwork

what, why, and how

Knitting a colorwork swatch that’s large enough to measure for gauge usually means you have to knit twice as much, so that the folded flat circle is wide enough to measure. Swatching in the round, as opposed to making a simple flat swatch, is necessary for colorwork because, simply put, knitting a flat swatch for a project intended to be worked in the round will yield an inaccurate result for most knitters. Our gauge changes depending on how we knit, even if we use the same needle and yarn.

One can take the wise advice of “Always swatch!” a bit further with “Always swatch in the method you intend to use for your actual project.” Project is knitted flat? Knit a flat swatch. In the round? Swatch in the round.

(Yes—always swatch. Or, play with fire and don’t swatch. It’s your own project.)

Thankfully, at some point a very clever knitter—or many knitters, independently, as such things tend to go—developed a nifty shortcut for circular swatching that is commonly referred to as speed swatching.

Dawn gets into how this is done—read on!

speed swatching: step by step

Use the circular or double-pointed needles specified in your pattern, and use the pattern’s gauge and the multiple of the stitch pattern to determine how many stitches to cast on.

Make sure the number you cast on is at least 6-12 stitches more than the gauge for 4”, so that you can measure in the center and get the most accurate reading.

In the swatch shown here for Dianna Walla's Turlough hat from Core Wool 2018, the gauge is 28 stitches to 4”, and the pattern is 12 stitches per repeat. I cast on 36 stitches for three repeats, plus 2 edge stitches, for a total of 38 stitches.

Speed swatching is similar to working an i-cord: Knitting a row, then sliding the stitches back to the beginning to knit another row. Unlike i-cord, you leave plenty of yarn held slack at the back of the knitting. This yarn will later be cut to open up the swatch for measuring.

Due to the cutting, this type of swatch will not be able to be unraveled if you run short on yarn for your project, but the resulting swatch can be used as a mug rug, so it’s not a complete loss.

1. With the main color, cast on your stitches, then slide the stitches back to the beginning of the needle.

2. Take the main color you cast on with and hold the yarn behind the stitches on the needle so that it’s ready at the beginning of the row to begin knitting again. Now, look at the first row of knitting in the colorwork chart. Are any other colors being worked? If so, knit the first stitch with all colors being worked in this row held together. This will anchor all the yarns you will use for this row.

3. Work in your colorwork pattern until you reach the last stitch, then knit this stitch with all colors you used in this row. Slide the stitches back to the beginning of the needle.

4. Look at the next row of the pattern. Any colors you just used which are being used again get brought to the front in the same manner as the main color after casting on. Any colors not in use for this row can be dropped and left if they will be used in a couple of rows—or, if they won’t be used for a while, cut and rejoined later. Any new colors this row should be added and knitted in that first stitch.

5. Continue in this manner until your swatch is about 5” long, then bind off using one color from your final row.

6. Wet block your swatch. If your slack yarn is a little snug in the back, your swatch will fold backward to accommodate. This is fine.

Cutting open your speed swatch

Once your swatch is dry:

Cut the slack yarn floating along the wrong side of the swatch fabric right down the middle (left).

Use your fingers to draw up the slack yarn to ensure that is all you’re cutting—you want to avoid cutting into the floats of the colorwork stitches themselves (middle).

The slack ends should be left long to prevent unraveling, but feel free to trim them if so desired (right).

Once your swatch is cut open, steam block to flatten any folds at the sides.

You are now ready to measure your gauge! Make sure to measure in the center of your swatch, avoiding the lees tidy edge stitches that may skew your measurement results.

Turlough in Dianna Wallas's original colorways, plus swatches in Finch colors Shell, Malbec, and Petal (bottom left) and Poppy, Stream, and Aleutian (bottom right) 


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