Do you need to swatch in the round? This is a question that seems to come up all the time, especially since so many sweaters are knit in the round. As with so many knitting questions, there are several possible answers, and they are absolutely, yes probably, maybe, and no, probably not.
TL;DR watch the video on this topic here
Recent conventional wisdom pre-supposes that any sweater knit in the round must be swatched in the round, but I would like to challenge conventional wisdom and say that not every knitter needs to swatch in the round for an in-the round sweater. Please note that I am not relieving anyone of the need to swatch. I am in theswatching is essential, even for scarves camp, but I don’t think swatching in the round is always necessary for everyone..
Let’s first talk about how swatching in the round came to be a thing. As top down, in the round sweaters got to be a thing, some knitters found that despite faithful swatching, their sweaters did not come out the size they intended. Their in-the-round gauge was white different from their gauge knitting back and forth. This difference is because for many knitters, their purl stitches are significantly looser or tighter than their knit stitches. The difference in tension between their knit and purl stitches created one gauge when they worked alternate rows of knit and purl as when we work back and forth to make stockinette fabric.
When working in the round, we create stockinette fabric using only knit stitches as are always working on the outside of our fabric. Stockinette in the round means never having to purl, which may be its appeal for some. When we remove the purl stitch and its difference in tension, the resulting fabric (made entirely of knit stitches) is either looser or tighter than the fabric made of both knit and purl. It has a different gauge.
If we are going to knit our garment in the round and we have a variance between our knit and purl stitches, then yes, we need to swatch in the round to get an accurate gauge measurement.
Many knitters have no variance in tension between their knit and purl stitches and really don’t need to swatch in the round.
But how do you know? Is there a way to tell if your knit and purl stitches differ in tension and whether you need to swatch in the round?
Yes! There are lots of ways.
First, you can swatch both flat and in the round, measure them both, and compare. Double swatching would take a good bit of time, but it would be time well spent, as you would begin to learn about yourself as a knitter, and it would give you a very accurate gauge measurement.
You can take time to really notice how your knitting feels. Is it easier to insert your needle into your knit stitches than into your purl stitches? Or vice versa? A subtle difference in tighntess of one stitch on the needle versus the other would indicate that you should probably swatch in the round.
You can also take a look at the purl side of a piece of stockinette fabric you knit in the conventional way. If your knit and purl stitches differ in tension, it will show up on the purl side as horizontal stripes in your fabric. You will likely never notice it on the knit side, but it would be fairly clear on the purl side. If you see those stripes (called rowing out) then you should definitely swatch in the round.
There are several ways to swatch in the round, which I’ll be showing on thepodcast this week. Join me for a look at those methods.
It’s also important to note that there are other things that can impact in-the-round gauge even if we have been careful to swatch in the round. For instance, some knitters find that their gauge using very short circumference circular needles to knit sleeves in the round gives them a much different gauge (usually tighter) than they got using circular needles 24” or longer. Going up a needle size helps correct for this.
After several sweaters worked in the round, you will likely know whether your flat and in-the-round gauge differ substantially. Like most things, it’s a bit of trial and error. I know that swatching is every knitter’s least favorite thing to do, but trying and erring on a swatch is much quicker and less heartbreaking that doing it on an entire garment.