Have you ever noticed that your gauge varies when knitting flat pieces versus when you are knitting in the round? This is often the case for me. I first noticed this when I started knitting cardigans. I would find the correct needle according the patterns gauge and start my knitting and all would be good until I started knitting the sleeves. Once I put those sleeves stitches from the waste yarn onto my needle and knit about an inch the gauge had a noticeable change; there would be a clear line showing where I started to knit in the round. My solution: go up one needle size from my gauge needle when working the sleeves. This would cause the above mentioned "gauge line" to disappear.
I have recently started to knit pullovers - mostly to avoid purling :) - and have noticed that my gauge while knitting flat would match that specified in the pattern but the out coming sweater fabric would be off. Much like the sleeves above. This led to some extreme frogging lately so I vowed to change my ways.
Thanks to knit stars and Andrea Mowry I now have some new skills that I will share with you! Here is a quick lesson on swatching in the round so you can avoid the recent heartache I felt.
Step 1: Cast on about 6 inches worth of stitches using the needle you hope will achieve gauge or the one recommended by the pattern. For example, if the pattern says 20 stitches per 4 inches, I would cast on about 30 stitches to make the 6 inch swatch. Work about 1/2 inch in rib or garter to give yourself a good base that does not roll up on you.
Step 2: Start the main body of the swatch using the required stitch pattern outlined in the pattern. For this example the swatch body is in stockinette stitch. Knit your first your but instead of turning your work to the wrong side to purl, slide the stitches back to the other end of the needle so that they are positioned to begin another tight side row. Leave yourself enough yarn in the back of your swatch nice and loose (see top right picture above). Repeat this action until your swatch measure about 6 inches giving you a rough square shape.
Step 3: Work about 1/2 inch in rib or garter as you did in step 1 to help your swatch lie flat. Bind off loosely.
Step 4: Cut through the middle of the strands at the back of the swatch. I found my edges very loose and I was worried it would all unravel during its wash so I tied them with each other loosely but this can be skipped.
Step 5: Wet block or steam block your swatch and measure for gauge.
Note: A great way to keep track of your needle size when knitting multiple swatches is to include a yarn over strip near the start of the swatch body. I like to do a strip of YO, K2tog along the 3rd or fourth body row of my swatch. For example in the below picture there are nine yarn overs to show that this swatch was knit with a US9 needle.
So I hope this helped you and wish you all the best with your swatching adventures. Make sure to use the hashtag #redsockbluesockyarn so we can see all your wonderful projects and share in your journey.