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The Sleeve Swatch

March 2, 2017
Ysolda's Hearthstone from Heart on my Sleeve

Ysolda’s Hearthstone from Heart on my Sleeve

So, it is often said amongst knitters that they do not enjoy swatching (if you have no idea what I’m talking about, check out our tutorial on gauge in knitting here). Even those who swatch anyways don’t love it, so here is our tip to sort of avoid swatching in a bottom up sweater, like all of the sweaters in Heart on My Sleeve.

A good swatch:

Confession time: I really only swatch for new designs and sweaters. I’ve been knitting a long time and I’m pretty confident my gauge will be right on (and that I need to go down a needle or 2 when it comes to ribbing). Armed with this information and a willingness to rip out a 1/2 finished hat/scarf/shawl because I’m not happy with the gauge, I go forth and cast on.


A lovely garter gauge swatch

Garments are a whole other thing. Garments need a good swatch. A good swatch should always be indicative of the finished garment. It should be pretty big (at lease a 6″ square), it should be done the way the gauge in the pattern states (if it is over a cable pattern, measure it over a cable pattern, if it is on the smaller needles knit it on the smaller needles), it should be washed and blocked (some yarns change rather drastically after blocking), and if the gauge is given in rounds, the swatch should be in the round.

Tenderheart from Heart on my Sleeve

Tenderheart from Heart on my Sleeve

Sleeves as a gauge swatch:

Why must it be so complicated?! Some of us have a slightly tighter or looser gauge when we purl, so if you work an entire sweater in the round, it may be significantly different than if you had worked it back and forth. While you could do a swatch in the round (cast on, join for working in the round, knit for about 6″, bind off, cut your swatch and measure the gauge), in the case of a bottom-up sweater it seems more prudent to just cast on a sleeve.

Grab your smaller needles, bust out some ribbing, and start in on the sleeve. Once you get 4″ up the sleeve put the live sts on waste yarn and block your sleeve. If you find you are happy with the gauge, you can just carry on. If not, you can rip back to the ribbing and start from there with a smaller or larger needle as needed.

This handy dandy method fulfills the needs of a gauge swatch and the need to cast on RIGHT NOW at the same time. It’s the perfect solution.

More sleeve-first knits from TCK:







17 Comments leave one →
  1. KRovetta permalink
    April 19, 2021 8:26 pm

    I love this idea but my gauge is tighter with sleeves than bodies in the round because I use DPNs, maybe time for me to definitively to magic loop . . .

  2. olga teresa gagliardi permalink
    November 21, 2019 7:51 am

    Hola necesito saber en el suéter Flax las mangas comienzo a disminuir a partir de los puntos aumentados en siza o en el siguiente marcador Gragias Tere de Argentina

    • November 21, 2019 3:17 pm

      Hi – The sleeve decreases come at the underarm, on either side of the marker.

  3. Jkline Leblues permalink
    February 28, 2019 11:05 pm

    Great ideaand efficient time and kinitting ..😊

  4. jaz712 permalink
    June 16, 2017 7:53 pm

    Sorry if this is a silly question, but if your gauge is off and you need to size up/down your needles, wouldn’t you need to change the needles that you used for the ribbing as well? Thanks!

    • June 19, 2017 9:23 am

      I would usually change the ribbing needles too, I would want them at least 2 sizes smaller than my main needles.

  5. Michelle Forbes permalink
    March 11, 2017 12:13 pm


    Love the idea of using a sleeve as a swatch for gauge. Do I assume we are talking about sleeves knitted in the round. Pressumably I could adopt this method of swatching for back and forth/straight needles providing the whole garment was to be made that way?

    Sorry if this sounds stupid…..

  6. Mac permalink
    March 9, 2017 9:15 am

    Almost done with my first sweater–Harvest–and had to frog nearly a whole sleeve because I apparently grabbed the wrong needles. Derp! But it is the last sleeve, andI am merrily zipping along. Love the clearly written pattern,and your most excellent tutorials! Thank you!

  7. Northof60 permalink
    March 9, 2017 8:45 am

    A great idea! Now, after soaking and blocking, if one finds it necessary to frog it, should one begin over with fresh Yarn?

    • March 9, 2017 10:53 pm

      I usually do, although you can certainly give the kinky yarn a soak and hang to dry, then it’s ready for use!

  8. March 3, 2017 7:30 am

    I swatch as you do – when necessary. I recently started planning a sweater with some yarn I haven’t used before, and I was drastically modifying the pattern, so I really needed to know gauge. I did the swatch, and the whole time was like “ugh, this is stiff, not sure I like this yarn” then I washed it and voila – wonderful softness! So glad I did it – I might never have done this sweater if I hadn’t swatched it first.

  9. Christie permalink
    March 3, 2017 4:44 am

    Always such excellent information and advice on TCK!

  10. tonymarkp permalink
    March 3, 2017 12:11 am

    I’ve always viewed the bottom-up sweater as the perfect opportunity to get the sleeves done and over with because I hate knitting them and yes, from this attitude I have it’s a good way to test gauge, too. There’s something anticlimactic about working on sleeves in the middle of a project (or at the end, although I love to knit top-down).

  11. March 2, 2017 10:09 pm

    Luckily I was told about the sleeve swatch before I knitted my first sweater, so far I’ve not had to frog one either.

  12. March 2, 2017 9:53 pm

    Oh thank you thank you, so relieved I’m amongst friends!! After swatching some cotton/linen/ramie recently I bit the bullet and blocked it. Wow, what a difference, I felt so excited to get into the knitting after seeing the blocked swatch. Thanks for your excellent website, I refer to it often.

  13. March 2, 2017 12:50 pm

    Just came to the same conclusion while casting on percentage sweater this week, and I’m happy to see that one of my favourite designers backs up this technique!

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