There are two possibilities for swatching when it comes to socks. You can be traditional and swatch first, then cast on, or you can be a rebel and just cast on and think of the first 4 inches of the sock as a swatch. As always, there are some things you should think about first.
Cuff As Swatch: For most basic socks, this works pretty well. The idea is that you make a (hopefully educated) guess about the number of stitches to cast on and appropriate needle size and just cast on. Work in pattern for 3 or 4 inches, then check the gauge and, perhaps, try it on over the ball and arch of the foot to see if it fits properly. If it doesn’t fit, or isn’t working in any other way, rip it out and start again. It’s usually easy and time-saving, and this is how I swatch for most socks. BUT! It isn’t for every circumstance. Times not to swatch this way:
- If this is your first sock ever, please do a real swatch, unless you’re going to a Yarn Harlot event soon and you want her to take a photo of you and your Sasquatch-sized sock. It’s worth the time!
- If the cuff has one pattern and the foot another, like a ribbed cuff and stockinette foot. Ribbing cannot tell you if the stockinette will fit. Most of us have a somewhat looser gauge for ribbing than for stockinette, so using a ribbed cuff to stand in for swatching a stockinette foot could lead to a very poorly fitting sock.
- If you’re doing a fancy stitch pattern, or doing multiple patterns, you need a separate swatch for each stitch type, so a sock with an inch of twisted rib, then a lace leg and stockinette foot will need three swatches. Unless, like one of my early mistakes, you want a sock that cuts off the circulation in your leg and is still baggy in the foot.
Actual Real Swatch: To make a meaningful sock swatch, it must be knitted the way you’ll knit the socks, which means – in the round! Cast on 40 stitches (this makes the math easier), then, with your chosen needle, knit until it’s about 3 inches long. As you’re knitting, consider whether you like the yarn/needle combination. Is it too floppy? Change to smaller needles, work a purl round, then re-commence knitting. Too stiff? Do the same, but change to a bigger needle. Too splitty? Try a blunter needle, or change yarns.
Keep going this way until you have a decent-sized swatch. Then wash and block it and measure. If it’s lace, pin it out well. If it’s ribbing, stretch it a bit. Then measure the width. Remember that we started with 40 sts? That means that the laid-flat stitch count is going to be 20 sts (half of 40). So, to figure out stitches per inch, we divide 20 by whatever measurement you get. “Per” means “divided by,” if that helps you remember. Remember that for most sock yarns, you want to aim for at least 7 sts/in, so if you get only 6.5 sts/in, you may need to try again with a smaller needle.
Stitches_____________ ÷ Inches______________ = ___________________sts/in
Next sock post, we’ll talk about what to do with those numbers, once you have ’em. Meanwhile, Happy Swatching!