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June 05, 2014

A ball of pale blue yarn, circular knitting needles and a wooden swatch measurement tool.

It's important to swatch in the round for any knitting project that will be worked in the round, whether you're knitting a sweater, a hat, or a cowl. New to knitting? Swatching is an important part of the process of knitting any project where the finished size matters - you probably want your new sweater to fit you instead of your friend who's 3 sizes smaller! Before learning how to swatch in the round you might want to brush up on the basics of swatching, and why gauge (which is what you're checking when you swatch) matters. 

Swatching in the round can be a pain, and it's often inaccurate. Use a simple trick to make swatching in the round easier and more accurate!

Why does it matter whether you swatch in the round?

It's always a good idea to make a swatch that matches how you'll knit your project, you want it to be an accurate test of how your fabric and gauge will turn out in the project. Knitting in the round adds an extra complication because instead of alternating right side and wrong side rows you're only working right side rows. That means that if you're working stockinette, or any stockinette based stitch pattern, you'll only be knitting and not purling.

There are many ways to knit, but whichever style you work in one thing remains constant: knits and purls are never worked in exactly the same way. Consequently it’s very common for knit and purl stitches to be slightly different sizes. This can cause a range of visible tension inconsistencies and next week’s post will cover dealing with those. It also means that it’s common to find a difference in gauge between stockinette worked flat (with purls) and stockinette worked in the round (no purling). 

Option 1: knit the swatch in the round as a narrow tube

Beginning with a sleeve is often recommended as a way to avoid swatching for a sweater but it's not a very reliable method. The reason is that sleeves are smallish tubes and you’ll be using magic loop, dpns, or circulars with shortened tips to knit them. You might grip those short needles tighter to avoid them flying everywhere;, pull the yarn tight to avoid ladders at the joins; or just tense up a bit. The odds of your gauge being tighter than it normally would be on that needle size are high. We find that it's very common for our sample knitting team to use a larger needle size on sleeves than than they used for the body of a seamless garment.

Option 2: knit a really big swatch as a tube to avoid magic loop, dpns, etc

Knitting a swatch with a 16″ / 40cm circumference so that the stitches fit around a circular needle, or even one with a 24" / 60cm circumference so that you can use regular length needle tips, is possible. It will probably result in a very accurate swatch and a lovely, large piece of fabric where you can really see how your garment will behave. It's also a lot more knitting than the vast majority of us want to do for a swatch, particularly if you find the gauge is off and you have to make another!

Option 3: The easy way to swatch in the round

It’s not knitting a tube that matters for swatching in the round. The crucial thing is whether or not you’re working wrong side rows.

For a swatch with no wrong side rows use the following method:

All you need is your yarn and a circular needle (preferably the needle you plan to work the project with, or at least one in the same material).

Begin by casting on at least 1 and a half times your desired gauge over 4" / 10cm. Eg. if your desired gauge is 20sts per 4" cast on at least 30 stitches. This method results in several loose stitches at either side, which you won't want to measure.

A row of cast on stitches in pale blue yarn on circular knitting needle.

Knit 1 row, without turning at the end.

The first few stitches of a row of knitting being knitted, with pale blue yarn wrapped around hands.
A row of cast on stitches in a pale blue yarn are held on the cable of the circular needle. Each end of the needle is being held over a flat surface by white hands.

Slide all of the stitches to the other end of the needle, just like making an I-cord. 

A row of pale blue stitches are pushed towards the right end of a circular cable needle.
A row of pale blue stitches are held on a circular needle ready to be worked, with the working yarn at the left end of the stitches.

Bring the yarn around the back of the work and knit across with right side facing. At the end of the row slide the stitches along the needle again. Continue in this manner, letting the yarn trail loosely across the back. 

A row of pale blue stitches on a circular needle, being knitting and held with the working yarn mid-row.
A row of pale blue stitches on a circular needle, with the working yarn held across the row at the back of the work.

If you find it difficult to keep the strands loose just let them tighten up.

A pale blue swatch being knitted on circular needles, with strands of yarn across the back showing at the base of the swatch.
The back of pale blue swatch, with strands of yarn across each row.

You can cut them at the end so that the swatch lies flat. Make sure you have plenty of yarn for your project before cutting the swatch though! 

A knitted blue swatch still on the needles, with long strands of yarn hanging across each row at the back of the work.
A pale blue swatch laying flat with a wooden swatch measurement tool being held on top by the bottom right corner.


This method is perfect for swatching for stranded colourwork, which most knitters find it easier to work in the round. If you're interested in learning more about colourwork knitting, our colourwork club is the perfect, structured way to develop your skills at your own pace and in a supportive community.

a colourwork swatch showing where it has been cut open, with yarn and a branch

Looking for other swatching tips? Read our free tutorial on how to swatch for a sweater here and find our article on how to swatch in a stitch pattern here. How do you swatch in the round? Please do let us know in the comments if you have any tips to share! 

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