Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Cardigan Swatches

In June, I began making tension squares* for a crocheted cardigan. You may recognise these swatches from Knitting & Crochet Blog Week (Conversations Between Workers) when they were living in my craft basket.

July is here—mid-winter—and the days are cold. I need to get started on that cardigan!

I tried some new ideas with these swatches and the results are documented in this post.

Pattern:  Belcarra Cardigan by Robyn Chachula
Source: Interweave Crochet magazine, Winter 2010 issue.

I chose this pattern because I like the drape, it has curved edges, a simple line, practical three-quarter length sleeves (so they don't get in the way when wheeling or working whether it be housework or deskwork) and it should be very quick to make compared with other patterns.

Most of this cardigan is worked in one piece which keeps seaming to a minimum. It is meant to be worn open so there is no need to fuss with buttonholes or other fastenings—features which make for a quick work-up.

As usual, I am most impressed with Robyn Chachula's construction method and the design features of the Belcarra Cardigan but I will discuss that in a future post. Today I want to examine my swatches.

YarnKmart 8 ply Sportsknit Crepe

60% wool 40% nylon.
100 grams per skein, yardage not specified. 
(10 skeins available)
Machine washable; 'shrink resist'; Australian made.
Shade: 601 (purple); Lot no.: 12
Recommended knitting tension*: 
22.5 stitches to 10 cm, needle size not specified.

The usual tension* measurement is made across a 10 cm x 10 cm (4" x 4") square of fabric. I always make my swatches larger than this because the edge sections are often uneven due to turning rows.  The best part of the swatch to measure tension is the central section after you have had time to get into an even rhythm. The larger the area you use to measure your tension, the more accurate it is going to be. Just avoid measuring close to those edges.

New Ideas

Take Note!

In the past I made the mistake of putting a project aside without noting the important details like hook size, or even which pattern I was following!  What a puzzle when I eventually came back to it months later.  After that, I vowed to always make a note.

This time I am tagging my swatches!
Swatch A (bottom) and B were
both made with a 4.5 mm hook.
This time, I used tags to note the details of each swatch.  Often I will do all the swatching* for a project in one sitting, but this year I had a number of things on the go so it was going to be one swatch at a sitting whenever I had a chance to fit it in.  I couldn't rely on memory to identify each swatch.

The tags detail the hook size, type of hook (e.g. material, shape) and tension measurement pre- and post-wash.

Some crocheters will crochet filet spaces or bobbles or some other stitch 'code' in their initial rows to remind them of which hook they used. Cross stitching or embroidery can be used in the same way. These techniques embed your information right in the swatch—no fear of tags being torn off or safety pins splitting or tearing the yarn.

Different ways with swatches

If swatches are separate squares:
  • File each swatch away individually with its pattern for future reference.
  • Stitch the swatches together into a 'book' to keep all of your swatches together.  It can be a useful reference when looking for stitch ideas, yarn comparisons or for comparing your own tension results when planning future projects.
  • If all of your swatches are the same size, when you no longer need them for your project(s) you can stitch them together to make a blanket or throw rug. Such a blanket is a lovely memento of the projects you have made, especially if you give most of your projects to others.
  • Depending on the fibre and stitch pattern, a swatch can become a washcloth. My friend, Caissa (of Art, Like Bread), has written a great article for Crochet Spot about the merits of making washcloths with many links to free patterns for you to try. She thinks they are the most elegant, essential crochet projects ever.
One long string of swatches.  Very convenient to keep them all together.
If I frogged them, the yarn and tags will be undamaged and ready for re-use.
(From left to right: swatches A to E.)

If multiple swatches are joined together:
  • It can be easier to keep track of and handle one larger piece than lots of smaller ones.
  • Should you run low on yarn during your project or need it for future mending or modifications, the swatch is easily undone and rewound as one long piece of yarn.  This is more economical and practical than lots of shorter lengths.
  • Some crocheters will make all of their swatches into one long piece, dividing each change of hook size into sections.  A change of yarn colour, or a few rows of filet or mesh stitches can be used to indicate the divisions.
  • I was too lazy to do an entire row of filet etc. and joined my swatches together with a length of chain instead.   For a while there I thought it was very clever to thread the chain through the tag to keep everything together without pins.  Later, I realised this would have been fine, if I didn't want to wash my swatches!   To wash I need to either cut off the cardboard tags or keep the tags intact and remove them by cutting the joining chains.
    Silly me!

    In future I will use locking stitch markers to attach the tags because I hate pins! (No matter how careful I am, I always clumsily stick myself with pins, and properly too—OUCH!)

Just keep swatching 
(swatching, swatching …<singing>)

My swatching had three aims

  1. Which hook will give me the same tension as the pattern?
  2. Which hook will give me the fabric drape I want?
  3. How will the type of hook affect my crochet tension? Will different hooks of the same size give me different measurements? 


Swatch Data

Hook Size
Hook Description
Stitch Tension*
Row Tension*
4.00 mm
aluminium, ‘Aero’
21.5 sts
13 rows
4.25 mm
(US G/6)
acrylic, American hook
20 sts
12 rows
4.50 mm
aluminium, ‘Pony’ red handle
19 sts
11 rows
4.50 mm
aluminium, ‘Aero’
19 sts
12 rows
5.00 mm
aluminium, ‘Pony’ blue handle
18 sts
11 rows
5.00 mm
aluminium, straight hook
19 sts
12 rows
*Tension measured across 10 cm x 10 cm (4” x 4”) and before washing.
Please forgive my table. Some grid lines went missing when copying it into Blogger; but you can still see the figures clearly, so I will leave it as it is. I have wasted too much time already trying to solve this issue. Any suggestions about successfully importing a table into Blogger are most welcome.

Tension is such a personal aspect of crochet.

The combination of hook material and fibre type affects the amount of friction between yarn and hook which in turn may affect the speed or handling. 

It seems the ergonomics of different hook shapes makes a difference to me. Whenever the hook has a thicker handle, my swatch returns a looser tension (fewer stitches and fewer rows per 10 cm) than when I use a plain hook that is the same diameter most of the way along it. 

Across a small swatch, a difference of 1–2 stitches or rows may seem slight, but when that is multiplied across a larger project like a garment, it can be very significant. 

Ok, I have the data, which swatch is closest to the correct tension for the Belcarra Cardigan pattern?  

It should be an easy decision; just match up the right stitch and row numbers, right?  

Well, not so easy when substituting a totally different yarn to that which is recommended!

Go back to basics: read the pattern.  Many a crocheter has come undone by failing to notice a single word like turn or WS*.  As I read the pattern instructions over again, I came across a crucial piece of information that somehow I had either missed or forgotten to consider when making or measuring my swatches—information that could have caused a real tension headache!

I will tackle that in my next post about the Belcarra Cardigan.

Good luck with your own project preparations. I've said it before and I will say it again: 

it certainly pays to make a swatch … er … tension square!


tension (Aus/UK) = gauge (USA)
tension square (Aus/UK) swatch (USA) #
WS = wrong side

I have used the term swatch in preference to tension square because it is concise—one word instead of two or more.
Technically, swatch, meaning to make a tension square, is incorrect usage of the verb, the traditional meaning of which is to swathe however its use in regard to tension squares is so common within the yarncrafting community, I have chosen to also use it in this way—you know what I mean!  

Perhaps a more modern or non-Australian dictionary has already added this usage to its definition. Let me know if you find it in yours.

Links & References

Belcarra Cardigan pattern, Crochet Me web site, Interweave:

Chachula, Robyn, crochet designer, Crochet by Faye, blog:

Robyn Chachula, Ravelry Profile:

Crochet Spot: Crochet Patterns, Tutorials and Ramblings, blog:

Delbridge, A, Bernard, JRL, Blair D et al. (editors), The Macquarie Dictionary, third edition, Macquarie University, NSW, Australia, 1999.

Interweave Crochet, Winter 2010 issue, magazine, Interweave:

Lupey Loops, "Fashioning the Fab Four (Part 3): Read The Pattern", blog entry, 8 March 2013:

McClinton, Caissa "Cami", "The Most Elegant, Essential Crochet Project Ever", blog post, Crochet Spot

Related Posts

Lupey Loops, "Tension Headaches", blog entry, 7 August 2014:


  1. Ooh, nice pattern and I love that blue. I've not heard the word swatch in a while :-) but yes, always swatch!
    Tracey xxx

    1. Thanks Tracey. It looks very much like an electric blue, but it is actually a rich purple! I had difficulty in getting the photos to display the colour accurately. Perhaps photos of the later stages of the project will work better.

      That's interesting that you have not heard the word 'swatch' in a while. I was wondering which terms were in use in different places. In Australia it was always a tension square but we get a lot of American publications here nowadays and the American language is pervasive on the internet (naturally, since the Americans invented it) so, with that in mind, I have used both terms interchangeably. I heard a linguist the other day mention that the current trend to turn nouns into verbs (e.g. a 'swatch' becomes 'to swatch') is being led by the USA.

      The American pattern uses the term 'gauge' while I have always measured my 'tension' therefore I make sense of notes by calling the pattern measurement as 'gauge' and my own measurements as 'tension'.

      I wonder whether there are other terms in use elsewhere and what they are.