11 exercises for getting a “feel” for your yarn

Knitters tend to use the terms “tension swatch” and “gauge swatch” interchangeably.


The gauge swatch is the “official” swatch when designing a garment.  It is knit at a specific size, marked for accurate stitch and row measurement and “dressed” as the final garment will be treated. There are a number of tutorials in the Knit it Now Learning Library on this subject –

Subscriber Series: Swatching is NOT Optional!


When I pick up a new cone of yarn, I can’t wait to thread up my machine and see what the yarn looks like.   From the initial cast on, I start guessing what setting on my tension dial I need to use.  I knit a few inches and reach down and start to feel the resulting fabric.

Once I get a feel for the yarn (what machine, general tension setting at stockinette, etc) I create a tension swatch.  This helps me fine-tune the tension needed to achieve the fabric I like and allows me to play with various techniques.  I’m often very surprised that a yarn looks great in tuck, and awful in slip, for example.  Adding a few eyelets here and there tells me if the yarn will work up in lace.

Depending on time (and patience level) here are some suggestions for knitting a tension swatch.


  1. Have fun with this … Play!

  2. Start knitting stockinette at the tightest tension that will knit.  (If the tension is too tight, you’ll see stitches that don’t form properly.)

  3. Knit 2-4 inches. Knit a marker row (change colors, work a few eyelets across the row or knit a sewing thread in with the main yarn)

  4. Keep knitting sections, marking the tension dial number in each section.  Knit the last section as loosely as possiblle, even if you think this will be too loose … I’m often very pleasantly surprised at the result.

  5. Transfer every other needle to out of work postion and knit a section – put all needles back into work.

  6. Work a simple tuck, or slip, or any stitch pattern of your choice … base your tension dial setting on the stockinette sections you just knit.

  7. Wind off a bit of the yarn and try a simple fairisle pattern.  Use the same color for both yarns in the feeder – you are just trying to get a feel for what resulting fabric will feel like.

  8. Did I mention … PLAY!

  9. Transfer some stitches to your ribber and play with 1×1 rib

  10. Set your machine for full needle rib (if appropriate for your yarn size)

  11. What about a racked rib?

The point of this exercise is to put the yarn through it’s paces … ignite your creativity, and get a feel for what the yarn can do.  If you don’t have a huge cone, you can always re-wind this knitting.

At this point, you probably know exactly what you want to do with this yarn.  Knit your Gauge Swatch, dress it and you are ready to design and knit your garment.

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