making a sampler
basic techniques,  Knitmaster/Silver Reed,  machine knitting

Creating Knitted Swatches (or samplers)

Knitted swatches (or samplers) are smallish pieces of knitting that provide an example of your knitting.  They are very simple to create and are a perfect starting point for a beginner.  It is quite fun to see all the different things you can do.

  • Test that your machine etc works correctly
  • Ideal for beginners to practice new techniques and shapes.
  • Show what your yarn will look like at different tensions
  • Compare different types of yarn
  • Experiment with different colours and stitch patterns to get inspiration
  • Create a library of swatches that you can refer to for future garments
  • Produce ideas that you can show to your clients

Swatches are usually oblong in shape but they can be any shape, especially if you are practising increasing and decreasing stitches.  You can create a simple squarish shape to test one thing.  Or you can create a long rectangle (like a mini scarf) if you want to show the difference between different things that you are knitting e.g. knitting with three different tensions.

They are not tension squares (see later post).  If the sampler is knitted in a simple stocking stitch then you can measure the number of rows and stitches to 4 inches (10 cm), however, if you are using a patterned stitch such as tuck, slip or rib, then it is too difficult to do this and so you should then do a proper tension square.

New (2U) machine

It is important (and fun) to create swatches when you have a new machine and especially when you have setup a second-hand machine. Although you will be dying to knit your first item, you should create lots of swatches to make sure your machine is working and that you are learning how to cast on and off and to increase and decrease stitches.

It is fun to learn to try out all the features of your machine and to try out different yarns from your practice staff.

How to Knit your Sampler

shows tension mast gap
good tension mast gap of 10 – 20 cm

If you have a standard gauge machine, I would start with a cone of 4 ply yarn for your ‘practice’ stash. Set up the mast tension at 2 or whatever number enables your to have about 10 cm yarn above the tension wire. If it gets bigger you should tighten your tension (go up a number), or if it is too tight then go down a number.

Set-up the carriage for stocking stitch as shown in the manual. I would have the dial on 6 or 7 to start with. Or start with 6 and knit 30 or more rows and then change to 6 and one dot (often written as 6*), then 6 and two dots (6**)** and then 7. Then you can see the small differences in tension for your yarn. Which one do you like best?

I would cast on about 50 stitches and then start knitting. I usually start with simple weaving cast-on, also called Closed Edge Cast On which is shown in the Knitmaster 700 manual. You can download this free from I also describe how to do this in my post on the weaving brush cast on.

starting to knit a sampler
starting to knit a swatch or sampler

I usually create quick swatch using the weaving brush cast-on and I tend to use either the transfer tool or latch (tappet) tool cast-off.  I am also considering using a simple darning needle cast-off which may be quicker.

Create a Simple Stocking Stitch Swatch

  • Set up carriage for stocking stitch
  • cast-on about 50 – 60 stitches with 3 ply to 4 ply yarns. 
  • knit about 60 – 80 rows in stocking stitch
  • cast-off                                              

You can then make lots of swatches to test different yarns, colours, patterns etc. This can be quite fun and you will get to know your machine and your yarns.

Create a Patterned Swatch

It is difficult to do patterning when your needles are in hold for casting on, so it is best to do a few rows of stocking stitch and then add your weights. Then end your knitting with carriage on left of the machine. Then you set up your pattern card but switch it off. You set up your carriage to pick up the pattern (on knitmaster 700 you switch the levers to the triangle icon) and you knit a row to the right. Then you switch on your pattern device ready to start knitting your pattern.

  • Set up carriage for stocking stitch
  • cast-on about 50 – 60 stitches with 3 ply to 4 ply yarns. 
  • knit a few rows as described and add weights. finish with carriage on the left.
  • set up patterning device and switch off
  • set up carriage to pick up pattern and knit 1 row to right
  • Set up carriage/machine to pattern
  • knit about 60 – 80 rows in pattern
  • knit 1 or 2 rows in stocking stitch
  • cast-off          

If you are doing a patterned jumper then you will be doing a welt/hem first before you start your pattern. However, if you are doing something like a scarf where you want to start patterning as soon as you cast on, then I would use a cast-on rag with ravel cord. I will described these methods in a later post.

Wash and Block your Sampler

blocking a washed square
blocking a washed square

At first you can just make lots of swatches. But yarn can act differently when washed so I often wash and block my swatches to see what the final effect would look like.

To do this you will need to use a blocking board and rust-proof blocking pins. 

foam play squares
foam play squares

I use soft soft-foam children’s play mat squares. You can easily fit these together to block larger garments.

rustproof blocking t-pins
rustproof blocking t-pins

and Knit Pro T-pins.  Both widely available online at various prices so do a search. These pins can make large holes in your blocks so if the swatch is not wet, I will use the large flower head pins that you can easily get online.

flower head pins
flower head pins for quick blocking of swatches

Acrylic squares may still roll after blocking and drying but it is not a good idea to iron them unless you want to kill the yarn. Killing acrylic makes it floppy but allows a good drape.   Try knitting two identical squares and then iron one and see the difference. 

I sometimes hold a steam iron a couple of inches above the acrylic fabric, but I would test this out first before you do this to a final garment. You can wash and iron (gently pressing) natural fabrics like wool and cotton.     


label your sampler
labelled sampler

I would strongly suggest that you should label any sampler that you want to keep for future reference. 

labels for samplers
labels for samplers

You can easily make your own simple labels from card.  I used a hole punch to make a hole but you could use the end of your scissors if you are careful.

I would put details such as the type/name of yarn, knitted tension (stitch dial), stitch pattern details, cast on/cast off methods etc.

Record Swatches on Computer

Labels need to be attached after you have washed the swatch. Labels can easily become detached from your swatch or disintegrate over time. Thus you may wish to record details of your swatch on your computer. I would create a document file and each page has a photo of your swatch and all the details. You can then organise these as you wish and can easily search through your records. If you have database software you might be able to use this to create a database of your swatches. I find that a document file, or set of document files is the easiest method.

There are other methods of recording the tension of your swatch, and I cover these in my post on creating tension squares.

It is fun to look back on your swatches when you want to be inspired.  I have many that I did not label and regret it because I have no details about how they were made.

Examples of Swatches

Here are a few samplers/swatches to give you an idea.

knitting sampler test
try out different yarns and patterns
trying a tuck stitch
trying a tuck stitch
fairisle with small floats
fairisle with small float

Try Yourself

Why not try knitting a few squares now.   The next few posts will describe some of the cast-on and cast-off methods that you can choose to make your samplers.

Start now by trying out different methods to cast-on and cast-off. Then test the best way of blocking your yarn.

Have fun creating your samplers as you learn how to use your knitting machine. Share your experiences in the comments.


  • Catherine

    To add the tension details directly into the swatch you can knit in a row of holes, say 7 then a few spaces and 2, as you would do for a picot hem. Labels may get detached over time but worth the holes method you at least retain that basic information. Not my idea but one passed on to me years ago from a machine knitting instructor. Love your blog! Thank you.

    • wicked woollies

      Hi Catherine, Thank you for your kind comment. Yes I have heard of this technique and will update my post once I get my machine working again and get a swatch with different tensions on it.

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