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 square, rectangular or 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.

How to Knit your Sampler

starting to knit a sampler
starting to knit a sampler

If you have a standard gauge machine, I would start with a cone of 4 ply yarn. Set up the mast tension at 2 or 3 until you have about 10 cm yarn above the tension wire.

Set-up the carriage for stocking stitch as shown in the manual. I would have the dial on 6 or 7 to start with. This should show you the difference between and you can decide which is best. Then you can go up or down a dot or two to meet the required tension in the pattern.

I usually create quick swatch using the weaving brush cast-on and the transfer tool or latch tool cast-off. 

  • cast-on about 50 – 60 stitches with 3 ply to 4 ply yarns. 
  • knit about 70 – 90 rows of one type of knitting at one particular tension. 
  • cast-off.                                                                  

This is the perfect thing for beginners to start knitting and for more experienced knitters to do when trying new techniques.

I cast-on about 50 stitches and knit about 70 + initial 4 – 6 rows (when using 4 ply).  This makes a sampler that is big enough to show what I am doing without using up too much yarn and will fit on one blocking square.

Wash and Block your Sampler

blocking a washed square
blocking a washed square

I also wash and block out my sampler (hand wash and squeeze dry gently).  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.

Lay the square down flat where it can dry off. 

Acrylic squares may still roll 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.     


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.

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


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.

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