Storing your knitted swatches

I always have trouble with swatches.  Not in the act of making them – swatching can actually be kind of fun – but in the storing process.  Specifically, how to store them with the appropriate information attached so that you can access it again.   Normally, I will knit one or two or three swatches with a particular yarn, using different sized needles.  I will then wash and block and carefully measure the swatches.  They will then get thrown in a plastic bag and put in a basket for a while.  Some time later, I will find the swatch but not know what size needle I used, and just to be sure, I would knit the swatch all over again.

I have tried to be clever and write it down in a way that I can access the information many months, or years, later.  Storing notes on Ravelry would be useful, but it still doesn’t let you feel the swatch and decide which fabric gauge is most suitable for the project you are thinking about.  Of course, normally I just scribble it on a piece of paper and the information is lost to posterity and when I find a swatch I want to replicate into a garment I don’t know the needle used, and often don’t know what yarn it was knit in either.

I tried attaching the labels to the swatch, by pinning them for example, but this never worked.  Put enough swatches into a bag and they end up all jumbled up and the labels get detached.  I read somewhere about using yarn overs in the swatch to indicate the needle size – 3 yarn overs, which create 3 holes across one row of the swatch, would indicate a size 3 needle.  Well, this caused problems for me because I live in a cross-over world where I equally use US needle sizes and European sizes (in mm), and also because what do you do with half sizes?

Recently, I decided to try something new.  I knit the swatch, wash and block it, and then store it in a plastic file folder that hooks into a ring binder, along with all of the relevant information – yarn, needle size, stitch used, etc.  Here is an example:


This is a swatch knit with Carol Feller’s yarn, Nua.  In the pocket is the actual swatch along with a piece of paper with the relevant information written on it.  In this case, it tells me that the swatch is knit in stockinette with a US 6 needle, that Nua comes in 50g/140m skeins and is composed of 60% wool, 20% linen, and 20% yak, that the colour used for the swatch is called Unexpected Macaw, and that the blocked gauge is 22×34.

Here are two swatches that I made for my Form pullover:


This pullover was knit with two strands of yarn held together.  I knit two swatches with two different needles.  I have created a separate page for each needle size, so that the two swatches are easily identified without having to take out a measuring tape to see which is which.  The information on the page identifies both of the yarns used.

Here is another example, in which I have included both the stockinette gauge and the ribbing gauge for the 4ply Hampshire yarn from The Little Grey Sheep:


I use a very heavy-duty clear pocket folder made by Leitz.  I have a couple of boxes of them left over from my years in Germany.  This method won’t work with the typical floppy lightweight folders; you must have access to the heavyweight type.  I imagine you can find them in a good stationary or office supply shop.

What I like about this method is that the swatches can then be stored in a binder on a bookshelf, all the information is contained in a readily accessible way, and the swatches themselves can be large enough to be be useful.  I have only been using this method for the past few months.  We will see whether it turns out to be practical over the long run and also whether I will actually stick with it (I am notoriously unorganised).

Do you struggle with keeping track of your swatches?  Have you developed any good tricks?

16 thoughts on “Storing your knitted swatches

  1. I was thinking about this topic recently, and yours sounds like a very good method to organise them. I hope this will make it possible to keep track of relevant data for later reference 🙂

  2. It’s so funny you should write about this now – I am about to dig out some plastic wallets to organise swatches/design ideas etc in a binder. I suspected it would work, and am very pleased to see that it does! 🙂

  3. I do something similar to your method with swatches related to specific projects. It is when I am doing swatches for techniques that I don’t really have a storage system in place. I do have some piles of swatches, but that is not that helpful 😉

  4. I started to pin notes to mine and then they just got put in a pile on the shelf. Maybe I’ll stitch them together and make an odd blanket.

  5. This is a familiar problem to museum curators: keeping object and information connected. One solution is to attach information directly to the object (or swatch). It is quick and simple (e.g. writing information on the back of a photograph) but it is limited in the amount that can be written. For swatches I use tie-tags (white card, with string loops available from stationers) that are looped through the fabric at the top left corner and carry basic information, written in pencil. The ultimate solution is to number your museum specimens and attach the number securely. This is called an accession number in museums and is a unique identifier. It links the object with supplementary data held in text form, for example in a notebook, index card, computer record etc. So each swatch has a tie tag with some basic information and a number. It is secure and links swatches to further information held elsewhere. I wholeheartedly agree with storing swatches in stout ring binder pockets, which could also contain text information on card or good paper. Just make sure both swatch and extra paperwork carry the swatch number, so they can be linked together again should things get mixed up.

    • HI Martin, thanks for this. It is interesting to get the perspective of a museum curator. I very much enjoyed looking at your gansey documentation. Such great photos, and I love the link to specific sweaters/wearers/patterns. Best, Kelly

  6. Sounds like a great system! I swatch, measure gauge before and after washing/blocking and record project info including swatch details in tabbed loose leaf binder. Save my swatch in case I need yarn to finish my garment; use Purl bumps on swatches to record the metric needle size and use one swatch for different needle sizes, so everything on one swatch. Even if I get gauge, I often don’t like the fabric look so try other needle sizes. Swatch is stored with leftover yarn and I record the yarn location in Ravelry Stash feature. I rarely look at the yarn gauge info again and if using the same yarn would do the swatch again as things, including my knitting, change over time and it gives me peace of mind to knit a swatch again!

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