Gauge swatch - block to what exactly?

Been searching, reading, watching videos trying desperately to find the answer to this question. And feeling I must be really dense if no one ever includes this piece of info as it implies there’s something really obvious I’m missing here. (And since I just started knitting this year, that’s seriously possible.)

I see reference to wash and block your gauge swatch as you would your sweater. But … I block my sweater to the finished measurements for my size. So just what measurements am I using to block the swatch?

I ask because I’m about to start a sweater and if I just measure the swatch flat, I get smaller than stated gauge and I should go up a needle size (which I typically do). If I stretch it just the tiniest bit and pin it down as I might if I were blocking, I get the stated gauge. Potential for a huge difference here obviously.

I can see (especially in the video on this site) where if you’re doing a swatch with ribs or cables where it might be easy to sort of figure out what the finished pattern should look like blocked but when it’s just stockinette?

Please put me out of my misery!

For the swatch you just have to wash or wet it and lay it flat to dry. They should be larger than 4" square anyway, the edge sts should not be included because they’re a different size than the middle sts. So CO 6 or 8 sts more, then maybe when you wet it and lay it flat you can get a more accurate measure and don’t have to stretch it out any. If you get gauge you shouldn’t have to stretch the FO at all.

OK - so blocking a swatch isn’t [I]really[/I] blocking. Got it. Sheesh. Thanks!

(I’ve never bothered with the washing and blocking before, just measured away after making the swatch. Given all three of the sweaters I’ve made fit perfectly, I assumed I was doing it just fine. Until I read the whole “wash and block” thing!)

Well, there’s different degrees of blocking. For lace you want to pin and stretch it, not so much to a size or for stitch gauge, but to see how the pattern looks. Blocking any item can merely be washing and laying flat to dry with no stretching, pinning the edges if you need to for them to lie flat.

You should get the swatch wet though if it’s a yarn you haven’t used before to see how it reacts to being wet. Some don’t do anything, others will grow a lot and fill out, and a few will shrink. So it’s always good to know what it will do.

I wanted to add… the purpose of a swatch is not to make a 4" square, therefore you don’t pin and stretch it to those dimension. The aim is to determine your sts per inch and you wouldn’t need to stretch it any for that, just measure the sts.

If you’re really concerned about the finished size/wearing size and are using unfamiliar yarn, you might also want to pin your swatch to a hanger (after you’ve washed and dried it) to see how it falls and if that changes the stitch count. After all, you most likely aren’t going to be wearing this garment in the supine position!