This morning on our Facebook wall I posted a tip about gauge.
If you are getting more stitches than required you should go UP a needle size. If you are getting fewer stitches than required you should go DOWN a needle size.
While that’s technically correct, it confused a lot of people and enough people cried foul that I started second guessing myself. I decided to delete the post and try again with different wording.
Pattern gauge is 20 sts=4″
1) Your gauge is 22 sts=4″. Your sts are too small and you have too many sts per inch. You have to go UP a needle size to make bigger sts and get fewer sts per inch.
2) Your gauge is 18 sts=4″. Your sts are too big and you have too few sts per inch. You have to go DOWN a needle size to make smaller sts and get more sts per inch.
People understood that, but the mention of gauge opened a flood gate of questions (and suggestions). So I thought a blog post was in order to answer some of them.
Gauge IS Your Friend
If only people would realize how important gauge is! It can mean a whole difference in size from what you really want to fit!–Sharon S
Gauge is the number of stitches and rows per inch based on the size of your knit or crochet stitch.
Gauge can be the difference between a finished project fitting you or needing to be passed on to a larger or smaller relative or friend.
At some point every knitter and crocheter has had the excitement of finishing a project turn quickly to heartbreak when it doesn’t fit.
Gauge is an important aspect to a happy finished project, and yet it eludes some experienced stitchers and baffles new ones.
There are many things to know and remember about gauge, but there are two important ones with which I think you should start.
1) The needle size in the pattern is just a suggestion and you are free to change it. If the pattern calls for US8 needles and you have to use a US7 (or US6!) to get gauge that is OK.
2) If you want your finished project to have a fighting chance of matching the finished project in the pattern you should really try to get gauge.
(This picture is of my Simple Tank from the Spring 2012 issue of Debbie Bliss magazine. Learn more about it in this blog post.)
Gauge is usually given in a pattern over a 4″ by 4″ square, but you should make your swatch larger than that.
Thank you! Also, cast on at least FIVE inches’ worth of stitches, so the edges and curl do not affect the middle stitches you should be measuring.–Amy K
The swatch needs to be wider than 4″ and at least 5″ in length. Sometimes the pattern will say after blocking as well. Move stitches to a waste yarn to measure or block then measure.–Diana H
It is important to measure over a larger section because you are less likely to cheat on your counting. If you measure 1″ worth of stitches you might ignore a partial stitch, but if you measure over 2″ or the full 4″ those partial stitches will be accounted for. As Diana suggests, your swatch should either be large enough that you aren’t measuring next to the needles, which can distort the fabric, or you should move the stitches to a piece of waste yarn.
I took a sweater design class with Shirley Paden and she suggested making an 8″ by 8″ swatch. She said we handle a small piece of fabric differently than we do a large piece and it can influence our gauge. Of course, we all choked at her suggestion because most people don’t like knitting a 4″ swatch! But when you’re designing a sweater from scratch an accurate gauge is very important.
I find I even have to be careful of my swatch. When I’m working with a new pattern or a new yarn my gauge be get off as I become more familiar with the project and my stitches become more relaxed.–Marsha S
Aside from how we hold the fabric, a larger swatch will allow you to become familiar with the stitch pattern and start relaxing as you work, which can change your gauge. Some people even suggest remeasuring your gauge after you’ve knit your project for awhile to ensure you are still accurate!
I measured. Now what?
As I said, the needle size in the pattern is just a suggestion and you can change needles. All knitters and crocheters are different. You might get gauge on a US8 needle while I get gauge on a US7 needle. As long as our gauges match the suggested gauge in the pattern we should both end up with a sweater that fits.
I read a rule of thumb somewhere that most people get a half a stitch for each needle size. So if you are getting 4 stitches per inch and you want 5 sts per inch you’ll have to go down 2 needle sizes. Test it for yourself, it could speed up your swatching in the future.
If you are using a number of different needle sizes attempting to get the pattern gauge you should not just switch seamlessly from one to the next. The different gauges in the fabric will pull on each other and make your measurements inaccurate.
Instead you should either start with a fresh piece of yarn or work a drop stitch row at the needle change. On the first row wrap the yarn twice, on the next row knit across and drop the second wrap. The slack from the dropped wrap will prevent pulling.
What happens if you can get the width in the swatch but not the length. That happens a lot and it doesn’t make any sense.–Paola
Getting width but not length does happen a lot and it goes back to every knitter being different. Generally, it’s more important to get the proper stitch gauge because you can more easily fudge the row gauge. If your stitch gauge is off you’ll have to start rewriting the pattern. If you row gauge is off it’s just a matter of working more or fewer rows to get the proper length.
The variables of gauge are why it’s a good idea to buy an extra ball of yarn so you don’t have to worry as much about running out of yarn.
How does this work if you want to do a pattern where the yarn is a worsted/aran (20 sts over 4″ using USA 6), but the gauge the pattern gets is 24sts over 4″ using a USA 4. Could I get away with using a dk weight yarn, or should I stick with the aran? Thanks in advance–Henrietta
Substituting a DK yarn for an Aran yarn is not advisable or should be approached with extreme caution.
There are many factors that can cause the pattern gauge to be different from the ball band gauge.
1) A textured stitch can created a denser gauge than the ball band, for instance, cables draw in while other stitch patterns can spread out. This is why it’s important to work the swatch in the stitch pattern being used in the garment.
2) The designer might have intentionally been using the yarn at a tighter or looser gauge than the ball band gauge. Socks are knit at a dense gauge for durability. Mittens might be worked at a tight gauge to keep out the wind. A scarf or cowl might be worked at a loose gauge to give the fabric drape.
3) Just because you can get gauge doesn’t mean the yarn “works.” When I was learning to knit I tried to substitute a silk yarn for a mohair yarn in a pullover pattern. Isn’t of getting the loose, airy garment in the magazine I ended up with a skintight monstrosity.
If you find that you just can’t get gauge take the approach of many of our fans who said, “The finished project will fit someone!” or check out “The Knitting Architect” on our main website. It walks you through the basics of knitting math and might give you the guidance you need to fudge the pattern to your gauge.
Ah, the classic dilemma of what to do with the swatch once you’ve measured your gauge.
The answer is: whatever you want.
Swatches make good pockets. Check ahead if your pattern calls for one. Also, it’s good to save your gauge with the journal of your pattern. That way you can use it in the future if you get a hole.–Lora
Many people suggest saving it in a note book with a record of the needle size and the ball band. This can be a handy reference if you are planning to use the yarn frequently. Although many things can influence your gauge it will speed the process up if you have notes to consult. As Lora suggests, you can also use the swatch for darning in the future.
Other people rip it out and use it in their project. I admit I fall into this camp, although I usually save the swatch until the end. I couldn’t tell you why. I just do. Keep in mind the yarn you used in the swatch will be a little crimped, especially if you washed it, and could behave a little differently than the fresh yarn.
If you don’t want to save it or use it in the project you can do stuff with it depending on the size.
You can make it into a cup cozy or maybe fingerless mitts. You can sew a bunch of swatches together and make a patchwork blanket. You can toss it on the table and call it a coaster. Get creative!
Gauge? We don’t need no stinking gauge.
There are some people who through caution to the wind and ignore gauge.
If you do a lot of gift or charity knitting and crocheting this works because you’ll find someone the garment will fit.
Gauge isn’t a critical for items like scarves and blankets because fit doesn’t matter. Just be prepared for your finished project to be bigger or smaller than expected and perhaps to use more or less yarn.
Here is an example of what can happen when you ignore gauge even on something that doesn’t need to fit like a shawl.
Over the summer I knit the Color Affection shawl. I thought to myself, “It’s just a garter stitch shawl. How important can a gauge swatch be?” And plunged to knitting with the recommended needle size.
It was a fun pattern and I loved how the colors of my Ella Rae Lace Merino yarn were looking together.
I’d read comments on Ravelry about how big the finished shawl is. Therefore I was very surprised when I finished my cast off and it was too large for a scarf and too small for a shawl.
It was a very strange in between size. I knew that blocking wouldn’t make it much bigger. I finally measured my gauge and discovered I had 24 sts to 4″ rather than the recommended 18 sts to 4″.
That’s a big difference!
To make it the proper size I would have to go up three needle sizes to a US 9.
I quickly adapted to the size. I don’t really try to wear it like a shawl over my shoulders. Instead I wear it looped around my neck like a big snuggly cowl.
As they say, the finished project will fit someone!