Thursday 22 May 2014

Gauge, why you need to get it.

What is the biggest stumbling block to a sweater that fits? Leave a comment. I'd like to hear what your stumbling block is.

One of the basic reasons is gauge. There is a myth that the needles recommended by the yarn company are the needles needed to get gauge for every knitter. Not True. There is also the idea that most knitters get gauge. Also Not True.

For the record, I don't get gauge. Not ever. I am a loose knitter so if I used the needles recommended by the yarn company everything I knit would be too big. I have knit lots of big sweaters, sometimes really, really big. Do most of your garments end up bigger or smaller than you had hoped?

Back to Basics.  Gauge works like this:

The yarn company says that this yarn knits to 20 sts = 4" which is the same as 5 sts = 1".
If you are getting 4 1/2 sts to 1", when the pattern calls for you to knit 5 sts to measure 1", you are knitting 4 1/2 sts which measures 1", plus 1/2 st more. Now your 5 sts measures more than 1". Now your garment is big.
If you are getting 5 1/2 sts = 1" and the pattern asks you to knit 5 sts, you knit 5 sts which measures less than 1" for you. Now your garment is small.

WORK A SWATCH. It contains good information. Measure your own particular gauge with the needles recommended. It's good to know which way you lean, loose or tight. If you are off gauge by 1/2 stitch per inch, your adult sweater is 4" bigger or 4" smaller (eek!). It matters!

DO NOT CHANGE HOW YOU KNIT. "I'm going to knit tighter" works for about 5 minutes, until you relax and then you are back to knitting in your regular way. I will address this mysterious phenomenon in the next post.

CHANGE YOUR NEEDLES. I'm a loose knitter so I usually work with needles 1 to 2 sizes smaller than recommended on the ball band. If you are a tight knitter you may have to work with needles 1 size bigger. Continue with your swatch to see if you are closer to the gauge required by the pattern.

Next post:  Swatches Can Lie! Oh, No.

P.S. Yes, new yarn and worsted too. I love worsted weight yarn the very bestest! I need to knit something up to show you. So far only grey is in production but more colours coming, one at a time, starting in September. Something to look forward to.


  1. Don't get me started on knitters who think a swatch will give them the information they need if they simply knit for about an inch on those 20 sts. I've seen swatches smaller than Tom Thumb.

  2. I can bet10 bucks each time that I will use a needle 1 size smaller than the ball band indicates. Fine. the middle of a top down(whether or not it is the weight of all the the fabric making a difference ,I don't know but have a sneaky suspicion)..I always have to go down another size needle. In other words I find myself checking my gauge periodically throughout the body of the garment.

  3. I always wet block my swatches. Some yarns really stretch and grow when wet. And yes, you can't make a swatch big enough. Even tiny fractions of a stitch add up in a sweater. Oh, and don't forget the importance of row gauge. Depending on the pattern, it can come into play in a big way.

  4. I'm going to bookmark your image, as it helped me to finally understand gauge in a concrete way. I do need to take the time to make a proper sized swatch, but I needlessly worry that I am 'using up' my yarn. Also, should you work the swatch in the pattern, or in stocking stitch? Not all patterns say. Looking forward to your next post.

  5. Excellent article! I'm actually one of the world's worst at knitting swatches because I usually knit to 'standard' tension, but I ALWAYS swatch when size or yarn length is critical, or when the tension given is unusual for the yarn.


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