We’ve all been there: you see a pattern you adore, and you want to knit it! Then you look at the pattern, and it says something like this:
Take time to save time: check your gauge!
Now, a lot of knitters groan at this point. A lot of other knitters just ignore that instruction. After all, checking gauge takes time. BUT, smart knitters actually do take time to check their gauge.
What Is Gauge?
Gauge is simply the size measurement of a piece of knitting. Usually, you will see gauge expressed over 4 inches or 10 centimeters. How many stitches across does it take to make 4 inches of fabric? How many rows of knitting does it take to make 4 inches of fabric?
Three factors go into a gauge measurement: yarn, needles, and the knitter. If you change one of these factors, the gauge will change.
Sometimes, the knitter’s mood can affect gauge as well… if I’m stressed or angry, I just might knit a little more tightly than if I’m relaxed or happy.
If you are not the person who designed a pattern, there is no guarantee that when you knit up that pattern, it will turn out the same size as the designer.
The point is, it’s important to “get gauge” before starting a pattern. You can do this by practicing knitting with the yarn and needles called for in the pattern, and making adjustments if necessary.
Gauge on the Yarn Label
Your yarn’s label will probably show some sort of gauge. That’s the gauge of an “average knitter” using an “average needle” in Stockinette Stitch. It is useful for general planning, but don’t use it instead of making a gauge swatch.
Make the Gauge Swatch
A decent pattern will give one or more gauges in the planning section. A good pattern will give gauge in a stitch actually used in the pattern.
Bad patterns will give gauge in stockinette stitch, but then not include stockinette stitch anywhere in the actual pattern.
Make a swatch that is at least 4.5″ wide and 4.5″ tall, using the stitch pattern given for the pattern’s gauge. I usually make 6″ swatches, though. Use the recommended needle size.
Knitting in the Round
If you are checking gauge for a project knitted in the round, you’ll need to make sure your gauge swatch is knitted in the round instead of flat. Otherwise it won’t be accurate, since we all knit differently when we knit in the round and when we knit flat.
Block the Swatch
Wash your swatch the way you will wash your project when it’s done. Lay it flat to dry. You could pin it to your final measurement at this point, but don’t. The unpinned swatch will spring back naturally as it dries, and you’ll get a more accurate measurement.
Measure the Swatch
Once the swatch is dry, you can measure it. The simplest way to measure it is this:
- Lay out your ruler lengthwise and count the number of stitches across 4 inches.
- Move your ruler so it’s crosswise and count the number of rows across 4 inches.
Don’t include the 2 stitches on either side or the top and bottom in this measurement… they are usually shaped oddly and will give a less accurate measurement.
A more complex, but more accurate, way to measure gauge is to measure the stitches and then do some math to determine the gauge over 4 inches. For example:
- 30 stitches over 5 1/4 inches
- 30/5.25*4 = 22.86
- Stitch Gauge: 23 stitches over 4 inches
Use my handy-dandy gauge calculator to calculate your 4-inch gauge easily online!
Evaluate your Swatch
What happens if your gauge is different than the pattern’s gauge?
Actually, that’s the whole point of this exercise. You just saved yourself a lot of heartache!
If your stitch gauge is too big, increase your needle size and knit another swatch. If your stitch gauge is too small, decrease your needle size. You’ll want to redo your gauge swatch in each successive needle size in order to verify that the new size will give you the correct gauge.
Example 1: Pattern gauge is 24 stitches in 4 inches on size 2 needles, and I got 26 stitches. I would need to go up a needle size, to size 3.
Example 2: Pattern gauge is 24 stitches in 4 inches on size 2 needles, and I got 22 stitches. I would need to go down a needle size, to size 1.
Don’t feel bad about changing needle size to get the designer’s gauge… you’re still making the same size fabric; you’re just a looser or tighter knitter than the pattern’s designer.
Ask yourself: do you like the fabric?
Once you have a blocked gauge swatch, you an ask yourself if you like what you’re making. I have hated making the swatch enough that I knew I’d hate working on the pattern. I have also hated my yarn and switched yarns at this point, too.
Ask yourself if you would like the sweater, hat, cowl, or whatever the pattern is, if it’s made out of your swatch. Because if it seems too drapey, or too stiff, you might want to change yarn.
Another thing you can do is go with a different gauge and adjust the pattern. That takes a little more experience and skill, but it can be done.
Now you know how to get gauge, you can make sure your next project will fit before starting the project. It’s extra work, but it’s worth it to guarantee your project will be the size you want it to be.