Measure gauge like a pro!
or tension, is a very important measurement in knitting. Gauge is determined by how many stitches and rows the yarn get you to 4 inch or 10 centimeters, depending on which length system you use.
For example; your pattern expects you to get 23 stitches in width and 30 rows in height with stockinette stitch in 4 inches/10 centimeters.
This means that if you measure your knitted piece across, 4 inches/10 centimeters should equal 23 stitches in stockinette. And when you measure in vertical, from top to bottom, 4 inches/10 centimeters should equal 30 rows in stockinette stitch.
Why is gauge so important?
Gauge is crazy important in most knitting projects and that’s because it determines the size of the finished project. If you have an idea of which dimensions your piece is going to be, the gauge is your way of getting a nice result.
When you know your gauge, you can easily calculate how many stitches you have to cast on to start with. You will know how many increases or decreases you will have to do for shaping along the way, and how many rows you need to knit as well. More about that further down!
Introducing: The gauge swatch
It’s about time to introduce the swatch. The swatch are a knitters best friend, at least in every case where gauge matters, that means in every case the size matters. And size do matter, right?
To calculate your gauge (aka stitches and rows per 4 by 4 inches or 10 by 10 centimeters) you will need something to measure from, and that my friend is your swatch. So, grab a pair of knitting needles and your yarn and start casting on stitches.
How to knit a swatch
If you’re knitting from a pattern, it will specify the gauge. For example, it could say 20 stitches and 30 rows = 4 inches /10 centimeters with size 6 needles. Use that info to make your swatch.
Use the recommended size of knitting needles and cast on. Add some extra stitches and rows, this is to give you the possibility to take an accurate measurement from the middle of the swatch. The edges can have a different tension and throw things off.
Check which stitch pattern the gauge is measured in
Most commonly gauge is measured in stockinette stitch, but check your pattern details to be sure. If you don’t have a pattern I suggest that you do your swatch in the stitch pattern you have in mind for your project.
I like to knit my swatches at least 6 by 6 inches or 15 by 15 centimeters. It’s a good size to scale at. And if the yarn is suitable, I get a nice dishcloth out of it too 🙂
Bind off before measuring
It’s important to bind off the stitches. Measuring with the swatch still on the needles can throw the measurements off. The needle can make the fabric stretch or bunch up in places.
Should I wet-block the swatch?
To get a perfectly accurate measurement you also have to block your swatch out. That means that you will wet the fabric you just knitted, form it, and let it dry before you take your measurements.
Blocking your swatch will also allow you to se how your yarn is going to behave when worn and washed. Probably you will notice that your stitches look so much neater and prettier after blocking, which is wonderful. But you will also notice that your knitted piece of fabric may grow a little (or maybe quite a big) bit in the process. Luckily you blocked it before you took your measurements, otherwise your project may have ended up a little crazy-sized.
Do I really have to do a swatch?
Yes. You. Do.
Sometimes the label on your yarn tells you what gauge you will get on a certain size of knitting needles. Do not trust that as the truth! Why not? Because it’s an average number.
The label tells you the gauge for the yarn so that you should know what to expect, but gauge is not an exact science.
Every knitter has her or his own gauge depending on how you hold your knitting needles, if you pick or throw your yarn, how hard your tension is, what material your needles are made out of and so on.
What happens if your gauge is off?
If you have more stitches in 4 inches/10 centimeters than expected in the pattern your piece will be less wide than intended.
If you have fewer stitches in 4 inches/10 centimeters than the pattern says, your piece will be wider than intended.
If you have more rows in 4 inches/10 centimeters than the gauge stated, your finished knitting will be shorter than in the pattern,
If you have rows in 4 inches/10 centimeters than the gauge expected, the finished project will end up longer.
How to fix a gauge thats off
What if you have gone trough all this work with making a swatch, blocking and measuring only to realize that your gauge is off?
Take a deep breath and exhale, this is totally going to be fine!
Higher gauge than the pattern
If your gauge has a higher stitch/row count than your pattern, that means your fabric will be a bit more dense and therefore your piece will be smaller than intended.
There are two fixes for this issue
- Change to bigger knitting needles. If you think your swatch is a little tightly knit, changing to bigger needles will loosen it up a bit. How much bigger needles you need depends on how tight your knitting is and how much your gauge is off. Maybe one or two sizes. You will have to do some more testing/swatching before you know.
- Take a look at the larger sizes of your pattern. If you are pleased with how your swatch turned out there is no need to change the needles. I suggest that you simply go for a larger size in the pattern instead. I will walk you through the calculating for this further down, in the Let’s do the maths section!
Lower gauge than the pattern
If you ended up with fewer stitches per 4 inches/10 centimeters than your pattern, that means your knitting will be slightly looser than in the pattern. As long as you are pleased with how your swatch turned out, that’s not a problem.
The solutions are changing needles, or do a bit of math
- Change to smaller knitting needles. This will make your knitting a little bit tighter and your gauge a bit higher. If you feel that your swatch was a bit loose, this is a good way to go! How many sizes you need to go down depends on how much your gauge is. Some more swatching is the way to go here.
- Take a look at the smaller sizes of your pattern. If you are pleased with how your swatch turned out, there is no need to change the needles. I suggest that you simply go for a smaller size in the pattern instead. But first, we have to do some calculating!
Let’s do the math!
When you know your gauge per 4inces/10 centimeters its easy to calculate the gauge per inch or centimeter.
If you measure in inches:
- Step 1: Take the number of stitches in your gauge and divide it with 4. This will give you the number of stitches you need per inch.
- Step 2: Look at your pattern, there should be a graphic or table showing the measurements of the finished garment, and find the measurement for your size. Take that number and multiply it with your gauge/inch. This is the number of stitches you need to knit to achieve the right size.
- Step 3: Look for the size in the pattern that best matches the number of stitches you just calculated and follow the instructions for that size instead.
If you measure in centimeters:
- Step 1: Take the number of stitches in your gauge and divide that with 10. That will give you the number of stitches you need per centimeter.
- Step 2: Look at your pattern, there should be a graphic or table showing the measurements of the finished garment, and find the measurement for your size. Take that number and multiply it with your gauge/centimeter. This is the number of stitches you need to knit to achieve the right size.
- Step 3: Look for a smaller size in the pattern that best matches the number of stitches you just calculated and follow the instructions for that size.
How to use gauge without a pattern
A swatch is the beginning to every knitting project. If you’re a freestyler and not knitting by a pattern the swatch is the tool that helps you to write a map of the work you have ahead.
When you have made your swatch and calculated your gauge it’s time to start working on the map!
Steps to getting started without a pattern
- Start with deciding the measurements of your finished project.
- Calculate how many stitches you have to cast on. To do that use your gauge/inch or gauge/centimeter and multiply that with how wide you want the piece to be at the starting point.
(your gauge per 4 inches/4 = gauge/inch, Your gauge per 10 centimeters /10 = gauge per centimeter)
- Calculate how many rows you should knit to achieve the desired length. Or use a tape measure as you go 🙂
- If you’re doing any shaping, use your gauge per inch or centimeter to calculate how many stitches you are going to increase/decrease and on which rows this is going to happen.
Good knitting luck!
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