“To save time, take the time to check your gauge”. We’ve all seen that on a knitting pattern at some point, but do we always do it? It only takes one finished garment that doesn’t fit to hammer home the importance of checking you gauge.
When you come home from your LYS with your gorgeous new yarn all you want to do is get started on that new project, not do a gauge swatch. I mean really, how far off could you be, right? Wrong!! Did you know that being off by just one stitch per inch could mean the difference in your sweater, hat, mittens fitting properly or not?
All yarns have a suggested gauge on the ball band as per Yarn Council standards. For example, worsted weight yarn is classified as twenty stitches to four inches, measured on a 4.5mm (US7), while a chunky weight yarn knits to sixteen stitches on 6mm (US10) needles. Your pattern may call for something different however, depending on the needle and stitch pattern that is being used, and some will specify a row gauge as well as a stitch gauge. Always be sure to get the gauge your pattern requires.
In the first swatch below I’ve used Estelle Superwash Merino DK, which has a suggested gauge of twenty-four stitches to four inches when knit on 4mm (US6) needles. Unless otherwise indicated, gauge swatches are done in stocking stitch. I always add three stitches on either side of my swatch that I work in garter stitch as this helps the gauge stitches lay flat for ease in measuring. I also always work four to six rows in garter stitch to start and end my swatch. For all three swatches, I’ve cast on thirty stitches on 4mm needles.
My first sample is spot on with twenty-four stitches measuring four inches. This means I’m ready to start my pattern and there won’t be any surprises when I cast off. What happens if you don’t have the required number of stitches though? Don’t despair! Many knitters don’t knit to gauge and this is one of the reasons why there are so many different sizes and types of needles.
In the sample below, I’m still using 4mm needles, but I knit this swatch Continental rather than English and the difference in my tension was surprising! This swatch has twenty-one stitches per four inches. That’s considerably larger than the first swatch and means my garment will turn out larger as well.
The first thing I try when adjusting my gauge is a different size needle. Because I don’t have enough stitches, twenty-one rather than twenty-four, I would need to use a smaller needle in order to get fewer stitches.
I worked the two swatches above using ChiaoGoo Lace needles. My all-time favourites, these surgical grade stainless steel needles glide through every stitch with ease. But my next swatch had to be tighter so I opted for ChiaoGoo Natural Bamboo needles as bamboo are known to have lots of grip, and the results were just as I wished – tight, small stitches; in fact, a quarter of an inch smaller than the suggested gauge. You might think that a quarter of an inch wouldn’t make a difference, and perhaps in a hat or mittens it wouldn’t, but that’s enough to throw a large garment off! And let’s face it, who wants to do all that knitting only to find out it doesn’t fit??
In the swatch below, twenty-four stitches produced a fabric width of just 3.75″. In this case, I would go up a needle size in order to get fewer stitches. Bigger needle = bigger stitches = less stitches per inch. Get it? Doing a gauge swatch isn’t so daunting when you know what you’re looking for!
There are many things that can affect gauge – stress, type of needle, the style of knitting, lack of sleep, or even just an off day. This might surprise many of you, but even accomplished knitters still check their gauge as many of them also learned the hard way.
I would recommend washing and blocking your gauge swatch before taking your final measurement. This allows your stitches to bloom fully and gives you a true representation of the final fabric. Washing and blocking your swatch can also help determine how to launder your garment once complete.
I never think of swatching as a waste of time but rather as a way of getting to know my yarn a little before I start to work with it. It helps me determine what type of needle to use and whether the yarn is right for the project.
Do you take the time to check your gauge? If you have any tips or tricks you’d like to share about how you work your gauge swatches, leave us a comment in the comments section below. We’re always looking for new and innovative ideas!
Happy knitting everyone!