Understanding Gauge

Knitters hate to knit gauge swatches. It feels like such a waste of time to so many of us. We just want to get on with things and cast on our new sweater/hat/gloves/vest that we are just DYING to dive into. Why waste time with a pesky gauge swatch??? Ugh. NO THANKS!

However, jump into a large scale project having not knit a swatch? Chances are pretty good that it might end up too big, too short, too wide, too small… Skip swatching once, and you will likely never do it again.

So we thought that we would give you all a little lesson in reading your gauge swatches, so that you no longer have any excuse.

First things first. Needles. We suggest knitting your swatch with the recommended needle size. However, if you know that you tend to knit really tight, or really loose, then adjust your needles as follows.

If you are a tight knitter, bump your needle size up. If you are a loose knitter, bump it down to a smaller size.

Next, make sure that you cast on more stitches than what the gauge is telling you.

For example, if the pattern is telling you 20 stitches= 4″ with 5mm needles, make sure that you cast on more than twenty stitches for your swatch. Twenty six stitches is about right, but I personally like to cast on at least ten stithces more than the pattern gauge is telling me to- sometimes even more!

Not only will it give you a more accurate stitch count, it will also give you a really good idea of how the knitted fabric will drape, how you like knitting it, how the colours will work up and even how it washes!

Seriously. Wash that swatch in the same way that you plan on washing your finished garment. You want to be sure that your yarn is going to hold up to wear and tear of everyday laundry. Not only that, but washing can really affect your gauge. It may make the fabric grow short and wide, or long and skinny, so be sure that the yarn you are using is going to work with your laundering lifestyle.

Next- make sure that you knit your swatch in the stitch pattern that your pattern recommends. This sounds obvious… but it’s pretty amazing how often I have just jumped into stocking stitch, without realizing that the gauge is “over ribbed pattern” or “over lace pattern”. Read your pattern- carefully! Because it does make a difference! And be sure that you are doing as you are told.

Swatching is also a great opportunity to practice your pattern if it involves lace, cables, or any other form of patterning. It’s always better to make mistakes on a swatch that’s only thirty stitches wide versus the back of a sweater which might be a hundred and thirty stitches wide.

Once you have knit and washed your swatch, it’s time to make sure that your gauge measures up. Below are six photos to demonstrate one way how this can be done.

Once you have knit and washed your swatch, pin directly into your swatch with straight pins to mark out a 4″ width and depth. Lay a ruler across your work (measuring tapes can stretch out, so a ruler is preferred), and count how many stitches fall within that four inch range.

Do you have more stitches than the pattern calls for within 4″? Then you need to go up in needle size.

Do you have fewer stitches than the pattern calls for within 4″? Then you need to go down in needle size.

Let’s use this Manos Del Uruguay Franca swatch as an example. I got 11 stitches over 4″, using 8mm needles. Let’s say that my pattern is telling me I need 9 stitches over 4″… this means that I would need to go up in needle size to at least a 9mm needle.

And while the temptation is there to just cast on my project with the 9mm needles and get on with it, that’s a pretty terrible idea.

SWATCH IT! Beacause a lot can happen to your knitting when  you switch up the needles.

You might discover that you don’t like the finished fabric when you change your needle size to get gauge. Perhaps you should either find a different yarn for your pattern, or a different pattern for your yarn. It all depends on which one you feel more committed to!

There is a very good chance that I might find the Franca too flimsy when knit with a 9mm needle. That could work well if I was knitting a scarf, but for a sweater… it might not be as ‘hard wearing’ as I would like it to be.

If you are knitting a swatch, and want to try and different needle halfway through, do it! A good idea when doing that however, is to indicate your needle change with a change in the stitch pattern. For example, if you are changing from a 9mm to a 10mm needle, knit nine garter bumps (assuming you are knitting a stocking stitch swatch) while using the 9mm. Then do the same when you switch to the 10mm needle. Do what makes sense to you. If you would rather just pin a little piece of paper onto your knitting to indicate the needle change, that works too!

Now we have some beautiful Estelle Morgana Chunky. Knitting this swatch allowed us to see how the colours would play off of one another. Sometimes it’s hard to decipher how colour will work when the yarn is still in a ball, but knitting a swatch gives us a much clearer picture.

The thing to remember is that you are likely casting on more stitches to your actual project than your swatch is, so the colours might look a little different (stripe width, pooling, etc) but at least you can see how the colours work together once knitted.

Textured yarns make it difficult to count your stitches- but it is still important to swatch! Let’s pretend that you want to knit a complex lace/cable pattern with the Estelle Hudson. Swatching it would allow you to see that perhaps, that is not the best use of this yarn. You can see from the swatch below that stocking stitch/reverse stocking stitch is simply stunning! And anything much more complex than that might get lost in the rich texture and colour.

Here is a garter stitch swatch done out of Cascade Luna. We wanted to knit a garter stitch baby sweater, so we obviously knit a garter stitch swatch! Stitch count, as well as row gauge can really alter depending on your stitch, so once again we stress- do what you are told! Don’t knit a stocking swatch for a garter stitch project! (Unless of course… that’s what your pattern tells you to do).

Luna-Swatch2

Admittedly, we don’t always swatch our sock yarn before jumping into a pair of socks. If you have knit a lot of socks, and are familiar with traditional sock yarn and have a ‘go-to pattern’ that works for you, then fel free to just jump right in- but remembering that there are never any guarantees! There appears to be a recent trend in swatching sock yarn however, to ensure that the colour doesn’t run in the wash.

Socks may make for a perfectly portable project, but they still take a good chunk of time to knit! It would be a shame to knit an entire pair, only to have all of the colour wash out the first time through the laundry.

If you do decide to swatch for a pair of socks, remember that socks are knit in the round. Which means… you should knit your swatch in the round! Gauge changes from needles to needles, so be sure that you are using the needles you plan on knitting with, as well as the technique (in the round, back and forth, etc)

It’s easy to go a bit cross eyed while trying to count your stitches, so be sure to count your gauge swatch a few times over! If you find that each time you count, you get a different number, go rest your eyes for a bit and return to it later on in the day.

Lastly, we wanted to share this swatch with you. Isn’t that wild??? A yarn where each stitch is over an inch wide! “Quick Knit”, indeed!

Lastly, if you are STILL not convinced that swatching is for you- do as Elizabeth Zimmerman does! Save those little swatches for pocket linings! Perhaps the time spent swatching will seem better spent if you think of it that way.

Happy swatching everyone!

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3 thoughts on “Understanding Gauge

  1. Pingback: Estelle Yarns KAL Week One- Swatching | Estelle Yarns

  2. Pingback: Nevado Hourglass Cowl- Free Pattern Friday | Estelle Yarns

  3. Pingback: A Successful Substitution Story | Estelle Yarns

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