Everything you need to know about gauges
WHAT IS THE GAUGE?
The word 'Gauge' is used to describe how tight or loose you knit - 'cause everyone knits differently! A knitting pattern will always include a certain gauge you need to match, typically shown as:
10 x 10 cm = X stitches x Y rows
This little mathematical formula shows how many stitches (measured horizontally) and rows (measured vertically) of your knitwear should fit within a square of 10x10 centimeters.
WHY IS IT IMPORTANT?
The entire fit of a knitted garment is based off of the gauge. If your gauge is even just a tiny bit off, it can and will change the fit of your garment. Even being just one stitch off, your garment can go from fitting a size XS to a size XL - or the other way around.
So before you begin any project, you should knit a small gauge swatch to check if your gauge matches the pattern's intended gauge.
WHAT CAN AFFECT THE GAUGE?
The yarn type you work with can greatly affect your gauge. So, if you ever wish to knit something using a different yarn type than your pattern recommends, it is even more important to make a gauge swatch!
The yarn dying process can affect the elasticity and quality of a yarn, which in return affects your gauge. So, you might even get two different gauges when working in the exact same yarn
- just in different colors!
Of course the needle size affects your gauge - but so can the type of knitting needle you use! Whether it's wooden needles, metal needles, plastic needles, DPN's, small tips or long tips - all of them can affect your gauge.
This one sounds wild, but it's true - your mood can affect your gauge. If you're stressed, you might have a tendency to knit tighter. If you're distracted, you might have a tendency to knit looser - and so on!
The knitting technique you use will of course affect your gauge. For example, a swatch worked in rib will always be smaller than a swatch worked in stockinette. This is why you should always do a gauge swatch in the specific technique stated in a knitting pattern.
Washing and blocking
Washing and blocking can have a huge effect on your gauge! Especially for natural fibres such as wool. This is why it is very important to wash and block a gauge swatch before measuring it.The gauge stated in a knitting pattern will always be the gauge after washing and blocking.
Knitting round or flat
As mentioned earlier, the technique greatly affects your gauge. A gauge swatch in stockinette stitch will differ greatly if worked flat - where you switch between knitting on the rightside and purling on the wrongside - or worked in the round, where you knit all stitches.
Venus in Retrograde
Alright, now I'm just messing with you! But as you can see, there are so many things that can affect your gauge. Don't feel bad if you've messed up a gauge swatch and now your brand new knitted garment doesn't fit - continue reading for my best tips on how to fix it!
THE PERFECT GAUGE SWATCH
Always knit your swatch exactly as stated in the pattern
Always work your gauge swatch in the technique stated in the pattern, as well as either in the round or flat, according to what is stated in the pattern. If you don't, your gauge swatch is essentially useless.
Your gauge swatch should be bigger than you think
The border stitches of a gauge swatch will usually behave a bit weird - they can roll, twist or become bigger or smaller than all your other stitches. Therefore the outermost stitches of your swatch should not be included when measuring the gauge of your swatch.
I strongly advise to cast on more stitches than needed, and work more rows/rounds than needed.
Example: you want to knit a gauge swatch for a gauge of 10x10 cm = 20 stitches x 30 rows.
Do not cast on 20 stitches and work 30 rows, and then measure your swatch.
Do cast on at least 30 stitches and work at least 40 rows. After washing and blocking your swatch, you can then measure the gauge on a 10x10 cm area in the middle of the swatch.
You might need to go up or down a needle size
If your gauge swatch is worked correctly, but still doesn't match the gauge needed, you will probably need to knit with a different needlesize than the pattern recommends.
A knitting pattern will always tell you what needle size to work on. However, this is just a guiding size - you might simply naturally knit with a different tension than the designer of the pattern does, meaning your gauge won't fit the designers gauge when working on the same needlesize.
- If your gauge has too many stitches on 10 cm, go up a needle size and try again.
- If your gauge has not enough stitches on 10 cm, go down a needle size and try again.
- If your gauge has an incorrect amount of rows:
This should also even out naturally, when going up or down a needle size.
However, if your gauge swatch has the correct amount of stitches but an incorrect amount of rows, you should not change needle size.
As a general rule, it is more important to meet the stitch-gauge than the row-gauge, as having the wrong stitch-gauge can seriously alter the size and fit of your garment, whereas having the wrong row-gauge usually only affects the length of your garment - which can be fixed by adding or removing a few rows.
If your stitch count fits the gauge perfectly, but your row count doesn't, I recommend you start your knitting project and just keep in mind that you might need to add/remove a few rows from the length of the body and/or sleeves, and that you might end up using slightly more or less yarn than the pattern states.
Always wash and block your swatch
The gauge stated in a knitting pattern is always the gauge after washing and blocking your garment. Therefore, you should also always wash and block your gauge swatch before measuring the gauge.
My gauge doesn't match the pattern's gauge. Why?
There can be many reasons why your gauge doesn't fit.
A knitting pattern will always tell you what needle size to work on. However, this is actually just a guiding size - you might knit looser or tighter than the designer of the pattern does, which may mean you should go up or down a needle size to achieve the correct gauge. This is why you should always check if you can achieve the correct gauge on the recommended needle size, before beginning a project. If you knit just a tiny bit looser or tighter than intended for the pattern, it can have serious effects on your knitwear!
I can't find yarn with the gauge mentioned in a knitting pattern
When shopping for yarn, you will notice that most yarns tell you what gauge you'll achieve with the yarn.
This is very much just a guiding gauge. The gauge you'll get when working with said yarn will drastically change depending on the needle size and knitting technique you use.
Always choose yarn for your project based on the meterage/yardage and fibre types recommended in the specific pattern you're following - and then make your own gauge swatch using the needle size and knitting technique stated in the pattern.
I ended up using more / less yarn than stated in the pattern
If you knit a garment with an incorrect gauge, it will affect the amount of yarn you'll end up using - even if the gauge is just slightly off. A project estimated to use 5 skeins of yarn might end up needing 7 skeins, solely by knitting in an incorrect gauge.
How to fix a finished garment that turned out the wrong size
First off, and especially if you haven't done it already: wash and block your garment. This can and will affect your finished garment tremendously - especially garments knitted in natural fibres such as wool, as the fibres act very differently once washed. If your garment is worked in e.g. a rib pattern, washing and blocking will also change the rib significantly.
If your garment is slightly off in size - maybe the sleeves are a smidge too long or the torso too cropped - you can also wash the garment and lay it down flat to dry, then (when it's still soaked) you can gently tug and pull the garment to your preferred measurements. Then leave it lying down until it's completely dry.
This trick can help you, if the size is just a little off - but if you're waaay off, it might be time to admit defeat, start over - and check your gauge an extra time beforehand.