Getting the correct gauge can make or break a knit or crochet project. This tutorial will show you how to properly measure your gauge and why it’s so critical, so you can avoid some of the worst knit and crochet disasters.
When you follow a knit or crochet pattern, do you measure your gauge?
Well, you should.
It may not seem like a big deal, but if your gauge is not correct, it can ruin your entire project.
For example, let’s say you are making a sweater. You use the same hook or needle size called for in the pattern, so it should be fine, right?
Well, what if you work slightly tighter than the pattern designer? Even if your gauge is only off by a little, once that difference is spread out over a large area of fabric, it can have a bigger effect on the size of the project than you might think.
So you spend a few dozen hours on your sweater, only to find once you’ve finished it that it is a whole size too small.
But what if the project is something that doesn’t have to fit someone?
Even if it doesn’t have to fit a person or an object, incorrect gauge can still cause problems.
Let’s say you are making a blanket. You’ve purchased the amount of yarn required in the pattern, and you are using the same hook or needle size as in the pattern.
But you don’t realize that you work looser than the pattern designer. So, because the stitches are looser, they suck up more yarn. Your afghan will turn out larger than the pattern intended, and you may run out of yarn before you finish the project.
Why does this happen?
Every knitter or crocheter is a little different. Each person works with a slightly different amount of tension on the yarn. So two different people can work the same fabric with the same yarn and the same hook or needle size, and both will come out with slightly different gauge.
This is why it is so important to measure your gauge and make sure the stitches you are making are the same size as the stitches need to be for the pattern you are following.
So, what is gauge?
Gauge is essentially the size of your stitches. It is usually measured by counting how many stitches or rows fit into a certain measurement.
If you are making something very small, you can just check your gauge as you make the project. However, I recommend making a gauge swatch to check your gauge, especially if you are making a larger project.
Note: It is always important to follow the pattern requirements if you want your project to turn out well. For example, always use a yarn in the same weight category (#1 fingering, #4 worsted, #6 super bulky, etc). Using a thicker or thinner yarn can throw off your gauge quite a bit.
How to make a Gauge Swatch
To make your gauge swatch, you’ll need to make a knit / crochet a piece of fabric in the same yarn and stitch pattern as your project will use. The piece should be at least 5 inches (12.7 cm) wide by 5 inches (12.7 cm) long.
We’ll be measuring a 4 inch section of the swatch, and we don’t want the edge areas in our measurement. (The edges of a knit / crochet piece often have slightly different tension than the rest of the fabric.)
If the project is worked in the round, you’ll want to work your swatch as a tube in the round, making the tube about 10 inches (25.4 cm) in circumference and 5 inches (12.7 cm) high.
You’ll also need to treat the swatch the same way you would treat the finished item. If you plan on blocking your project, you should also block the gauge swatch. Blocking can relax the fabric and affect how the stitches will lay.
If you measure your gauge without blocking your swatch, and you block the finished item, the item may turn out larger than intended once it has been blocked. (Click Here to learn how to block your knitting and crochet.)
Measuring Your Gauge
Once you have made your gauge swatch and blocked it, you can measure the gauge.
Lay the swatch out on a flat surface, making sure you don’t pull, stretch, or distort the fabric. It needs to lay naturally for you to get an accurate measurement.
See the gauge measurement given in your pattern to find what the gauge is supposed to be for your project. It will usually say something like “(a certain number of) stitches in 4 inches (10 cm); (a certain number of) rows in 4 inches (10 cm)”.
Sometimes gauge is given within a different measurement, like 3 inches or 1 inch, but we will use 4 inches in this example since it is most common.
A measuring tape can also be used, but measuring tapes can stretch over time and become inaccurate. So be sure to check your measuring tape against a ruler every now and then to make sure it hasn’t stretched.
To measure your gauge, you’ll first need to know how to identify and count stitches and rows in your fabric. For knitters, you can learn more about that here and here. Or, for crocheters, I have a post on that here.
My knitted swatch is worked in seed stitch, and my crochet swatch is worked in single crochet.
Lay your ruler on the swatch so the edge is going across a single row of the fabric. Count how many stitches fit within the 4 inch measurement (or the measurement given in your pattern).
Now, lay your ruler on the swatch in the other direction, so it is going up a column of stitches. Count how many rows fit within the 4 inch measurement (or the measurement given in your pattern).
Now, compare those numbers to the numbers of stitches required in the gauge by your pattern. Do they match?
If they don’t, you can correct that by changing your hook or needle size.
If you have too many stitches /rows in the given measurement, your stitches are too small. Try making a new gauge swatch with a larger hook or needle size, and check the gauge again.
If you have too few stitches / rows in the given measurement, your stitches are too large. Try making a new gauge swatch with a smaller hook or needle size, and check the gauge again.
Here is the important thing to remember:
The hook or needle size given in a pattern is always a suggestion only.
It is always more important to use the hook or needle size that gives you the correct gauge, whether it is the same size hook as used in the pattern or not.
Even if your gauge is only off by a little, that can throw off your gauge by a lot over a whole project. Try to get as close to the correct gauge as you possibly can.
If you are a beginner, and you can’t get gauge with the needle size you have, it is best to go buy a new hook or needle in the next larger / smaller size. If you plan on knitting or crocheting as a hobby, you’re going to need more hook and needle sizes anyway, and the cheapest aluminum or plastic hooks and needles are pretty inexpensive at places like Walmart.
Again, correct gauge is the most important factor, and it is well worth the time and effort spent on making sure the gauge is correct.
Now that you know how to check your gauge, I hope you’ll do it for every project. Checking gauge before you begin can save you a lot of time and trouble working on a project that won’t turn out.
Once you have the correct gauge, you can begin your project with confidence, knowing that as long as you follow the pattern instructions, your project will turn out the right size and you won’t run out of yarn.