If you’ve spent some time around knitters or crocheters, you may already know that mention of the word gauge often elicits a groan. Gauge has a bad reputation for three reasons. First, it represents an unpleasant “should.” Second, it’s a tedious task that has to be accomplished before the fun part of the project can begin. Finally, it involves math. However, getting comfortable with gauge gives you a leg up in knitting and crocheting. Without knowing your gauge, you couldn’t do the following:
- Work away, comfortable in the knowledge that after you work the thousands of stitches required to complete your project, it will fit.
- Ensure your final project is neat and attractive.
- Substitute another yarn for the one given in the pattern.
- Use the needle or hook size that makes the best fabric for your chosen yarn, even if it means you don’t match the pattern’s gauge.
- Ensure that the amount of yarn the pattern specifies is sufficient to complete the project.
- Design your own projects and sweaters.
Determine the gaugeThe first step in any project is to determine the gauge of the fabric you’re making. Gauge (sometimes called tension) is listed at the beginning of a pattern before the instructions begin. It’s given as a number of stitches and rows over 4 inches or 10 centimeters, and it tells you which needle or hook size and which stitch pattern were used to determine the gauge. Check your pattern to see how many stitches and rows should make up 4 inches of knitted fabric. You need to measure your gauge against that given in the directions.
The yarn manufacturer may also recommend a particular gauge on the yarn label. This gauge may be quite different from the one in your pattern, but that’s okay. Sometimes, the pattern designer wants to create a looser or tighter stitch pattern than the standard that the yarn manufacturer set. Follow the pattern gauge to get the same results as the pictured project.
Gauge isn’t always important, such as when you’re making a scarf, an afghan, a bag, or anything else for which a precise size isn’t essential. But when size does matter, the right or wrong gauge can make or break the finished piece.
What affects gaugeGauge varies depending on the yarn, the needle or hook size, and the stitch pattern you use:
- Yarn: Yarns of different weights produce different gauges. A bulkier yarn produces a larger stitch, and a finer yarn produces a smaller stitch.
- Needle or hook size: The same yarn knitted on different-sized needles or crocheted on a different size hook will have different gauges. Because you make a stitch by wrapping yarn around a needle or hook, the size (circumference) of the needle or hook determines the size of the stitch.
This figure shows how needle size can affect the way the finished fabric looks. The smaller the needle is, the tighter the stitches and the denser the knitted fabric. The larger the needle is, the looser the stitches and the drapier (and stretchier) the fabric.
- Stitch patterns and stitch size: The same yarn knitted on the same needles or crocheted on the same hook but in different stitch patterns will have different gauges. For example, some stitches pull in, requiring more stitches to make a square inch. Other stitches spread the fabric out, so they require fewer stitches to make an inch. The following figure compares the gauges of two different stitch patterns that use the same number of stitches.
Gauge also can vary with the time of day you’re working, how long you’ve been working, and what you’re thinking about. The tension you put on the yarn traveling around the needle or hook contributes to stitch size, so being tired or tense can affect the flow of your yarn and stitch size.