IT'S ALL ABOUT
WHAT IS GAUGE?
When knitting, the final measurements of your piece are a result of three factors, a) the needle size you are using, b) the yarn weight you are knitting with, and c) how tight or loose you are knitting your stitches.
Every knitter naturally knits to their own gauge tension, some knit tightly and some knit more loosely. But, did you know that the gauge tension of each pattern is determined by the individual designer of that pattern? There is no universal knitting tension standard, therefore in order for you to have confidence you will achieve the final measurements indicated in a knit pattern, you need to know how to adjust your knitting style to match the gauge tension.
This is where creating a gauge swatch before you start each project comes in handy and without fail, sets you up for project success!
WHAT IS A GAUGE SWATCH?
A gauge swatch is a little square piece of fabric that you knit up before each project. It is made by knitting the stitches and rows called out in the stitch pattern by the designer in the GAUGE NOTES section of each pattern.
Once knit up, the number of stitches and rows you have created within a 4" square will tell you if you are knitting to the right tension to achieve the measurements listed in the pattern.
MAKING A GAUGE SWATCH
The gauge tension will be called out in the pattern notes of each pattern and will indicate how many stitches per row and how many rows in height are required for you to achieve a 4" x 4" square.
Ex: The gauge tension call out for our Ainsley Sweater is to use a 7mm needle with LOLL yarn:
14 stitches in stockinette stitch x 19 rows = 4"x4"
Quick Note: It's easiest to count your stitches and rows on squares of fabric that are slightly larger than 4" x 4". You only need to cast on a couple stitches more than the gauge call out and knit a few more rows than what is required.
For our sample, we were a bit excessive and fully doubled the numbers. We casted on 28 stitches and knit 38 rows.
It's not 100% needed for most cases, but when knitting a piece that needs to fit a certain way (ie: sweaters!) then it's a good idea to block your sample before measuring it.
Blocking your swatch will even out and relax all of the stitches and will provide you with a much more accurate gauge measurement. To block your swatch, gently soak it in cold water or gently mist the swatch with a spray bottle until it has soaked through. Once the stitches are wet, roll it up in a towel and gently press any excess water out. (Do not wring or rub the swatch in the towel as you will felt the sample).
(If you don't need to block your swatch, skip ahead now to STEP 4)
Next, pin your wet swatch out to your intended measurements. Since we doubled our swatch size to be 8"x 8" we pinned it to those measurements to completely dry and set.
(NOTE: Stitches puff up as they dry, and you can get a completely different gauge count when a swatch is wet. So, be patient and let the swatch fully dry before you measure your gauge.
If you blocked your swatch, unpin it and let it sit a few minutes so the stitches can relax before measuring.
Along one row, pin out a 4" distance and count how many stitches are between the pins.
In this swatch, we are getting 14 stitches over 4".
We now know that we have achieved the right stitch gauge for the Ainsley Sweater pattern.
Next, along a knit column, pin out a 4" distance and count how many rows are between the pins.
In this sample, we are getting 19 rows over 4".
We now know that we have achieved the right row gauge for the Ainsley Sweater pattern.
NOT GETTING THE RIGHT STITCH/ROW COUNT?
TOO MANY STITCHES OR ROWS
If you are getting too many stitches or rows showing up in your 4" measurements, it's because you are knitting too tightly, and are making stitches that are too small. You need to relax your knitting style a bit so that you are not pulling so tightly on the yarn. If you don't want to adjust your personal knitting tension, another option is to choose a slightly larger needle size to create slightly larger stitches.
TOO FEW STITCHES OR ROWS.
If you are not getting enough stitches or rows showing up in your 4" measurements, it's because your knitting tension is too loose and you are making stitches that are too big. You need to tighten up your knitting style a bit so that you can create slightly smaller stitches or (if you have this option) choose a slightly smaller needle size to create smaller stitches. .