Does Gauge Matter?

People joke about gauge swatches (in fact, I’ve seen a button that says “Swatching is for sissies!”), but let’s talk about  it. Does gauge really matter? Do you need to do a gauge swatch with each new project? The answer is yes. And no. Yes it really does matter. No, you don’t necessarily need to do one for each new project, depending on what you’re knitting.

I had 12 people around here do a swatch using the same instructions, the same ball of yarn, and the same pair of needles. I washed and blocked the squares and here they are. Twelve people, twelve different results:


And here is the largest next to the smallest:


No one had the same sized swatch in both stitches plus rows per 4″. Small and Large Swatch The Loopy EweHere are the stats:

Wendy     17 st,        26 rows
Roberta   16.5 st,     26.5 rows
Sheryl      17.5 st,     26 rows
Jenny       18 st,        27 rows
Rebecca   18.5 st,     29 rows
Jody         20 st,        28 rows
Lynn        20 st,        30 rows
Michael    20.5 st,     31 rows
Cathy       21.5 st,     30 rows
Sheri        22 st,        29 rows
Julia         21 st,        32 rows
Anne        22 st,        30 rows

We used Cascade 220 Superwash in the recommended needle size (size 7). They say the gauge will be 20-22 stitches per 4″. Our gauge ranged from 17 – 22. Our row gauge ranged from 26 – 32. Those few stitches and few rows can make the difference between a sweater fitting or not.

How? Let’s say you’re getting a gauge of 20 stitches per 4 inches (which is 5 per 1 inch), and the pattern calls for 18 stitches per 4 inches (4.5 per 1 inch). You think, “Half a stitch difference – that’s good enough.” But you have to remember that it’s half a stitch for each inch. If you are making a 30″ sweater and your pattern tells you to cast on 135 stitches, that will give you 30″ at the 4.5  st/inch gauge that the pattern calls for. If you are knitting at a 5 st/in gauge and cast on 135 stitches (as the pattern calls for), that will give you 27″. Your sweater will be 3″ smaller than you were expecting.

How do you adjust your stitch gauge? Generally, if you’re getting more stitches per inch than the pattern calls for, then your stitches are too small. Try going up a needle size. Bigger needles equal bigger stitches equal less stitches per inch.

If you’re getting less stitches per inch than the pattern calls for, then your stitches are too big. Try going down a needle size. Smaller needles equal smaller stitches equal more stitches per inch.

Sometimes you might have to go up or down more than one size. And remember, the same size needle but from a different company (or out of a different material) can also affect the gauge. You may find that using Addi Turbo’s instead of ChiaoGoo’s in the same size, will change your gauge. Or using bamboo needles instead of metal needles. For our Elf Test, we all used the exact same set of needles so our differences come just from tension and the way we all knit.

What if you match on stitch gauge but not row gauge? Generally, matching stitch gauge is more important. Many sweater patterns will tell you to knit x-amount of inches (or centimeters), and that’s easy to measure. It can become more of an issue if you’re knitting a very fitted sweater, or raglan sleeves, or doing a lot of increasing or decreasing and the directions are given row by row. Many times the pattern will come with schematics (a diagram with measurements of the different sections) so you can adjust accordingly. You can also do the math – see what the length would be at their row gauge, and translate the into your row gauge.

Which projects don’t need a gauge swatch? I don’t usually swatch for socks. I swatched the first few times, and now I know that when I use most regular fingering weight yarns, I will need to do 64 stitches on a size 1 needle. If it’s a little thinner fingering weight, I’ll do 68-72 stitches. I try to knit at a gauge of 8 stitches to the inch for socks in fingering weight yarn.

I also don’t swatch for scarves, shawls, mitts, mittens and gloves. Most mitten and glove patterns have enough “give” in the pattern, that using the recommended size needle and yarn ends up being about right for me. Scarves and shawls are wrap-ables and don’t have to fit specifically. If you know you’re a tight knitter, you might just plan to go up a needle size or two on these projects. If you know you’re a loose knitter, you might just plan to go down a needle size or two on these projects. (If you find it hard to go with the “good enough” philosophy, you might just need to swatch it all!) The more you knit, the more you’ll get to know your own tension, and the easier it will work with and adjust the results.

So – how often to you swatch?

Coming next week – how to correctly knit and measure a gauge swatch.

Coming on Friday – the winner from this blog contest. Be sure to get in on it.

Sheri I’llalsotellyouaboutthepattern


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