Knitting gauge or tension refers to the number of stitches and rows in a given area. Most patterns provide a gauge measured over 4″ or 10 cm. The more stitches/rows per inch means a tighter more dense fabric. If a more loosely knit fabric is desired, the number of stitches/rows per inch should be decreased.
Knitting gauge or tension refers to the number of stitches and rows in a given area. Most patterns provide a gauge measured over 4″ or 10 cm. The more stitches/rows per inch means a tighter more dense fabric. If a more loosely knit fabric is desired, the number of stitches/rows per inch should be decreased. Gauge is also used to calculate most of the numerical instructions in patterns, the number of cast on stitches, increases/decreases for shaping, etc. This is why it is essential to match the recommended gauge as closely as possible.
The best way to figure out whether you can get the right gauge for your project is to knit a swatch. While many knitters dread this part of the process, a gauge swatch is absolutely essential for success especially for garment projects. Start off with the recommended needles in a yarn that is the same weight as the one used in the pattern. Although gauge is given for a 4″ x 4″ or 10 cm area, your swatch should actually be a bit larger. A 6″x 6″ or 8″ x 8″ swatch will increase the accuracy of your measurements. Wash and block your completed swatch BEFORE taking measurements. If you are using yarns like alpaca, cotton, or silk with little to no memory, take a hanging gauge instead of measuring the swatch lying flat. (Actually, I allow these kinds of swatches to hang vertically for a full 24 hours before I take any measurements.)
Let’s say you have determined your gauge, but it doesn’t match the one recommended by the pattern. Well, now you have to make adjustments. If you are getting too many stitches/rows per inch, then move up one or two needle sizes. If the stitches/rows per inch are too few, go down to a smaller needle size. Never try to change the way you knit to produce tighter or looser stitches because you won’t be able to maintain it over the course of an entire project. Instead, change the needle size and keep your manner of knitting constant.
If you still can’t match the recommended gauge, try swatching with other yarns in the same weight category until you find one that works. You can also try changing the type of needles you’re using. For instance, if you usually work with nickle plated needles switch over to wood and see if it makes a difference. If neither of these suggestions help, take a break by knitting a scarf or an afghan in which gauge isn’t essential for the finished project.
Although the process of matching gauge can be challenging at times, it is always worth the effort. Getting the right tension will ensure your project’s finished measurements match those given by the pattern, meaning fewer unpleasant surprises when it’s time to try on the garment.
Angelia Robinson is a knit and crochet designer residing in Los Angeles whose playful yet elegant designs explore the interplay of shape, texture, and style. Do you have a knitting question for Angelia? Write us (firstname.lastname@example.org) and include “Ask a Knitter” in the subject line.