Recently, I read a post in the blog A Bunch of Everything about the difficulty she was having “getting gauge”. “Getting” seemed to be both “How does it work?” and “I’m having trouble creating the right gauge”. Quite a few people replied that this was an issue for them too. Some even said they ignore gauge.
You can ignore knitting gauge (within limits) if you are knitting a scarf, shawl, or afghan. You might luck out with a hat. Other than that, unless you are really lucky, ignoring gauge leads to big trouble. Please don’t ask me how I know. I have a few thoughts that I hope will help.
But first I have to say that gauge is a pain. Right when you are all excited to begin a new project, have found a great pattern and just the right yarn, you have to stop and make sure you are using the right size needle. I don’t know anything to change that reality. If there was something that could be done, I think Elizabeth Zimmerman would have found it and shared the news. So. . .
Knit a test swatch. The recommended size of a gauge swatch is at least four inches square. Often I fudge a bit. I definitely find I don’t need four inches of height before I know whether I am close to the right gauge. If it seems that I am way off or just want to test another size needle, I keep the stitches on the needle and throw in one row of a different stitch (usually a purl ridge) and try a different needle. You can see this in the pictures. Once I think I am using the right needle, I knit a longer section or try those needles with a pattern stitch.
Measure your swatch. Amy Herzog recommends finding the width of a whole number of stitches in her post “Swatching Why You Wanna”. Fractions of an inch are easier than fractions of a stitch. After all, the fractions are right there on the ruler. So you might find that you have 17 stitches in 3¼ inches. Dividing 17 by 3.25 says you have a gauge of 5.23 stitches per inch. About 5¼ stitches per inch. (A small calculator in your knitting bag is a great thing.)
Let’s say you need 5 stitches per inch. One way to think about this is “How many stitches will fit into an inch?” Since more than 5 stitches will fit, the stitches are too small. So you need to make them a bit larger. I would try one needle size larger.
If you have the same swatch and need 6 stitches per inch, the stitches are too large. Six of these stitches won’t fit in an inch. You need to make smaller stitches. I’d try a needle at least 2 sizes smaller.
If you want to make a sweater, especially one that is close fitting or has any shaping, you will need more precision than I’ve discussed. There is more information in Amy’s post and lots of places on the web.
I hope these ideas will get you started. If not, please let me know what stage of the process is giving you trouble and I’ll try again.
Thanks for dropping by. I’m off to more KnitKnot Adventures.