Making a gauge swatch is the best, most accurate way to determine whether your knitted or crocheted finished project will fit and/or be the right size.
So why would you want to skip this step?
Just think, if you are making a hat to fit a 21″ head and the requested stitch is 5 sts/inch, but you’re working at 4 sts/inch, your hat will end up being 26¼” around – you’ll be swimming in that hat. It just won’t fit! What if you were making a sweater and your gauge was off by that much???
Gauge swatches are essential!
Here are some basics to keep in mind when making your gauge swatches:
- Check your pattern for the recommended gauge (stitches and rows).
- Use the needle or hook size recommended in your pattern, unless you are not using the yarn recommended in the pattern. In that case use the needle size recommended on the ball band for your swatch.
- Make your swatch at least 6″ x 6″ in the stitch required.
- Knitters – Work your gauge swatch in the round if the pattern is knit in the round – your purl gauge is probably different than your knit gauge.
- Bind off (knit) or finish off (crochet) your swatch.
- Measurement #1 – measure your swatch, making note of the stitches/inch and the rows/inch (this is your pre-washed gauge or pre-blocked gauge).
- Wash and block your swatch as you would your finished item. If you plan on throwing your finished sweater in the washing machine then laying it flat to dry, treat your swatch the same way.
- Measurement #2 – measure your swatch again, making note of the stitches/inch and the rows/inch (this is your finished gauge)
Our sample was:
- Pre-washed gauge- 18 sts = 4 3/8″ and 28 rows = 4″ (or 4.1 sts/inch and 7 rows/inch)
- Finished gauge – 18 sts = 4 1/4″ and 28 rows = 4 1/8″ (or 4.2 sts/inch and 6.8 rows/inch)
While those differences don’t seem significant, if you are knitting a sweater and you’re pattern says to cast on 178 sts for a 42″ circumference sweater, your pre-washed sweater will be ~43.5″, but after washing it will be ~42.5″. You might think that you need to go down a needle size based on the pre-washed swatch, but in reality you don’t…
If your finished stitch gauge has more stitches per inch than the recommended stitch gauge, switch to a larger needle, and swatch again.
If your finished stitch gauge has less stitches per inch than the recommended stitch gauge, switch to a smaller needle, and swatch again.
If your finished row gauge is different than the recommended row gauge, your pattern and/or the quantity of yarn you may need and/or the type of knitting needles you are using may need to be adjusted. Please ask us for advice!
Why do you want to make note of both your pre-washed gauge as well as your finished gauge? Well, you will actually be knitting/crocheting to your pre-washed gauge, so you will need to know how different it is when figuring out how far to knit/crochet. For instance, let’s say you’re knitting a sweater, and the pattern says to knit the body until it is 10″ from the cast on edge before you start your armhole (for our purposes, we’re going to pretend that there is no edging, you cast and just knit, never changing your needle size, until you have 10″). Now suppose your pre-washed gauge gave you a row count of 8 rows per inch, but your finished gauge was 7 rows per inch. That means when you wash and block your sweater after you’ve knit it, your sweater is going to “grow” in length from 10″ to 11″ from the bottom edge to the armhole. Not good – unless you wanted a longer sweater! Instead, if you know that your finished gauge is 7 rows/inch, you know that you should knit 7 rows/inch x 10″ = 70 rows. It means you have to count your rows rather than pulling out your handy tape measure, but you’ll be so much happier in the end!
Learn from our mistakes (yes, we’ve made sweaters … and hats … and mittens … and other things that didn’t fit)! Do your gauge swatch.
~ Cecilia and Laura
PS Check out our video podcast, the Yarn Mews, for more useful tips – and some silliness.