Getting gauge in your knitting is the most important step in making garments and accessories that fit the way you intended. The key to getting gauge? Swatching done right. We've got a whole tutorial on exactly why gauge is important, and how to knit the best gauge swatch possible to ensure a gorgeous finished knit. Read on!
But What IS Gauge?
Also referred to as tension, gauge means the number of stitches per inch. To get a good fit, you need to know and understand how many stitches you are getting per inch across (horizontally), and from top to bottom (vertical stitches per inch, also called row gauge). Generally speaking, the thinner the yarn, the smaller the knitting needle used with it. The smaller the needle, the more stitches you will get per inch.
Why Gauge is so Important
Knitting instructions include a section about gauge where they tell you that the measurements of the pattern results are based on a gauge of X number of stitches per inch and X number of rows, typically in a 4" measurement. If you have more stitches per inch than the gauge specified, your knit will turn out smaller than expected. If you have fewer stitches per inch than specified in the pattern, your knit will turn out much bigger than expected. For example, if you are knitting a sweater that is meant to be 40 inches in circumference, and the gauge specified is 5 stitches per inch (or 20 stitches across 4 inches), if you are getting 4 stitches per inch, and the pattern says to cast on for 200 stitches, then you will end up with a circumference of 50 inches, not 40.
How to Keep Track of Which Needle was Used
When it comes to needle size, it's easy to lose track of which needle you used. Here is an easy way to make sure that, no matter what, you will be able to figure out what needle size you used to knit your gauge. in our examples below, we tracked by metric size. You can easily use US or UK needle sizes, whichever you are most comfortable with. The important thing is to be consistent- don't use metric for one size and then the US needle size for a different one. Stick with your preferences to ensure that you will be able to figure out which swatch was made with which needle.
On the last stockinette row of your swatch, yarn over (yo), knit 2 together (k2tog) to create an eyelet for each number of the needle size you are using. For example, if you are using a 6mm needle, create 6 eyelets:
In our example, we created 3 swatches. This is the example of the one knitted with 8 mm needles:
But what about half sizes? What if you are using a 6.5 mm needle, for example? We have a trick for that! After all the full eyelets for your needle size are done, you create one purl 'bump' to signify a half size:
How to Swatch
1. Follow the general recommendations. If the pattern calls for X needle size and X yarn, swatch with that and see if you get gauge. Knit a square that is intended to be at least 6 inches (both tall and across). Knit the first few rows in garter stitch to prevent rolling, and finish it with a few rows of garter stitch, then knit stockinette for most of the swatch. The garter sections will help it lay flat for measuring later.
3. Pin or lay flat your swatch to dry. Again, this is according to however you plan on washing and blocking the finished knit, so consistency is key. Don't aggressively pin out your swatch if you aren't going to do that for your sweater, either. Let your swatch completely dry, and unpin it before doing any measuring.
4. Measure! Using a measuring tape or ruler, measure your swatch across the center of the stockinette, while it is laying flat and is not stretched or pinned down in any way. Typically you will want to check and see how many stitches/rows you are getting per inch, as well as over 4 inches. This gives you an opportunity to make sure you aren't tricking yourself. It can be easy to decide that the stitches are 5 stitches per inch instead of 4.5 stitches per inch, but that extra amount over a whole sweater will result in a much bigger sweater. A good rule of thumb is that whatever the stitch count per inch, when you measure the total stitches over the 4 inches, you should be able to divide that number by 4 and get the same number as your original stitches per inch measurement. Don't forget to measure for row gauge, too, which is the vertical measurement for the stitches per inch - the same rules apply.
And that's it! Taking the time to make a great swatch is worth it, considering the time and energy you'll devote to knitting your garment, you want to make sure that it's going to turn out perfectly!