"Gauge" is not a four letter word


This post has also been added to the Create Along blog.

Whether your are designing your own knitwear, or knitting someone else's pattern, a gauge swatch can be invaluable. This is not to say that you cannot design and knit without swatching first. For as long as there has been knitting, there have been people who picked up yarn and needles and simply jumped forth, feet first, into their projects.
That said, there are some distinctly useful reasons to consider knitting, washing and blocking a swatch of any yarn you plan to knit with, and if you love knitting (and I think you do) you can make this a fun aspect of the project.

When I think of designing I think of it like building with Legos. Each block can be a different size, so that 10 –1 inch wide blocks stacked next to each other will be an entirely different length than 10 - half inch blocks in the same arrangement. If you are planning to make your Barbie a fort, replete with moat and dragon, you'll need to make sure you build it large enough for her and her cavalcade of cannons (to keep the riff-raff out, of course.)

These blocks have different gauges.

Saying that her walls need to be 20 blocks wide doesn't mean anything if you have 4 different sizes of blocks to choose from. Pick the blocks that are too small, and Barbie just isn't going to fit inside. Pick blocks that are too large and you might find it no longer fits on the dining room table (where we all play with our Legos and Barbies!) Gauge tells you how big your building blocks are and gives you the Rosetta Stone to knowing where to go next with a pattern, whether it's your own or someone else's.

Once you know you have X number of stitches and Y number of rows per inch, you can easily determine how to decrease evenly from your hips to your waist, then back out for your chest, even if your measurements are wildly different than the average. Without those numbers, you might find yourself decreasing too quickly or not quickly enough and that either means a trip to the frog pond (rip-it, rip-it, rip-it) or an ill fitting garment.

Furthermore, knitting a gauge swatch gives you a chance to get to know your yarn; how it commingles with your needle choice, and gives you a chance to try the stitch pattern and see if it suits your taste. I can't tell you how many times I've realized that my needles were poorly matched to my yarn, occasionally with disastrous results (think rough wooden needles snagging smooth microfiber.)

Best to leave those discoveries to the swatch stage before you've begun knitting rows of 200 stitches.

Finally, as designers, you are not limited to the gauge and needles specified on the ball band. Your yarn may knit up with too much drape, or not enough, when knit at the specified gauge, but go up or down a few needle sizes and the fabric may be just what you hoped. Use your gauge swatch as a chance to find that perfect match between the two.

I could stand up on this soapbox all day, extolling the virtues and joys of knitting gauge swatches, as these are just the a few highlights, but I don't want to scare you all off yet.

My next post will show my theory in action! Stay tuned for my adventures in swatching.

PS. Go team CALMER!


Yay! I am so excited about CALing. I already wrote tomorrow's post. Like your leggos, BTW.

Hmm, I never thought of gauge like LEGOS before . . . (grin)

I wish that you had chosen a couple of other yarns (like ones I have in my stash) or would allow for other choices. If so, I'd soooo be there. As it is, I have several projects in the near future and can't fit them to your rules. But, I'm looking forward to the creativity that flows from others. Go CAL!

one thing i have noticed in my swatchage. i NEVER get row gauge. so, for the most part, i've given up. unless my row gauge wildly varies from the stated gauge, i just use measurements. it doesn't really matter that much to shaping (unless you have, as i stated earlier, wildly varying row gauge, lol).

i do have a question for you. what size was the dragon sweater supposed to be? i cheated a bit, and used two strands of caron simply soft, and used size 8 & 9 needles (i have to change needle sizes, frequently, as well, lol). i got gauge when i knit one up (trust me, it took some experimentation (i think 4 swatches, total)), but this sweater looked like it would fit a one year old. the people i sent it to ADORED it though (the lady who is the head of the charity not only told the AC4C project coordinator it was darling, she mentioned it in her thank you letter as well!), but it seemed a bit large, lol.

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Marnie published on February 19, 2007 11:45 AM.

The Create Along was the previous entry in this blog.

Swatching and sketching Lily is the next entry in this blog.

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