Techniques - Gauge
If you have been knitting (applies to other fibre crafts- weaving and crochet too) for a while you have probably run into gauge, and maybe some of the problems it can cause. If you are a newer knitter you might have wondered what the line in the pattern that says "gauge" is talking about and just how important it is.
The pattern gauge is the basis of all the measurements. It is based on the number of stitches and rows in a centimetre (or inch). To make your project match the size given in the pattern you need to have the same number of stitches and rows in a centimetre / inch.
An example (in inches but applies to centimetres too)-
The pattern has a gauge of 5 stitches in an inch, you choose a measurement of 32 inches so you will need 160 stitches (5 x 32 =160).
But, if your knitting has a gauge of 6 stitches in an inch and you still cast on 160 stitches your work will measure 26 1/2 inches (160 / 6 = 26 1/2). That is going to be much too small!
So, how to check your gauge and see if it matches the pattern? You are going to need to make a swatch (read about that here).
Gauge is often given over ten centimetres / four inches as you get a more reliable measurement by checking over a longer length, very small differences in the "per centimetre / inch" average out.
If you have more stitches per inch than the pattern your work will come out too small, try a bigger needle.
If you have fewer stitches per inch your work will come out too big, try a smaller needle.
There are a number of things that can affect gauge, these include:
Yarn thickness (for example, not all DK yarn is exactly the same!)
If you tend to be a tight or loose knitter
Feeling stressed? You might be knitting tightly today
You might need to play with these to get the gauge to match the pattern.
Thicker yarns and bigger needles will have fewer stitches per inch.
Thinner yarns and smaller needles will have more stitches per inch.
You also need to check your row gauge - the number of rows over ten centimetres / four inches will also be given in the pattern. The same adjustments can be made as for stitch gauge.
Depending on the pattern you might find row gauge is less important than stitch gauge, often you will see the instruction to work a number of inches rather than a number of rows. Raglan depths, sideways knit garments and lace/cable pattern repeats can all be affected by row gauge so caution is needed if your row gauge is off.
The fudge factor, how critical is it?
As you can see from the example above an extra stitch per inch can make a big difference. On smaller items you might get away with being a little off. For example, a 9 inch sock with a gauge of 8 stitches per inch might still fit if you have 8 1/4 stitches per inch as it will measure 8 3/4 inches.
If you have too many stitches per inch but changing needle size doesn't work (for example, you like the fabric made with the size you are using), you might be able to choose a different size from the pattern. Too few stitches per inch would mean choosing a smaller size, too many would need a larger size. This doesn't always work out so can be a gamble.