Gauge, Part 2: Swatching and Measuring!

In an earlier post, I explained what gauge is and why it is important. Today, I want to talk about creating a gauge swatch and measuring it. Grab your ruler and calculator and we’ll get started!

(I fear I may have lost some of you already. But please, bear with me.)

Most you have seen a yarn label in the past, so you already know that it provides a wealth of information - the name of the yarn, fiber content, yardage, color number, dye lot and of course the recommended needle size and gauge. However, the recommended needle size and gauge is meant to be a jumping off point and not set in stone. As I said in the earlier blog post, we are participating in hand work, so everyone’s gauge will be slightly different.

When you work your gauge swatch you will want to use the same techniques and tools that you will be using in your finished product. If you plan on making a garment in the round, your gauge swatch should also be worked in the round. If you are going to be using metal needles, don’t swatch with wooden ones. You plan on using circular needles? Don’t use your straights to swatch. All of these things can affect your gauge. Some patterns that use more than one stitch pattern may ask for a swatch in either the pattern or stockinette, and some recommend both. It is a good idea to do both stitches, as you may have different gauges for each stitch.

Most patterns will tell you that the recommended gauge is measured within a 4 inch square (or for our metric friends 10 centimeters). So most knitters (and I am guilty of this as well) will calculate how many stitches they think they will need to get the 4 inches and cast on that amount. Then they will knit about 2 ½ inches and measure the swatch while still on the needle. This is a great starting point to see if you are going to get close to gauge, but not the correct way to make sure you are getting proper gauge! In fact, you will want to make your gauge swatch AT LEAST 6 inches wide.

Now what do you need to do to see if you are getting proper gauge?

Starting with the information on the label, take the recommended stitch per inch and multiple that by 6 and then add 4 stitches. Using Kamara as an example, you would multiply the 4.5 stitches by 6 and then add 4, which equals 31. Cast on those 31 stitches on the recommended needle size from the label (however if you KNOW that you typically knit loose or tight you can adjust accordingly.)

Work a few rows in garter stitch (knit every row), and then you can start your pattern stitch, with 2 stitches on each side in garter. For this example we are going to use stockinette stitch, so for our right side rows we can knit across, but on the wrong side rows, we will k2, p27, k2. We will repeat these 2 rows until the swatch measures about 6 inches, work a few rows in garter stitch and then loosely bind off.

I’ll bet your thinking “Great! I can finally measure my gauge.” Not quite yet. There are a few more important things, and these are even more crucial than the knitting.

First you need to wash you swatch. You are (hopefully) eventually going to wash your garment; in my humble opinion it is better find out now how the yarn will react to water. This is especially true for fibers that have a reputation for stretching, such as cotton and linen. Just like you did when you chose the tools to make your swatch, you will want to use the same tools to wash your swatch. If you plan on washing your sweater by hand, then wash it by hand. But if you plan to use the gentle cycle on your washing machine, it would be a good idea to use the machine to wash your swatch.

Next, you will need to let your swatch dry. And just like before, you want to dry it the way you plan on drying the finished object. I recommend laying your swatch (and your finished pieces) flat to dry and pinning them slightly. However, if you plan on throwing it in the dryer on low, this is the time to try it.

Once your swatch is dry, you are finally (finally!) ready to start measuring. You want to lay your swatch on a smooth hard surface. Using a ruler, measure four inches across and count your stitches and rows (see the pictures below). Divide each of these numbers by four. Once you have those numbers you have a swatch that should accurately represent your gauge.

That wasn’t so hard, was it?

I can hear your mind working and I know what you are going to ask next. “What if my gauge doesn’t match the requirements in the pattern?” That’s the next post in this series, so stay tuned.

Normally I end my posts with ‘Knit on!,’ but today I will say…

Swatch on!

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