Sunday, September 2, 2012

The Great Gauge Experiment

Gauge. It's the dirty word of knitting. Every single knitting book and pattern intones how essential proper gauge is, yet none can tell you how to get proper gauge. Ask a knitter, and she'll probably show you the sweater that worked and the one that is three sizes too small.

What is gauge? It's simply the number of stitches per inch achieved with certain needles and certain yarn. And no two knitters produce exactly the same results. My gauge using size 7 needles and cotton yarn definitely does not match the pattern designer's gauge using the same needles and yarn.

It's a dishcloth. Who cares about size? I don't. It's time, however, to solve this mystery of gauge and why it is so important because I need to teach it to a class of eager beginning knitters in a few short weeks.

Book after book gives what they call "The Way" to calculate gauge. "Ignore all other methods, this one will work!" they all proclaim and then explain in about a paragraph's length how to measure or count your way to accuracy.

So, let's give this a try.

Method 1: Pin and count

Cast on about 30 stitches, knit several inches, put pins in the knitting to mark a 4–in. segment, and count the stitches in between.

How'd it work for me? Apparently I can't count. I find it difficult to count the V's between pins. It also takes a long time to pinpoint the right size needle. I started with a size 7 and made it to a size 5 before I got tired of the process. I never did find the needles to produce the pattern gauge.

Method 2: Knit and Measure

Cast on the number of stitches your pattern indicates will produce 4 in. in width. If your pattern says 4 in. = 20 stitches, cast on 20 st. Knit a few inches and measure from edge to edge. Keep changing needle sizes until you reach gauge.

How'd it work for me? I knew I was still too big on my needle sizes from the first gauge exercise, so I started with a size 4 and ended with a size 3. Yes! The dishcloth pattern suggested size 7, and I found the correct gauge at size 3. My second cloth was exactly the size the pattern said it should be.

So I got my gauge to work using Method 2, but I'm like Veruca Salt. I want it now! There has to be a quicker way to get to the correct needle size so I can get to the real knitting.

I found an interesting method in The Principles of Knitting, which explains everything you didn't know that you wanted to know about knitting.

Method 3: Test Swatches

Cast on enough stitches to produce 2 inches in width. Knit about 2 in. Cast off and measure. Wash the test swatch and dry it. Measure the width again. When you get the correct gauge, knit a full gauge swatch and adjust from there.

How'd it work for me? The size 3 was obviously too small. I was looking for 1 in. = 8 st with this acrylic yarn. I actually was able to match the recommended needle size on the label of yarn with my size 8 needle.


The test swatch lets you quickly audition needles with your yarn, and the knit and measure method offers a straight forward visual guide to measuring gauge.

This is the method I'm going to stick with until someone sets me straight with the next latest and greatest method.

How do you make sure your knit sweaters fit?



  1. This is very helpful! I used to knit (many moons ago - B.C.) Now that they're grown and there's a grandchild in the picture, I've time to persue some of my long lost pleasures. These last few posts of yours have got me interested in trying out the dishcloths, and you've covered an important point in measuring the gauge. Thanks for the tips!

    1. I love dishcloths. You can try out fancy designs and stitches and finish before you get bored. They make great gifts too. Have fun!


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