Girl Meets Gauge

By Kay Gardiner
April 30, 2020

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60 Comments
  • I love it. This could be me. I had to learn the hard way to swatch, and I‘m still usually WAY off any given gauge in a pattern. I seem to be able to get the number of stitches, but never the row count. I always need more rows. I have learned to adapt, but I have to use maths a lot, and I‘m not really good at that. I wish any of my maths teachers had pointed out that there might be a connection between this subject and my knitting obsession – I would have paid so much more attention and poured more enthusiasm into anything to do with numbers… I can only agree to Kay‘s advice: always swatch, it helps. Even when you are bad maths, because then you have something visual to start with when adapting your pattern to your way of knitting.

    • I’m knitting a poncho now with this issue – stitch gauge is fine but row gauge is way off. I’m not sure how that happens? Is it the yarn?

    • I have a secret for being better at math: never ever tell yourself (or anyone else!) that you’re bad at it! Just because you have to work at it doesn’t mean you’re bad at it.

      • I tell my students, no one is bad at math. That’s is code for “math isn’t fun for me” or “I feel intimidated by math”.

        • Dear Sasha and Judy, you are totally right. I need visual things, and the abstract part of math is hard and no fun for me. But doing math for knitting something lets me see the results, and then it’s OK having to do it – even if I have to recalculate… :o))

    • You did exactly what I would do – knit a different size!

  • of course, just knit a smaller size, it will be fine!

  • Did you allow for the stockinette inserts which have a different gauge?

  • I love that your last photo features your swatch against a lovely Ball Band Dishrag. I’m knitting a pile of them now for Mental Health, but that Trellis Top does call to me.

  • Kay, I doubt you not! Not only have you successfully knit up a million sweaters that fit, by whatever means, but this is a non-tabard -yet tabardesque top, so you’re good, I feel it in my bones

  • I have exactly the same problem and have always been compensating by knitting different sizes as the solution. I never pay attention to the # of the rows – just measure. I do a little quasi-swatching (no blocking, etc.) to see if I am in the ballpark. For years I have also used sweaters that fit the way I like as a guide for the size of the sweater I am knitting. That said I recently restarted a sweater 3 times to get to a point where I think it is going to come out a size that will work. The first two times were clearly too small. I had to yell at myself to not work the large intarsia pattern on the back before I was sure it would fit! Sometimes knitting trumps logic!

  • How can you see into my soul without ever having met me?! For me, checking gauge is like stepping on the scale on Monday mornings—there is rarely a pleasant surprise.

      • Lol!

  • I never swatch but I’m making the Transom cardi and I knew I needed to. I’m a loose knitter but I had to go up a needle size ( from 6 to 7) to get stitch gauge. I swatched the diagonal cable too. I was unsure which size to make so I went with the smaller one. Fingers crossed.

    • I agree. I’m also doing the cardigan in the kitten fluff color. I did a stockinette swatch but didn’t wash it because I wanted to reuse the yarn. I’m usually right on gauge but not with this. I got close to gauge on a size 7. So onwards for me. Maybe that means this sweater can never be washed. Yikes.

      Got to say, I wasn’t wild about the feel of this yarn in skein form but the knitted product is lovely and soft. What a wonderful surprise. I’m so looking forward to this cardigan

    • Argh!! What does one do if only one of the two swatches in the two stitches meets the pattern’s stated gauge? That is, one stitch type is smack on and the other is not? I can see something like that happening to me. Maybe I shouldn’t have ordered all that yarn yesterday…

  • With a sweater, I always swatch. I also look at the chest measurement and select my size. I knit, wash and block my swatch. So why is it that my sweaters are either too big or too small? I either have a skewed sense of my physical size, or my gauge changes as I’m knitting (either is entirely possible). If its a bit small, I block the bejeezus out of it. Too large, I just live with it (cardigan) or gift it (pullover). Gauge has vexed me my entire knitting life.

    • I’m the same. Row gauge is my nemesis. I knitted an all over cable knit sweater using Brooklyn Tweed Shelter. I swatched like mad until the stitch gauge
      was “right”. I didn’t pay too much attention to the row gauge because “row gauge isn’t as important”.

      Everything seemed fine until I got to the yoke of the raglan. The end result was too tight under the arms and too shallow up to the neckline. The stitch gauge was good. But clearly the row gauge was off. Ripping out the sweater will be a disaster with the delicate woolen Shelter yarn. So now I have a sweater that looks beautiful but can’t be worn.

      Very expensive and time consuming lesson learned. Row gauge does matter. At least in some cases. I need to learn the math theory on how to adjust a raglan pattern when row gauge is off.

      I’ve since avoided knitting sweaters for fear of another gauge disaster.

      • Adapting a raglan should be fairly easy because you can work out the spacing you need between decreases and just adjust the number of rows between each for your gauge.

    • When you measure your progress, do you count rows or do you use a tape? I used to use a measuring tape and my things were always off. Then, I saw an article here a while ago that described using your gauge as your measuring tool, so 8 inches would be x many rows (whatever you gauge tells you). The actual measurement before finishing may or may not be accurate with a tape, but after blocking, you should get what gauge promised you. It was an eye opener for me! Now, if you’re already doing it that way, I have no idea what the issue could be!

  • Ahhh, the joy of being in a knitting community! So nice to read about others’ challenges and their solutions ❤️ The non-tabard will be lovely, I’m sure

  • Hello. Are you me, the intermediate knitter who has been average-knitting since 2005 with no appreciation for grist, gauge, or weight? I’ll just cast on and go!

    Fleece & Harmony Podcast do several episodes on this very topic. You’re brave! I may have abandoned ship with that story. I fought through a lace sweater once, doing Frankenstein blocking, surgery, and grafting and multiple sizes knit across the whole thing. It’s probably the best garment I’ve ever made. I never want to do it again.

    Thank you for sharing your knit truth with us!

  • My burning question is how much did your swatch change in the wash/block? I actually did knit a swatch for my TTT (Texan’s Trellis Top) – because, needs to fit and needed to learn the stitches/stitch pattern – but then was too impatient to wait any longer and started my top. . . I’m pretty sure my gauge was close when I measured unblocked, but that could be seeing what I want to see. . .

  • This letter and all of the comments that followed have been balm to my knitting soul. I force myself to swatch before embarking on sweaters and vests. I’ve been known to knit 3 or even 4 swatches before I ‘get gauge’….and yet some of my garments still do not fit as I’d like. I agree with whoever said it: this is a great knitting group! Thank you all!

  • My favorite swatch-related Meg Swansen quote: when asked if she does a gauge swatch she replied, “No, but I will always tell you to!”

    • After reading all of these comments, I just keep thinking “what would Patty Lyons say?”. I’m starting the Transom cardigan and got gauge in ss but I think I’ll swatch the pattern stitch now too. Best of luck to everyone!

      • Patty would say two things
        1) I’m FAR to lazy to start knitting a sweater only to rip it out (even if I do call it a swatch 🙂
        2) Anyone who’s done any of my video sweater classes knows that we live by two mantras:
        – Swatch until you get a FABRIC you like. No need to match my gauge
        – Sometimes not matching gauge is exactly what you want to get the size you need.

        So, don’t be afraid to swatch and don’t be afraid of math. Once knitters step away from the need to “match gauge”, and stop feeling like it’s a pass / fail test, but rather embrace the idea that you are making a FABRIC swatch, swatching feels very different. It’s not a chore, but a part of your art. You are an artist who is getting to know your material to see how it feels, to see what it does, to predict what your sweater will be. No different then an artist playing with colors before starting to paint or a chef tasting the ingredients before creating their meal.

  • I never swatch. Except when I make something that fits.

    • I’m knitting my first cardigan and I sure did swatch for that dude. But for accessories and such? Never swatch. Just go.

    • LOL! Exactly.

    • 😀

  • Kay, I am working on the trellis and have hit a real road bump! when you get to row 7 after staring the next part that has 8 stockinette stitches interspersed in the pattern, ( I am making the 5th size) I need to do a 2 stitch LC before the st st run and I only have 1 stitch left. Fine. I could just knit it but then there are the next 8 st st stitches and when I get back to the trellis pattern which in row 7 is already off by 3sts, I am even further off my count. PLEASE let all of us know what you did to get through this section. It has stopped me completely. What am I missing? I want to get back to my knitting. I love this pattern. Mary in Cincinnati

    • The Notes in the pattern suggest markers between stockinette and trellis, and yes knit any spare stitches.

  • Thanks for this – made me laugh and smile – sorely needed in these trying times!

  • that’s how i ALWAYS do it makes me feel good about my actual size, too…

  • Kay & Ann,. This email brings such peace and joy. Yes, joy on this crazy time. Thank you for soldiering on with daily emails.

    I have my Nua yarn but I’m making masks not knitting so all I do is fondle my yarn. I’m going to do the , I’m going to do the knit along I just might not start on Friday.
    Thanks again for giving us all such Joy and peace.
    Sue

  • Kay, I hate to swatch. I just do. I rarely swatch But when I do, (insert guy with beard in beer commercial) please call someone . I will have lost my mind

  • You are not alone in being afraid of Size 1 Needles! 🙂 I’m the same way!

  • It takes a good person to admit their mistakes!

  • “When life gives you lemons, call it a swatch”. I’m running with this one, Kay.

  • A-ha! This Trellis Top experience indicates that Kay may be the reason why the MDK shop carries swatch gauges, needle sizers, and size 1 Addi Rockets! Now if only she’d use them…;)!

  • “…twist – left – cha – cha – cha…” ❤

  • Although I have the opposite situation as a tight knitter needing to go two needle sizes, we think alike when it comes to getting a gauge!

  • Love reading your column!

  • “When life gives you lemons, call it a swatch”. Perfect.

  • I used to have to use a needle 4-5 sizes smaller than recommended to get gauge. Thanks, Patty, for setting me straight.
    https://youtu.be/EEuBWV5faWc

    • I’m watching this video… I also always have to go way down in needle size.

    • Thank you so much for sharing this!

  • This happens to me, too Kay … all the time! I’m a loosey-goosey knitter too and just when I think I have the perfect needle/gauge/size situation figured out, it bites me in the tush. 😉

  • A knitter after my own heart!

  • I didn’t swatch for my last three sweaters. Top down raglans, all. Or I did swatch, because I started over several times! Do as I say, not as I do.

  • I have nothing against swatches; I do them all the time. But I’ve been adjusting the pattern instructions to my gauge (on the loose side and often with a substitute yarn) for over 50 years. The swatch let’s me choose the gauge I like. I don’t consider it a problem.

  • After knitting a cowl that could have substituted for a neck brace I always swatch. I tend to get gauge so less for that and more about seeing if I like the fabric. I have abandoned patterns because I did not like the look of the yarn knit up. I am a dedicated swatcher. I actually enjoy it ☺️

  • I loved Kay’s discussion of gauge, since this has been my own bete noir for years, I also knit loosely and swatching takes forever. I also go down a size and hope for the best. I also have been known to change needle size an inch into the project. Sigh… Thanks for making me laugh this morning!

  • Cheers to loose knitting: I typically go down 2-3 needle sizes, and knit at least 2 sizes down on most patterns! In fact, every sweater I have made has been size XS, and I am solidly a medium. It has always worked out. I have 3 sweater WIPs right now, and I am working with size 1 needles for all of them. My excuse as to why they take me so long to finish….

  • Been there, done that! More than 30 years ago I was new to knitting garments and decided to make my husband a cable sweater with beautiful, expensive Peruvian wool. I’m also lazy and decided I didn’t need to swatch because he likes everything “roomy“. I made both the front and back measuring length but not width. When they were both done, I realized I wouldn’t have enough yarn left for the sleeves. I was so depressed, I put it away for more than 15 years. Eventually I spent a weekend ripping it all out and rewinding it by hand. That was probably 15 years ago. I still have all the balls of yarn in my stash and the pattern. and have never used them. Maybe now!!

  • I couldn’t get gauge either. I’m using #8 needles 122 stitches and hoping for the best!

  • I’m another loosey, goosey knitter, I always have to go down at least two sizes and have lace-sized needles just because a size 2 is often too big. But I swatch garments because yarn and my time are both too expensive to waste. In my latter years, I’ve gotten anal about washing and blocking the swatch before beginning knitting.

    Here’s my secret motivator: I’m a (mostly) monogamous knitter, which means that I can’t cast on the next thing until my current project is off the needles. BUT, when I’m dead bored with what’s on my needles and hate the idea of knitting another stitch, I allow myself to SWATCH for the next project.

    I may buy a few different skeins to decide on which yarn to use and/or which color, I review the pattern obsessively and look at every Ravelry photo for someone with my body (or the recipient’s body) type, I read the notes and anything on the pattern writer’s website. I swatch, I measure, I wash and block and measure again. I actually enjoy the swatching as an escape from whatever is on my needles I need to finish. At this point I’m so excited to start the new thing that I blast through whatever is left of the project on my needles. I buy the garment’s worth of yarn (no stash!), and I hope I have it in hand the moment I cast off the last stitch of the current project. This lets me cast on confidently, because all the swatching drudgery is done.

    Other knitters (real knitters?) think I’m crazy, but since I stopped stashing and started swatching I enjoy the process so much more.

  • I learned to swatch after reading some book that showed me, I love pictures, the difference between 4.25 in.and 4.5.= and when you translate that into 4 st/in vs. 5 st/ in. You can end up with a disaster.