Gauge. It has plagued me from my earliest days as a knitter, when I turned out several sweaters and hats that were ludicrously oversized, and had no idea why.
Gauge also is something that doesn’t bother me very much at all anymore.
I have tried caring about gauge. I have swatched. I have washed my swatch. I have measured my swatch using a variety of methods: a ruler, my trusty Susan Bates Knit-Chek, and prettier and more artisanal versions of the trusty Susan Bates Knit-Chek.
Sometimes things came out fine. The sweater (or hat) fit the intended recipient. Or, it fit an unintended recipient who was happy to get it. With years of experience, I sort of know early on if a piece is looking way too big or too small, and can change course, or not.
One thing that is fun (and maddening) to do is to measure your gauge not only by counting the number of stitches in two inches or four inches or whatever, but counting the number of stitches in a bigger piece of knitting (say, the finished sweater, or a piece of it), and then dividing the width of that piece by the number of stitches and seeing how many stitches you are getting to the inch. For me, it’s usually different from what I got with the Knit-Chek. My gauge over a bigger stretch of knitting is usually looser in the garment than in the swatch, but it can go the other way, too.
The Physics of Swatching (As Understood By Me)
Why is this so? I think it works the same way as a Ouija Board. (Apologies in advance if I am spoiling the Ouija Board for you.) When you measure gauge, you aren’t measuring it blind. You already know what gauge you want to get, just like when you were doing a Ouija Board séance at a slumber party in seventh grade, you knew that you wanted to contact the spirit of Harry Houdini. As you sat there in the dark, the planchette (pointer) magically moved to H, then A, and before long eight little girls were screaming their heads off because HARRY HOUDINI IS HERE IN THIS BASEMENT IN NORTH OMAHA.
These days, I’m older and wiser, but when I’m looking to get 14 stitches = 4 inches/10cm, I find that ye olde Knit-Chek often comes up with exactly 7 stitches in that little 2-inch window of dark magic. Some people call this Gauge Denial. I believe scientists call it Confirmation Bias. I call it Magical Gauge Thinking. Knitting is squishy. You can easily Ouija a few microns this way and that, and voila: you’ve got gauge.
The other day, I was cheating on my Relaxed Log Cabin pullover project, because I saw something shiny on Ravelry. (It was Carbeth, by Kate Davies, which you showed me at Christmas, dammit!) I had some Mystery Yarn that I thought would work, even though it was not supposed to be heavy enough for the required gauge.
The Carbeth pattern suggests that you will get that 14 stitches/4 inches (10 cm) gauge using a U.S. size 10.5 needle. I’m a loose knitter, so I cast on my swatch with a U.S. 10. (I’m smart! I know stuff!)
I washed the swatch. This is my first Kate Davies pattern, y’all! Time to look sharp!
It was time for the Laying-On of the Knit-Chek. I squared up the window of The Mystifying Oracle on a line of stitches, held my breath, and counted.
7 stitches in the window! I moved the Knit-Chek window (like a Ouija planchette), and counted in another spot. 7 stitches again!
This was all feeling very familiar. Harry Houdini was about to appear. Later, somebody might freeze my bra.
And then I had an idea.
What if I put a picture of my swatch and the Knit-Chek on Instagram, and asked people to count it for me without knowing that I was trying to get the Harry Houdini of gauges (3.5 stitches to the inch)?
So I did that.
And 50 people or so counted it, and they all got 3.5 stitches to the inch! Yay!
I don’t know what this will mean, exactly, for my Carbeth. It’s not a form-fitting design, so I’m optimistic that even if I’m off (likely in the direction of a looser gauge), I will get a sweater that fits me ok. I also don’t think I can have any idea of how it will truly fit or look until I pull it over my head and look in the mirror.
And I’m fine with that. I have a feeling that a Willowy Someone will like this sweater, too, so it may not linger in my closet for very long.
Feel free to post a photo of your swatch with your measurement instrument of choice laid upon it, and see what other knitters count your gauge to be.
Volunteer swatch counters always welcome! Instead of Words With Friends, come on over and count somebody’s gauge.
G O O D B Y E