Getting Gauge Part 1: What is Knitting Gauge and Why Should I Care?

Do you get gauge? Like, really “get” it?

Some knitters don’t really know what gauge is other than “you’re supposed to swatch.” Others ignore gauge because swatching is an extra hurdle to starting a new project. Some swatch dutifully only to have their FO turn out…weird.

This 3 part blog series, titled “Getting Gauge,” will set out to de-mystify all things gauge.

  • Part 1 (this post!) will go over what gauge is and, more importantly, why you should care.
  • Part 2 will go over some “best practices” for swatching in order to get the most information out of your unique gauge.
  • Part 3 of Getting Gauge will go over what to do when you don’t get gauge and how to use your swatch to create a finished object that you love!

At the end of this series, you will understand gauge and be able to leverage it to create your hand-knit wardrobe. You’ll understand the utility of the swatching process and how to get the FO you want even when you don’t get gauge.


So, let's kick things off!

What is gauge?

Simply, your gauge is how many stitches per inch/cm you get. Stitch gauge is how many stitches wide your work is. Row gauge is how many stitches tall.

Usually, gauge is expressed over 4”/10cm because a larger number of stitches will be more accurate in the long run.

There is no such thing as a "regular" or "default" gauge. All knitters have a unique knitting style which means that a designer’s gauge will probably differ from yours, which is why swatching is so important (more on that in Part 2!).

Gauge isn’t even consistent for the same knitter. You can get different gauges using the same weight yarn and the same size needles. There are many factors that can affect gauge:

  • needle material - knitting on grippy wood needles is different from knitting on slick metal ones. 
  • fiber content - slippery silk yarn and wooly yarns will affect your knitting differently
  • colorwork - most people have tighter gauge in stranded colorwork
  • working in the round - since you’re not purling, your gauge may change
  • stress level/general mood while knitting - some people knit tighter when they’re on planes

Why does gauge matter?

Loose Fabric vs. Tight Fabric

The number of stitches per inch affects how dense your fabric is.  Fewer stitches per inch will create a fabric with more drape, great for shawls or flowy tops. More stitches per inch will create a denser fabric, ideal for winter hats and mittens.

Size

The number of stitches per inch affects the finished size of the piece. In a full garment, being “only” one stitch off in your swatch can result in a difference of inches larger or smaller than your intended size.

When doesn’t gauge matter?

Okay, yeah, this post is supposedly all about how absolutely essential gauge is to any knitting project… but…

That said, it’s pretty easy to get in the right ballpark with gauge using recommended needles and yarn weights given in patterns. This is why some patterns for shawls and scarves will say something like “gauge is not essential, but will affect how much yarn you use.” Which is true, and makes sense - if you have more or fewer stitches per inch, you’ll use more or fewer yards (respectively).

When does gauge matter?

Gauge is essential any time something needs to fit. This includes sweaters, obviously, but also hats, mittens, socks, and even tea cozies. You really don’t want to ballpark gauge when something needs to fit.

In order to ensure that something will fit, you find your gauge by knitting a gauge swatch. Part 2 of the Getting Gauge Series will cover how to swatch, tips and tricks for swatching, and how to measure your swatch accurately.

Leave a comment below with any gauge questions you'd like answered or any bits of gauge wisdom you'd like to share!

Kendra Hunt

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