August 22nd, 2011

Rookie Mistakes: Gauge

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One of the most mystifying and elusive facts of knitting is gauge, especially for newbies. Most of us start with scarves oblivious to the evils of gauge and then we launch enthusiastically into project #2 running into the brick wall of gauge. Without the tender guidance of the more experienced this is quite a blow. What happened?

Tina, our educational director, set out to make a skull cap on her second project. Right weight, presumably right gauge, right? Since this was the days before Ravelry, I searched until I stumbled upon a pattern that said “fitted winter hat” and “easy” and “knit flat” (since I hadn’t yet conquered dpns). It had no photo, but I forged ahead, trusting that all would be well.  As you can see, this did not turn out to be the fitted beanie-type hat I envisioned, and yet it is not quite a cute slouchy style hat either.  It is something…in between. We had a lot of fun trying this on in the store. All the more fun because we’ve all been there.

Mine is a little more ….grandiose.  I had attended a class for a small felted purse from light worsted weight yarn. We knit a medium sized purse that came out the size of a little girls’ purse. I thought: double the size and get a bigger bag…right? First of all, I picked Lopi, which is much bulkier. And I neglected to do a felting swatch because I figured you could always make it smaller…right? The bag is not as atrocious as the handles, which did not felt down, at all. Of course I could cut them off and salvage the project but instead it hides in the corner, and now I bring it to you as a cautionary tale!

I know we’ve all been there. And we spend the bulk of our time in the store trying to gently guide the general shopper to more attentive gauge considerations in their yarn choices. Here are couple tips we find really helpful in the store. Usually this begins with a pattern we are matching yarn to.

-First, gather all useful yarn information: general weight, yards, and stitches per inch. Generally patterns list gauge over 4 inches. We like to break this down to stitches per 1”, which is how yarns are labeled in our store.

-From here we double check to make sure the gauge is listed in stockinette stitch. If it is listed in pattern stitch we will double check the original yarn suggested and its gauge in stockinette stitch. That is the most accurate jumping off point.

-Although older patterns may list ounces we usually Google until we find the information to match yard for yard.

The intended needle size is a suggestion only and can vary wildly on the tension of the knitter (loose or tight knitters, in other words). I often pay attention to the needle the yarn suggests to match gauge. If it is a 5.5 stitches per 1” yarn and the pattern is too I’ll use the yarn’s suggested needle size to get gauge. If I know I’m a tight knitter I might go up a size. If the yarn is 5 stitches and I need 5.5 stitches per 1” I’ll go with a smaller needle.

Even once you’ve found the “perfect” yarn it still has a bit of scrutiny to face. A gauge swatch is essential! (Which is not what you want to hear, I know!) The larger a  gauge swatch is the more accurate it is. It should be at least 4X4” and often a little larger. After which I highly recommend washing as you would your garment. It is also very important to check your gauge as you knit to make sure your tension doesn’t change and make adjustments accordingly.

Mostly, despite our funny pitfalls we realize that it’s all a learning experience. As Tina says, “in the end, I still felt accomplished that I had created an item that wasn’t a scarf and wasn’t unraveling! I wore it around the house and giggled about its size. And then I tucked it away and it never left the house until I pulled it out for this photo.  Interestingly, hats are still my absolute favorite items to knit.” I similarly remain undeterred. Despite the embarrassment of my earlier projects I know it’s a testament to how far I’ve come as a knitter.

Such brave knitters are we! We can laugh at our mistakes, seek comfort in our shared experiences and learn from them. I know you have funny gauge stories too, don’t hold out on us!


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2 Responses to “Rookie Mistakes: Gauge”

  1. Keramoso Says:

    Relevant topic for me, as my gauge swatch for a sweater has come out right in width but not number of rows. I have too many rows for 4″. Should I re-swatch and go up one needle size to see if it’s closer to 24 rows?

  2. Cara Says:

    A lot of times if I get accurate stitches per inch I’ll proceed. Many patterns
    will note how long a section should be rather than say how many rows to knit to
    complete a section. This is an fairly easy way to get around it. If your row
    gauge is significantly off you may have to be more careful in areas like the
    neckband when decreases are closer together and make adjustments accordingly.
    Does that make sense?

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