Thursday, March 22, 2012

Knitting to Gauge - by Helen Flagg

Although most people don’t realize it, accurate gauge is the “secret sauce” to knitting.  Gauge is sometimes called tension and it just means the number of stitches per inch.  If you know your gauge you can figure out the size of your finished piece.  And if you calculate your gauge accurately and use the correct yarn weight and needle size for your pattern, then your chances of your finished piece coming out looking just like the pattern photo are pretty good !
Gauge depends on 3 main variables – yarn thickness, knitting needle size, and the individual knitter.  There are other variables like stitch type and pattern, but these 3 are what I’ll cover here.
Yarn Thickness: Yarn thickness determines the number of stitches you will need to get one inch of knitting on your needle.  The thicker the yarn, the fewer stitches you will need to make one inch. Conversely, the thinner the yarn the more stitches you will need to make that same one inch.  When you look at the label of a skein of yarn, there will be a symbol and number to identify the yarn weight.  The higher the number means the thicker the yarn. While labels might not be available on all yarns (like homespun or non-US made yarns) you can tell yarn weight by touching the strands.

Super Bulky Roving wool knitted on 10mm needles

Knitting Needle Size:  Needle size determines the size of the stitches.  The type of yarn selected will determine your knitting needle size to start with.  A pattern will include a recommended needle size and yarn.  Generally, the thicker the needle means the larger the stitch.  I like to use the metric measure for needle circumference since I find it more consistent than US sizing or European sizing.  Here’s that yarn weight chart again, this time with the recommended metric knitting needle sizes.

Medium weight cotton knitted on 4.5 mm needles

The Individual Knitter: Every knitter is different.  And often, a knitter’s gauge will change, depending on what’s going on while you’re knitting or how the skein is wound or even what mood you are in.  Personally, I can’t knit while I watch hockey because the game is so exciting and fast paced that I tense up and my stitches get really tight.  But I love to knit while I watch baseball. Also if a yarn skein is wound very tight, when you pull the yarn out of the center of the ball the yarn is taut which could result in tight stitches.  The more you knit, the more you will come to know your own gauge – if you knit tight, then try using a needle size a half or full size larger.  And if you knit loose, then try a thinner needle.  The yarn weight can remain the same, and you can vary your needle size to adjust for your own tension.
For beginner knitters it’s a good idea to knit a gauge swatch to find out your own gauge, or tension.  Gauge is expressed most often as the number of stitches in a 4 inch by 4 inch swatch knit in stockinette stitch.  So best to pick your yarn, use the recommended needle size for that yarn, knit a 4x4 swatch and count the number of stitches in one inch of a row.  A gauge swatch is also recommended if you are substituting yarn recommended in the pattern, or if you are working with yarn you’ve never worked with before.
Each pattern is written for a specific yarn weight, and each yarn weight has a recommended needle size to use.  And each knitter has their own gauge or tension.  Once you’ve made some gauge swatches, you’ll have an idea of how close you knit to gauge.  Happy Knitting.


This was written by Helen Flagg and published on her behalf. The photos shown are of her work and not to be copied or reproduced in any form without her consent. To see more of her work or contact her please visit:

Helen Flagg's Shop on Etsy - SimpleKnitShop
Helen Flagg's Etsy Profile
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