Technical editor and yarncrafting expert Kj Hay joins us for a series on understanding the different elements of patterns. Click here to read her earlier blog posts.
Gauge is very important in all but the simplest designs. The gauge at which you work determines the finished size of the piece and the firmness of the fabric. If your gauge is off your afghan may barely cover a doll, or your slippers may fit the Jolly Green Giant quite comfortably. On the other hand, if your gauge is accurate but the yarn inappropriate for the gauge your sweater may be so firm you can’t lower your arms or so “holey” you could only wear it at home with the curtains drawn.
Gauge is the measure of the number of stitches and rows worked to yield a piece of fabric of a specific size. Gauge is usually given in terms of the numbers of stitches and rows worked to yield a piece of fabric that is 4 x 4 in. (10 x 10 cm) square.
If the size or drape of a finished project is important (and most of the time size and drape are important) take the time to check your gauge. To check your gauge, begin by using the size hook or needles listed. If more than one size of hook or needles is listed, the gauge statement should indicate which of the sizes is intended. Work a piece of fabric (known as a swatch) in the indicated pattern stitch that is at least 4 x 4 in. (10 x 10 cm) square or at least the size specified in the gauge statement, whichever is larger. Lay the piece flat without stretching or bunching it, place a ruler on the piece and count the number of stitches and number of rows over 4 in. (10 cm). Compare these numbers with the numbers in the gauge statement. If the number of stitches in 4 in. (10 cm) of your swatch is less than the number of stitches indicated by the gauge statement, you need to make another swatch using a smaller hook or needles. If the number of stitches in 4 in. (10 cm) of your swatch is more than the number of stitches indicated by the gauge statement, you need to try again using a larger hook or needles. Continue to make swatches using a larger or smaller hook or needles as needed until you achieve the gauge.