Throughout this season, we're reposting some of our favorite columns by Barbara Breiter, author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Knitting & Crocheting, previously featured in our Weekly Stitch newsletter.
Every knitter and crocheter has heard of it. Most ignore it. The smart ones know better. What is it? Gauge, of course.
You'll see gauge (also sometimes referred to as tension) mentioned in your pattern and on the yarn label. Assuming you are knitting with the same yarn as the pattern used, the gauge on the label may or may not be the same.
The gauge on the label is only a suggestion…a starting point for the gauge of the yarn the manufacturer felt was best. You'll see a needle size noted too; this is also just a suggestion. All yarn works to a variety of gauges with various needles sizes; in fact, some yarn labels will give you a range of suggested gauges and needle sizes.
If the pattern gauge is different than the label, this is gauge you need to achieve. Ignore the label. Remember, the gauge and needle size of a pattern is only the gauge that particular designer achieved with that size needle. Your mileage may vary. This is why you need to check your gauge before beginning to knit the project. If you fail to do this, you may end up very disappointed at the outcome.
Don't believe it's important? Let's say you are knitting a sweater and the back should measure 20" across. The gauge in your pattern is 16 sts = 4", in other words 4 sts = 1", so the number of sts you'll work over will be 80 (20 x 4). Suppose you are getting 3.75 sts to the inch instead of 4. Your piece will measure 21.4” (80 divided by 3.75). If you were knitting at 4.25 sts to the inch instead of 4, your piece would measure 18.8" instead of 20. So, as the math shows you that even a quarter of a stitch in your gauge indeed makes a huge difference! The more stitches you are working over, the larger this difference will be.