33 Haywood Street
Asheville NC 28801
UNDERSTANDING KNITTING GAUGE
|Say the gauge you need is 5 stitches per inch, your inch should look something like this: (see diagram to the right)||
(5 stitches per inch, may not be to scale)
(6 stitches per inch)
|If you have MORE stitches per inch than your pattern calls for (see diagram to the left), your stitches are TOO SMALL. Try a LARGER NEEDLE.|
(4 stitches per inch)
|If you have FEWER stitches per inch than your pattern calls for (see diagram to the left), your stitches are TOO LARGE. Try a SMALLER NEEDLE.|
If your number of stitches per inch is way off
(MORE than 1 stitch per inch too big or small), your yarn and pattern
probably don’t go together well. You may not ever be able to get
the proper gauge for the pattern. You will either need to find another
pattern for the yarn, or another yarn for the pattern. EVERY YARN WILL
NOT WORK WITH EVERY PATTERN! There is a range of needle sizes and stitches
per inch which work well with every yarn; you may be able to knit a yarn
with an average gauge of 5 stitches per inch on a smaller needle and get
6 stitches per inch, but it will be very dense and tight. This might be
good for socks, but you wouldn’t want to knit a baby sweater like
You may either pick out a yarn you like and find a pattern to go with it (or better yet, make up your own), or pick out a pattern and then find yarn to go with it. In order to find the needle size you must use to get the gauge in the pattern, you will need to do one or more gauge swatches.
Think of swatching as PLAYING WITH YARN. It can give you inspiration, experience, knowledge, ideas. A beautiful yarn that you fall in love with in the ball may be no fun at all to actually knit with - and you’ll never know until you start knitting with it. It’s fun to buy single skeins of yarns just to play with - no finished item that needs to be completed. Try different needle sizes, different stitch patterns (Barbara Walker’s four books of stitch patterns are highly recommended), different color combinations, different yarns knitted together as one strand. Put hangtags on your swatches with yarn name(s), date, needle size(s) and stitch pattern(s) and save them for future reference. If it bothers you to have a lot of knitted squares or rectangles floating around doing nothing, sew them together into a blanket. DON’T BE AFRAID TO MESS AROUND AND / OR MESS UP - IT’S ONLY PLAY!
If you have needles in sizes from #3 to #9, try this exercise: Take some medium size yarn whose label gives an average gauge of 5 stitches per inch such as Brown Sheep Nature Spun Worsted, or Red Heart 4-Ply. On the #3 needle, cast on 30 stitches (it should be tight). Knit a few rows in garter stitch, then a couple of inches in stockinette, keeping 5 stitches on each side in garter stitch, ending with a right side row. Now change to the #4 needle and knit 1 row (making a purl ridge on the right side to show where you changed needles) and knit a few more inches. Keep increasing your needle size and knitting a few more inches, putting a purl ridge between each size, until you have gotten to #9. You should have seven sections. Knit a few rows in garter stitch and bind off. Gently steam iron the swatch and look at it. Measure the middle section, which should be the #6 needle. Is your gauge exactly like what it said on the label? Chances are, not exactly. Study each section. Can you imagine a pair of socks at the smallest or next to smallest gauge? Probably. Can you imagine a sweater knitted at the loosest gauge? Probably not, but maybe a shawl would be nice like that.
Now for the "Hard Stuff" (math - but don’t panic).
Abbreviations used in the formulae:
st(s) means stitch or stitches
in means inch or inches
ga means stitches per inch
X means times
/ means divided by
The Big Three
1. If you know how many stitches you have, you can figure out how many stitches per inch you have in a certain width:
(In words) Stitches divided by inches equals gauge
(Abbrev.) sts / in = ga
(Example) 200 / 40 = 5 sts/in
This is the formula you use for figuring out your gauge from your gauge swatch, or from any piece of knitting. Lay a ruler or tape measure down on the knitting, and count 22 ½ stitches in, say, 6 inches. 22.5 divided by 6 equals 3.75 stitches per inch.
2. If you know your gauge, you can figure out how many stitches
you need to make a certain number of inches:
Stitches per inch times inches equals stitches
ga X in = sts
5 sts/in X 40 in = 200 sts
This formula is the basic one you need for designing your own stuff. Say you want to make a scarf that you want to be 8 inches wide. You do your gauge swatch and find out that YOUR yarn on YOUR needles is 4 ½ stitches per inch. So, 8 times 4 ½ equals 36 stitches.
3. If you know your gauge, you can figure out how many inches
you will get with a certain number of stitches:
Stitches divided by stitches per inch equals inches
sts / ga = in
200 sts / 5 = 40 in
You have a hat pattern that tells you to cast on 90 stitches. The yarn you want to use for it knits up at 5 stitches per inch. Will it work? 90 divided by 5 equals 18 inches - probably okay for a baby or small child, but too small for most adults. 90 divided by 4.5 stitches per inch will be 20 inches; 90 / 4 sts/in will be 22.5 inches.
©2001, Mary Young Smith.
Earth Guild, 33 Haywood Street
Asheville, NC 28801.