This month we’re talking in depth about GAUGE, which is the size of your knitted stitches. If you don’t know what a ‘swatch’ is, or what gauge really means, start by reading our blog post about all the basics of gauge and how to measure it and why it matters. Then come back to this post and we’ll learn more!
Knitters sometimes come up against an issue when they have made a few swatches but can’t find a needle that will result in both the correct stitch gauge, and the correct row (or round) gauge in a given yarn.
For example, our free Barley Hat and Flax Pullover patterns from The Simple Collection are designed for a gauge of 18 sts & 22 rounds / 4″ in stockinette stitch. Some knitters, will make a swatch at 18 stitches in 4″, but when they measure the round gauge, they get a different number, like 24 or 26 rounds. Changing needle sizes up or down from this will change the round gauge… but then the stitch gauge will be off. The short answer to the question of what to do is that stitch gauge is nearly always the more important one, and you shouldn’t stress if your row gauge doesn’t match up.
Stitch gauge vs. row or round gauge
Which is which? Stitch gauge is how many stitches in an inch, or more commonly measured over 4″ (or 10cm). You’ll measure ACROSS the swatch, in the direction of knitting, along a single row. Row or round gauge is measured UP AND DOWN (perpendicular to stitch gauge and the rows), counting stitches as they stack up one upon the other in columns.
Why is stitch gauge is usually more important?
Most knitted items (especially the ones in which fit matters), it is the stitch count that determines the more important dimension. Hats are usually knit from brim to crown (or the other way around), and the finished dimension, the way it fits AROUND your head, is determined by the number of stitches and the gauge (size) of the stitches. So for a hat to fit the way you like around your head, you must achieve the correct stitch gauge. This is the same, and even more important, for a garment. Most garments are constructed with rows horizontal around the body, thus it is the stitch gauge which determines if the sweater is the right size around at hip, waist, bust (the important bits!).
Also, patterns are most often written with ‘knit to’ lengths rather than explicit numbers of rows or rounds. This means that regardless of the knitters row or round gauge, a garment piece (sleeve, body) will come out to a given length; some knitters will knit a few more rounds to achieve this length, some will knit a few less. In this way, patterns allow flexibility for differing row or round gauges.
When does row or round gauge matter?
Obviously there are cases when row or round gauge matters. The detail-oriented knitters of the world sometimes make an unnecessary fuss about this, and will probably tell you it ALWAYS matters. At Tin Can Knits we prefer to downplay the importance of row or round gauge because it generally REALLY doesn’t matter (knitting is stretchy, and has the lovely quality of just ‘working out’ so much of the time). Nonetheless, here are a few ways in which row or round gauge may matter in your project.
A different row gauge can impact the yardage required
Firstly, you should know that if your row gauge varies from that given in the pattern, you will require more or less yardage than stated in the pattern. This is because in order to create the same amount of fabric, you’ll be working more (or less) stitches to achieve the same fabric area. If the pattern gives a gauge of 18 sts & 22 rounds, and your swatch is 18 sts & 26 rounds, you can expect you’ll be using more yarn than the pattern calls for… possibly up to 20% more (26 / 22 = 1.18). And if you’re getting 18 sts & 20 rounds, you’ll probably use less yarn than the pattern calls for … but buy an extra ball just in case!
A different row gauge can impact finished length (and thus fit)
Certain parts of patterns give instructions for a specified number of rows / rounds rather than ‘knit-to’ lengths. In these cases there’s a small risk that a significantly different row or round gauge could negatively impact garment fit. Yokes are one example. In raglan or round yoke garments, the depth of the yoke is determined by the number of rounds or rows worked, so if your row gauge is way different than the design gauge, your yoke depth will be shorter or longer than that of the design.
In our experience, with thousands of knitters knitting proven patterns, this is seldom a real problem (knitting is stretchy! when it doubt, block it out!).
If your row gauge is really significantly smaller (more rows per inch than given), you may find your yoke comes out a little tight or pinchy at the underarms. This can be avoided by working a few extra rounds at the bottom of the yoke where you either before you begin to decrease the yoke (in bottom-up construction) or before you separate sleeves and body (in top-down construction). Some patterns, for example our free Flax pullover, address the issue of different round gauges by including a knit-to length for you to check:
If your round gauge is slightly different, knit more or less rounds so that your yoke measures approximately 5 (5, 5.5, 5.5, 6, 6.5, 6.5, 7.5, 8, 8.5, 9, 9.5, 10.5, 10.5, 11, 11.5, 12.5)” deep, measured from cast on…
Some patterns give length in terms of a given number of pattern repeats (with cables, lace panels, etc. which have a longer repeat), rather than in ‘knit to’ lengths. In these cases, if your row gauge is significantly different, then the finished length of your sock cuff, hat, or sweater body will be significantly different than the finished measurements given in the pattern schematic. If you notice a significant difference, you may decide to work more (or less) full repeats of the pattern to compensate if the length measurement is crucial to you.
What about patterns that list gauge over more than one pattern stitch?
Some patterns will list gauge over more than one pattern stitch (for example over stockinette and over a lace or cable pattern). Usually designers will list the more important gauge first… because that would make sense, right?! Well you can also decide for yourself which is more relevant by looking at the design. If it’s a sweater that’s mostly knit in stockinette, then it’s the gauge over stockinette that matters most to fit. But if the body of the sweater has an all-over lace or cabled pattern, perhaps with stockinette at the sleeves, then getting the stitch gauge correct over lace or cables is what will determine how the sweater fits where it’s most important (at bust, waist, hips). You should use your judgement in these situations.
In the Flax pullover, it is clearly the gauge over stockinette stitch that is crucial, but in all-over lace patterns like Liesl by Ysolda Teague, it is the gauge over the stitch pattern which matters for fit.
In posts coming soon we’ll discuss how to measure gauge over stitch patterns, and how to swatch for gauge in the round, rather than gauge in rows. We’ll also cover how to adjust and knit a pattern to a different gauge than that given in the pattern, which will open up a wider range of choices when you pairing patterns & yarns.
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2016 is the Year to Learn Something New here at Tin Can Knits, and we’ve been adding some inspiring tutorials on the blog. We’ve recently talked about choosing colour combos, how to wear shawls, getting started knitting socks or garments (and how much we love the Monkey Socks Pattern!). There’s more excellent info to come, so get our excellent email updates, and stay connected on your favourite social spot:
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