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All That Yarn - Gauge

Updated on July 27, 2017

Gauge: Is it a Rule or a Suggestion?

I was never a big follower of the Gauge “rule.” I did not know about Gauge until later in my crochet and knitting experience. I then considered it a suggestion since when I started crocheting I made my own stuff in the size I wanted, like the crochet chain bridles out of baby yarn for my plastic horses.

If I made an afghan, the only thing was the end result in the size, and Gauge did not figure into my work. If something was not long enough, add more rows. If it was not wide enough, then add a border on the sides. That would fix the size problem and I did not need to make a Gauge swatch to figure out if I would get the size the pattern said I should get with my finished project.

Gauge defined by Red Heart Yarns.

Red Heart Yarn’s booklet Crochet and Knit Cozy Comfy Home, copyright 2007, defines Gauge in this way:

  • Gauge is the number of stitches (and spaces) per inch and the number of rows (or rounds) per inch. In many patterns, gauge is specified over 4”.
  • Your gauge and the gauge listed at the beginning of the pattern MUST be the same so that your project will finish to the correct size. This is especially crucial when making sweaters or other projects that must fit. Before starting your project, check your gauge!

They go on to say how to make a gauge swatch or if it is a motif then the entire motif must be made in order to measure it. If you have too few stitches then it is too loose and to switch to a smaller needle or hook. If you have too many stitches then it is too tight and to switch to a larger needle or hook.

Not the same Gauge over all.

The larger on the left was done later than the smaller on the right. See the ruler where the stripes are different sizes.
The larger on the left was done later than the smaller on the right. See the ruler where the stripes are different sizes.

15 Years can change a Gauge.

As you can see in the photo, I had 2 different sizes by the time I was finished making my Granny and Ripple afghan. I think that I used the same size hook, but maybe I selected the next size larger hook to make it go faster.

It took about 15 years to complete this project as the yarn is small 2-ply and the hook size was either F or G. Those parameters may have had something to do with the changes in size over time.

It also looks like I started out crocheting very tight, probably from working on it in college and trying to fit in crochet time between college courses. When I finally finished it I was working much looser than when I began the afghan.

Since I had first completed all the squares and half-squares, they did not change in size except maybe a quarter inch or so. The ripple part was done in stages, so it “grew” as I went along until I finished it.

I had a community college student in my beginning crochet class who had a similar problem. She started out tight and eventually loosened up toward the end of her afghan. It was more of an isosceles trapezoid than a rectangle. She was ready to tear it all out and start over. I told her that she should keep it as it was a time line of her learning to crochet. She never told me if she eventually took it out or if she kept it as it was.

Your Tension can Change your Gauge.

Things done while knitting or crocheting will also affect the Gauge. For example, if you are watching a scary movie, you make find you have tightened up on the stitches more than if you were watching a comedy. It also leads to missed or skipped stitches and sometimes the wrong stitches made while distracted by the movie.

Mood or situation can affect the Gauge. If you are in the waiting room for the hospital emergency room and frantically stitching away, it might be your project will be a tighter gauge due to the stress. If you are just waiting around for someone, or watching TV and are relaxed, not stressing about anything, the stitches could end up looser or normal.

I know that when I’m in a hurry to finish up a row or round, and there is a time crunch for some reason, I tend to get tighter with my stitches as I pull them as fast as I can make them. Also, if I’m just enjoying a relaxing time with friends or an evening of quiet, then I am looser and more relaxed in my stitches.

Why I don't make sweaters...

I try to measure the Gauge when making something that needs to fit a person. I usually don’t make Gauge swatches unless there is extra yarn to use for that purpose. Sometimes I just “wing it” and hope that it fits. (you can also read my blog on why I don’t make sweaters)

A baby sweater that is donated (and not for a specific person's child) doesn't really need to have an exact Gauge. I’m sure if the gauge is off a bit, there is a baby out there somewhere that it will fit. Even if the size goes from preemie to toddler, Gauge in a baby sweater is not all that crucial in my opinion.

Gauge for Scarves

I haven’t extensively covered the rules about Gauge in any of the classes I teach. Maybe I will do a cursory coverage in case a question comes up on “what is this term: Gauge?” from a student.

Scarves don’t need much of a Gauge measurement unless of course it has a particularly complex design and limited resources. Most times I just cast on or chain the amount of stitches called for in the pattern and get going on the project. If it has to be a certain width, then I might check to see if I can add or remove stitches to get that size, but I don’t bother with changing crochet hook or knitting needle sizes to get the Gauge listed in the directions.

Gauge for Hats

Hats are a little more fitted and need at least a close estimate of the Gauge called for in the pattern. They can end up too big or too small if the knitter or crocheter is way off on the Gauge, probably due to using a yarn different from the pattern’s materials list.

I tend to crochet looser than a beginner just starting out will crochet. I find that showing them a sample that is a "work in progress" often demonstrates the size difference. Using the same size hook and yarn can be very different when one is very tight and one is very loose or relaxed loops. Then I recommend changing to a different size hook to get the size called for in the pattern.

For example, even though Fun Fur (Lion Brand) is a “bulky” level yarn, it is as thin or thinner than a Fingering or Sport Weight yarn. The fuzzy part is why it measures out as bulky instead of fingering size, but the string holding the fuzzy part is thin like a 1.3mm pencil’s lead. To substitute this furry yarn for a “real” bulky yarn like Jiffy Thick and Quick (Lion Brand) will not work in a pattern as they just don’t have the same strand size in order to switch out one for the other.

Gauge in US and UK or Metric sizes

Another Gauge “thing” is that the metric and USA versions of crochet hooks and knitting needles can cause a difference. There is quite a difference in the number of available metric sizes of hooks and needles compared to the sizes in the US’s version. At least that is what the comparison charts show when looking at substituting needles or hooks in pattern books that cover USA, Metric and UK sizes.

Another example, I had a subscription to a USA magazine for crochet which went out of business and they transferred my remaining subscription to a British (UK) magazine. The UK version reminded me that they call the crochet stitches by a different name than here in the USA.

There is a pattern for a crocheted coin purse that called for “double crochet” stitches, but I could clearly see by the photo that they were “single crochet” stitches. If someone in the USA were to get just the directions and not the photo, their version of the coin purse might come out very different in size and shape. They might fuss over the Gauge and still not have it turn out correctly because of the different names of the crochet stitches. This can also be a type of Gauge problem.

Funny things about Gauge...

Here is a photo once of an elderly couple side by side inside a gigantic sweater made with rows of colors. The caption I think that someone had put on it was “gauge matters!” It was a hilarious example.

Another example is an old children’s book called Mrs. McGarrity’s Peppermint Sweater. She was knitting a sweater in red and white stripes, it started out small and she just kept working on it (page after page) until it ended up big enough to be a circus tent. I still wonder where she got all the yarn to make it that big, as the book didn’t cover that aspect of the fable. At the end of the book she was going to start another one, only with black and white stripes instead. I felt that she probably needed to check her gauge, and really needed to pay attention to how many rows she was making in her knitting.

Suggestion or Rule?

Is Gauge a suggestion or a rule? Gauge is all up to the knitter or crocheter to decide if it applies in their situation. It may just depend on what is being made, and if it has to fit the recipient.

Me? I continue on without minding my gauge as I am not making any sweaters, and I have a good hat pattern that I measure around my head as I work on it so I know when it’s done.

No Gauge needed with Scrap Afghans

Variety of yarns makes it hard to calculate a Gauge. Scrap afghans just work out as they do, no Gauge necessary.
Variety of yarns makes it hard to calculate a Gauge. Scrap afghans just work out as they do, no Gauge necessary.

What I found at the link above.

I just read a short blog on the Red Heart Yarn’s Heart Strings blog website. It mentioned putting an alphabet bead (one letter) on a locking or safety-pin-like stitch marker to keep track of the crochet hook size that was used on that project (in case the hook had to be used elsewhere and the project left in the bin for a future completion date).

I think that might also work for knitting, just number beads (might need 2 beads depending on the type of bead) and the larger size of locking stitch marker so you can remember which size of knitting needle you used, if the project was placed on a stitch holder or a length of yarn so that you could use the needles on another project. Also it could help you to remember which size of double pointed needles you are using on a project as they have no markings of what size they are anywhere on the needles.

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