How to Count Your Gauge

By Kay Gardiner
January 11, 2018

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  • That’s all well and good until you add in row gauge. Not sure of the gauge but I counted 10.5 rows. Stitch and row gauge make me regularly go crazy as a knitter. I might get one, but rarely both.

    • I let row gauge go a long time ago. Row gauge is not for the likes of me.

      • It is a blasted problem with top-down or bottom-up garments.

        • Not to mention side-to-side garments – an by the way, stockinette does NOT stretch as much vertically as it does horizontally, so you’d better give yourself a little more ease in the bust if you’re knitting that top from side to side. Ask me how I found that out.

        • It’s also a problem with colorwork – I recently knit a yoke that was not human-shaped.

      • But for me it got real real quick when I finished the blasted body of the Eternity Cardigan and found that the first sleeve was ending up too long. I know there’s math I can do but what an ignominious experience for my first sweater!

      • Ditto!

      • I hear ya. Sisters of a different mister.

    • For top down, or bottom up I measure instead of counting rows.

    • I think many of us knitters are logic-driven people. And for us, it is SO COMPELLING that we should be able to COUNT, and do MATH, and it will COME OUT RIGHT.

      But unfortunately (or fortunately) for us, knitting is an art. And takes art skills as well as logic skills. Yay knitting!

  • Swatch Doctor Clinic? Brilliant!

  • It is so good to know that I am not the only one who struggles with gauge! The Swatch Clinic is brilliant—both an opportunity to get swatch feedback on one’s own project and to practice looking at different projects and seeing how others respond. I’ll be visiting soon.

    • Thank for the the swatch doctor! Heretofore, my only option was to drive 10 miles to my LYS to ask for the second opinion. The owner is very kind, tries to keep me from overly obsessing (!?). She also has recommended going up or down 2 sizes as the next size rarely changes much.

  • So timely for me…I just started a swatch last night. I am going to make my grandson a sweater for his first birthday. I will be visiting the clinic soon.

    • Gauge doesn’t matter for baby things. I have nine grandchildren — believe me, I know about this stuff! Especially for a one-year old… just make it on the biggish side and he’l grow into it.

      • Thanks for the advice. Can’t argue with all that grandmotherly expertise.

  • Okay, I had no idea that was what the window in the Knit-Check was for. And that gadget has been within arms reach for YEARS. And, I now realize, has the instructions PRINTED ON THE FRONT. I was using the ruler on the side, and not very effectively. Live and learn! Thanks MDK!

    • Love it. I’m the same way about stuff. A lot of stuff. 😉

    • What a look of surprise on my face when I saw the tool she was using to count gauge! Like you I’ve had that for years and it never dawned on me what that cutout was for – never too old to learn!

    • Me too!! Duh!

  • Brutal honesty with gauge is one of the functions of a knit group. A couple of us count, then look the knitter in the eye and give a number. The group holds it’s collective breath until we learn if it’s the desired number.
    Such fun we knitters have!
    Love the clinic! I can’t wait to start counting!

  • You must bring Amy Herzog in for a consult, Kay. Her brilliant approach to gauge (as interpreted by me) is to: 1) put away your Knit-Chek; 2) knit up a large (4-6 inches) swatch; 3) baste a good-size block in the middle of swatch; 4) measure the L & W of that inner block; 5) count the number of stitches in the width and divide by the width number = here is your st/in; 6) count the number of rows in block and divide by the length number = here is your rows/in. Now it is up to you, the knitter, to Take Charge of Your Gauge! Keep that gauge and work with it! Go up a needle size! Go down a needle size! Repeat! Keep examining your swatch(es) for how they look and feel to you, in terms of drape, hand, appearance. Once you decide on Your Gauge for this Yarn/Garment, work from those numbers in selecting your size. Amy tells it all much better!

    P.S. and I will be quite happy to take your Carbeth off your hands if you end up with sizing problems:)

    • Yes! I’ve been using this method since I made a CustomFit sweater. Of course I switched from bamboo to carbon needles between swatching and knitting, so my row gauge was totally off on the final sweater, but I loved this method for checking!

    • genius

    • I am also a big fan of Amy’s advice on swatching. One of her key insights: stop counting stitches in a set measurement, and start measuring a nice (large!) round number of stitches. Why? Because there is no standard for “1/2 stitch” or “1/4 stitch”, but your ruler is helpfully marked with fractional inches (or millimeters). It is still possible to lie to yourself, of course, about which little line is closest the edge of your nice round number of stitches, so maybe this is also a good spot to use the Swatch Doctor’s services!

      Because posts on gauge usually wind up with a lot of comments about swatch woe, I want to provide an alternative data point: every time I have made a nice big swatch and measured it in a way likely to produce good data, it has proved a true and trusty friend. I’ve knit more than one project where I had to factor in a significant change in length after washing (yay knitting with cotton!), and my finished garment measurements were bang on the dot when I believed what my nice large washed swatch told me. It can work!

      That said, it takes more work and a certain amount of punctiliousness, and it helps to be someone with a fair amount of control over your knitting tension. You don’t have to go through all that, if that’s not what gives you the knitting warm fuzzies — we are all different and there aren’t actually any knitting police.

  • Kay–I love your letters, no matter what the subject (although the subjects are excellent choices and so very informative). I read them first thing while having my coffee and usually end up reading them aloud to my husband (a non-knitter) as they are so very entertaining. Loved the Harry Houdini image of the girls in the basement! Thanks for starting my day off with delight.

    • Yes, this. I often read portions of the day’s letter to my partner. She was something of a dilettante knitter who became a spinner because, she says, she “can’t reliably count to two.” She is however, very familiar with the Susan Bates Knit-Chek, as I often pass recalcitrant swatches over to her to double “chek” my habit of wistful swatching. She always tells me the truth, dammit!

  • I thought you were going to say, after getting the 3.5/inch you realized you were REALLY looking for a different number of stitches per inch, so you sadly REmeasured, and found that – happily! miraculously! – you had been mistaken in your first measurement and ACTUALLY had THAT new and correct number of stitches per inch!
    Guess why I thought you were going to say that.

    • Pretty sure that has happened to me, really really.

      • It’s probably happened to all of us, alas.

    • : ) oh yeah!

  • So hilarious! That sounds just like the slumber parties we had in SE Michigan suburbia. Who knew I was developing a life skill then. You have summed up exactly how I feel about guage checking and swatching. It is supposed to be all math and numbers but it feels mystical and elusive.

  • I’m the outlier in your crowd sourcing – to me that looks like 7.25 stitches, maybe even a touch more …

  • Oh, gauge. Sigh! Have you ever gone up a needle size in an effort to get a slightly looser gauge, only to determine on careful counting that you’ve ended up with a slightly tighter gauge???? What is THAT about?? Drives me mad!

    I’m really sensitive to the need for a good match between the texture of the yarn and the finish on the needle; that can definitely influence things with needles of the same size but a different finish.

    I got a new gauge gizmo from Akerworks. It’s plastic and has little gripper teeth. You can plop it down on your swatch and it stays in place, giving you a full 4″ measure for stitches per inch and rows per inch. When I finally finish all my holiday knitting (really!) and ship the last 2 items off (I actually had to redo one because of — you guessed it — gauge issues), it will be time to start a sweater for myself and put this thing to the test. The Knit-Cheks are dear old friends (I have a couple, in different colors) — but again, it’s an issue of the finish on the gizmo. Because the Knit-Cheks are smooth metal, are they more prone to slip around a little, thus distorting the count? Will the plastic gripper teeth fix that issue, if it even exists? Time will tell…..

    • A friend gave me one of these last week, and I truly love it. It’s much easier to work with.

    • BB, that has happened to me too! I have concluded that it is further evidence that swatches lie like the tiny little rugs that they are.

  • Kay, as a fellow former Viking, imagine my surprise when I saw your reference to North O!
    Great writing as always. Happy knitting to you.

    • If you were a VIkette we can’t be friends lol.

      Best memory from High School: the basketball team was the underdog, playing Creighton Prep for the State Championship. My friend Jeff Frolio (RIP) climbed up the back of the scoreboard and hung a bedsheet over it that said



      We were kings,I tell you. (Lost the game by a basket. Drove back to Omaha, Eagles came on WOW radio singing Take It to the Limit, and we cried our eyes out.)

      • I remember that game! I was in the pep band. I was in JCL with Jeff… lots of fun times. Oops, guilty as charged, I was a Vikette my junior and senior year! You were ’76 I think. Remember this? Seventy-nine, seventy-nine, seven ,seven, seven, seven, seventy-nine!
        Small world isn’t it!

        • That’s incredible. Good times. I was ’76, indeed.

  • What a great post! I always knit a gauge swatch for my sweaters (shawls, not so much). However, I could use some help measuring gauge with cables and ‘in the pattern’. Not having a local yarn shop I order a lot of my yarn on line. Do other knitters order an extra skein for swatching? I want to make a nice sized swatch, but sometimes that’s not always possible. Great topic!

  • Brilliant!

  • My Knit Check is literally decades old. It has been sat upon, used as a book mark, lived in the crack of the couch, traveled quite a lot. It no longer lies flat, and truthfully, it is no longer very accurate…kind of like the owner. I no longer put my sole trust in it. But besides all that, a 2″ measurement is never going to be as accurate as a 4″ one, and if your pattern has been translated from metric, the translation from 4″ to10 cm” is not microscopically accurate. Unless you are making a 4″ sweater, all those fractional mm’s add up; 100cm is actually close to 39.5″ than it is 40″, so even if you do all that measuring and multiplying accurately, the desired number has gotten lost in translation.

    Two tips: If you tend to be wonky on gauge, start with a sleeve. Its wide enough to give you a much better idea of whether the gauge is working, and not so big that it will break your heart if, when you are part way through it, you realize you are hopelessly on the wrong track. Meanwhile go to a shop that sells quiting supplies. They sell all of these handy devices that are made of clear plastic marked off with 1″ squares. Lay the clear plastic device over the partial sleeve, or the very big swatch, and without pushing down, count the stitches within the square. Count 1″, 4″, 6″; it’s really easy and way more accurate.

    • This is stellar advice! I want to be a (much) better sweater knitter, and I have finally realized this means that I likely need an extra skein so I can make a swatch hat so I get a true look at gauge. And your quilting supply suggestion is a total winner!

    • I really like the idea of starting with a sleeve to measure the gauge (or tension as we call it here in the UK). I have wasted so much time recently trying to get the right tension /size for a sweater I want to be close – fitting that I have put it aside in despair but will try again from the cuffs up.

    • That is such good advice and I forgot to mention it in my comment about knitting a bigger swatch. I actually do use a ruler for large pieces and not the little swatch guides.

  • My knit-check is definitely too warped to be accurate, alas. I don’t know why the silly thing always winds up getting sat upon.

  • This was hilarious! I’ve suffered from Gauge Denial for, lo, many years. Do you remember when I met you, Kay, one of the first questions I asked you about was gauge? You said oh, I never worry about gauge. I just knit. It’s bound to fit somebody.
    The skies opened up and trumpets were heard in the distance. I was set free from from the bonds of gauge anxiety once and for all. I still carry my trusty Knit Check in my knitting bag, but it doesn’t carry the emotional heft for me that it once did.
    I love this lite n’ breezy approach to getting gauge. Or not.

    • I enjoy Kay’s letters so much! But I find I even like her quotes… It’s bound to fit somebody!

  • I’ve finally realized that I will never teach myself to knit tighter, so going down two (and sometimes more) needle sizes is a must. I almost always get stitch gauge that way. But, like you, row gauge is not for me. I rarely worry about it, although sometimes I have to – for example, mittens are problematic, because of my loose row gauge – I always have to change the number of rows, or I have very long mittens! And if they are colorwork, that means changing the pattern.

    Actually, I think I might be interested in a discussion of row gauge, and why it’s so often problematic….

    • Hey, I too almost always have to go down at least two needle sizes to get gauge! This is why I have yet to knit a sock pattern that says “Needles: Size 1.” Knitting with size 00 needles holds no interest for me at all! When describing how I knit I usually say, “I’m a very loose knitter. In fact, I’m a sluttishly loose knitter.” Like you, I’ve come to terms with my loose knitting, as it is even, and that’s what matters. In fact, with the exception of the above-mentioned socks on small needles, I think that knitting loosely is actually a good thing!

      • OMG! So I’m not alone??!!

    • Add me to the loosey goosey crowd. I always start 2 sizes down from what is suggested in the pattern or on the yarn ball and often go down another size from there. I have not tried knitting socks for the same reason, starting with a 0 or 00? No thanks! I’ve given up on row gauge completely and just keep measuring measuring measuring. With sweaters especially I’ve started spending time with the skematic and really studying the measurements I want for my size and noting that in the pattern. It helps.

  • I am also knitting Carbeth. My sleeve swatch proved too large so I have stepped it down and it seems to be going well.
    The newest Twist Collective posted a Q&A about switching and why a garter edge will distort your swatch. Good reading in that there issue, I tell you.
    But in the end close enough counts!

  • My first husband was from Omaha, off of 96th St between I-80 and W St. He went to Westside HS. I always enjoyed our visits there.

  • Sister you have set me free! If you’re not going to worry about gauge neither am I.

  • Aah. Gauge. The one thing only slightly less annoying than the fearful and hated words “…and at the same time…”

    When I took a machine knitting lesson we made a ten inch by ten inch gauge swatch (at minimum, 12” was better) without the borders, which we did add for stability. A machine doesn’t relax as it knits, doesn’t have mood swings, doesn’t get angry, etc. We are human and humans, as we knit, usually start to relax…as soon as that happens one’s gauge will likely be off. If one is female then we have monthly issues, or “the change” to contend with. If you set down the knitting and come back a day later…you may again start out tighter and again loosen up. Or not, if you are thinking about something disturbing. We vary our gauges over a large piece. Especially if we aren’t really thinking about the knitting, as with a sweater in a simple stitch. So one should check as one knits, continuously, on a large piece. And maybe each time one puts it down for a long break. And after one has restarted, but been knitting awhile. I have seen those plain knit sweaters grow and grow for knitters time and time again. So disappointing.

    It’s one reason I favor top down, one piece sweaters and cardigans. I also do both sleeves by knitting on one, then knitting on the other, alternatively. Corrections to size are less problematic for me with this method. Gauge Doesn’t seem to be an issue on the sleeves. That, I think, because I’m actively thinking and switching sleeves as I knit; they are smaller overall; and I don’t get a chance to go into zen mode.

    I’ll also admit I use knitting on the garment as my gauge swatch. I tend to make mistakes on set up, so this way if I have to take it out for any reason I’ve accomplished more than one thing at a time. I can check gauge and my stitch count, and get a feel for the pattern.

  • [email protected]”Or, it fit an unintended recipient who was happy to get it.”
    This is so totally my philosophy!!! And luckily, with 5 daughters, it is likely to fit someone in the family.

  • That GOODBYE at the end made me laugh, Kay.

  • Gauge, oy! This is why I design/knit accessories rather than sweaters, most of the time. But the real deal? Two inches is not enough to really tell if you’re meeting gauge requirements. Four inches at least.

    Also, it’s important to knit your gauge swatch in the same manner as the thing you’re making. If you’re going to knit in the round, you need to swatch in the round. Same for flat.

    Good luck with your Carbeth! And your logalong sweater. That’s a lot of sweatering!

  • Great post! And I’ll be using the swatch doctor! And now I’m obsessed with Carbeth, too, damn you!

  • Patty Lyons has a great article on this very subject in Twist Collective this month!
    Hope this link works 🙂

  • I have never understood why you need to measure stitches as well as rows. What do you do if the stitch count is correct but the row count is not?

  • I’m still chucking as I type – Houdini and Ouiji gauge! My problem is that it doesn’t matter what size needle I use, the gauge of a particular yarn comes out the same, usually looser than manufacturer says. So I spin my own yarn.

  • 1. So North Omaha is the Midwestern version of Platform 8 3/4.
    2. I don’t know if I want to knit Carbeth or just be Kate Davies wearing it in that beautiful winter landscape!

  • This is so fantastic! Thank you!

  • I never, in 40 years of knitting, looked at gauge until joining MDK where I found everyone was talking about this thing “swatching” and measuring after “blocking”. What??? I have now taken myself in hand and done this at the start of each new project, and am consistently having to go up two needle sizes, so I am a tight knitter, who knew.

  • Kay, you are so darn funny.

    Gauge….sigh….my specialty is the half-gauge square. Meaning I do a few rows and kinda measure. And my row gauge is ALWAYS off, anyway. I have no idea why, but apparently I make very tall stitches.

    And I have to admit, that one of the reasons I love top down, is because I can usually start somewhere between Medium 1 and Medium 2, and then figure out my gauge once I am about 8 inches into the sweater.

    Yeah…I can relate to your gauge issues, bigtime. Love this piece. Hilarious and beautifully written.


  • hahahhhhhhhhh so true! this is experience talking. and we should all listen :)))

  • …and if you knit your swatch with the recommended one inch borders of garter stitch, your stitches are held more tightly within that fortress when you Knit-Chek, which will be a different gauge than when you’ve actually knit the sweater and put it on but have no garter stitch supports holding your stitches closer together.

  • To get a correct count you should let your work rest for a while preferably over night, as it will relax and sometimes shrink into itself. Only then will you get a correct count.

  • I love this article, I used to knit little squares count the stitches and then knit. Never the same as the sample square. I now knit the article and undo it if it is not looking big enough, which is usually the way it is. I love the ouiji board … so true xxx

    • This speaks to me so deeply. Having frogged what twice this week because it came out teeny tiny even after I switched needles, I seriously know the gauge problem. And I’m giving up on hats.

  • I took a class on gauge from June Hemmons Hiatt last year, because her approach to knitting (and probably life) is on the opposite end of the spectrum from mine. She had some great tips, even on getting your gauge for ribbing. I think most of the information is in Principles of Knitting.

  • Swatch Doctor. Brilliant. I’ll bring the coffee.

  • My gauge philosophy has evolved over my many knitting years, and i am currently of a mind that gauge swatches are crafty little devils and they like to lie. I am currently using this method – i knit part of the sweater, which as you mention is a very big swatch. I then block said of sweater to determine a few things – do i like the fabric, and will the fabric transform itself into something that will fit me. If i have determined that this indeed will not fit me, then provided i like the blocked fabric, i either rip it out or i keep knitting it knowing that it will fit someone on my life. I am just done with those little 4 x 4 swatches.