A Cautionary Tale About Gauge (What Else)

By Kay Gardiner
May 18, 2018

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  • I’m just as guilty of not watching for gauge…I swatch to decide how much I like the stitch definition and how the knitting fabric feels on various needles

  • No judgement here. Your project looks pretty sweet, and I like the early background colour change – as I like to say in these situations: “it’s a feature”.

  • I seldom check gauge on projects that don’t require fit, e.g. sweaters. I don’t generally knit scarves, but I would have run into same problem and just made it work or bought more yarn. You are the boss of your knitting.

    • I love this: “You are the boss of your own knitting.” Yes!

  • No judgment here. I swatch for sweaters but never for anything else. With respect to shawls, I’m such a loose knitter that regardless of what needle size is called for in a pattern, I tend to always stick with a preferred needle size. I usually only get really nervous about running out of yarn when there is an applied border and I’m using some deep stash yarn.

  • I’m a late convert to swatching…but only for sweaters!! I’ve no right or intention to judge.

    • Absolutely only for sweaters, otherwise why knit a sweater that will end
      up looking like it was made for a scarecrow.

  • Oh dear–one of the few problems that blocking won’t fix.

  • Doesn’t it also have to with the time of day you knit? My stitches tend to be tighter when I get home from work versus less tight on a Saturday afternoon. I knit in varying degrees of tight. Maybe once I stop working, I will become a relaxed knitter. But, not likely.

    • That is an interesting observation. I am going to observe my knitting during various times. It will be fun to check when I am do a gauge swatch (I like to swatch. They make good coffee coasters, too.).

    • I have to say, my gauge changes during a project: tighter at the beginning and looser when I get going. That said, I don’t understand how swatching could help me with my end result. Suggestions? Does anyone check gauge repeatedly as they knit to be sure they knit to gauge? Help! Thanks.

  • No judgement here. I don’t swatch. As a matter of fact I don’t like to take on projects that require too much fit because I hate to swatch! But why? I love to knit and swatching is just knitting. Can’t say that this is one of the biggest mysteries in life, but it is a mystery.

  • But that’s just the thing: my gauge, too, would be 18 stiches in one place, 19 in another and 20 in the next one, regardless of whether I swatch or not. I really came to the conclusion that swatching is not an exact science we were told it is. My knitting varies wildly – for example, it would loosen up after a lace section or tight up if Dr. McDreamy dies suddenly on TV. There are no guarantees to anything.

    • EXACTLY!!!!!!

    • Totally agree!

    • For those of us who are more picky about this (among whom I include myself — Enneagram One/Virgo here, what can I say?) I always measure gauge in three places on my swatch and then average the three. That’s my gauge. And I measure in 16ths of an inch. However, I’m famous for running out of yarn before finishing a project, so I guess we end up in the same place, Kay! Judy is my name and Yarn Chicken is my game!

    • Yes! I actually find my shifting gauge to justify lax swatching. I accept ripping wrong sized knitting and ignore advice to calculate all modifications in advance of knitting. When your knitted booties are always two obviously different sizes and the same number of stitches, what’s the point?

  • I have sung this song a few times myself. And like you, Kay, I like the thrill of improvising in a crisis. Like when you change something in a recipe, that improvising is what makes it your own. 🙂

  • Was the gauge the pattern indicated before or after blocking?

    • Good question. Now I have one more thing to think about when engaging in gauging 🙂

      • It now occurs to me, after a little thought, that it is probably before blocking. Every yarn has a different way after blocking, so before wouldn’t always be 100% correct as the final counting answer. Enough variables going around all over the swatch…this adds one more problem/challenge (depends how one looks at it.) No wonder many don’t want to swatch…too much to think about.

  • I’m a gauge laggard. Even with clothing. I figure if I run into issues I’ll find someone that it fits. This includes pressuring my daughters for additional grandchildren as needed.

    • That’s what I call a practical solution!

    • I have 12 grandchildren so as long as the sweater is gender neutral I’m in good shape!

  • #metoo This is infinitely better than running wild on gauge, setting a project aside for a while, realizing you need more yarn and then finding it is no longer available in the dye lot, then ordering anyway and finding dye lot not even close. Or REPEATING that error on another project, but finding precious skeins of the appropriate dye lot in England and then paying quite the premium to get them.
    And yet I still go rogue on gauge.

    • #gaugerogue

    • I too have found myself searching the globe for more of that long-gone dye lot. Swatching won’t help here; long after buying the yarn, I finally found the “perfect project” for it – which, alas, required more yarn than I had!

  • Swatch smwatch. Buy more yarn?

  • I share your feelings and habits regarding gauge, but I appreciate the explanation. I’ve run out of yarn on a few projects and now understand why. My solution going forward? Buy an extra skein!

  • Another non-swatcher here. At least most of the time. I tend to overbuy the yarn as insurance for any variances. I’m nearly done with a baby blanket that has been and off-and-on project for a long time. There are visible differences in the gauge from the starting end and the almost-done end. Hoping the baby won’t notice. Or, at least won’t care!

  • I only knit swatches for sweaters and I find that sometimes they lie, when you get to the real project. I’m amazed that an 18 or 19 could matter that much. They seem so close to 20.

    • Ditto! SWATCHES LIE
      So my swatch measurements (when made) are confirmed deep into the project, hopefully while adjustments can still be made.

  • I just discovered this site. What a pleasure.
    I am a youngish old lady who knitted for decades.
    33gallon bags of leftover yarns that I reluctantly started to
    Bring to the thrift shop.
    Maybe I should keep the yarn for winter projects of mice population
    In my attic.
    MDK i love your sense of humor,

    • “Youngish old lady”–I’m stealing that. Welcome, Yvette!

  • I’m wth you, Kay—gauge is overrated!

    • P R E A C H

  • Whether I swatch or not depends on the project, and when I do swatch I go all out and do it right. But I am a hard core practitioner of yarn chicken, generally making the project work with the yarn I have on hand (because the size of the stash is a whole nother issue), so I always have a Plan B in my head just in case i realize I am losing the contest.

    • It’s amaing how much adrenaline you can pump out in that last few yards of yarn chicken, isn’t it? I’m all for living dangerously. And plan b just keeps your brain limber, always ready to switch course if needed.

  • I love to knit. So I will make a swatch. Pin it the pattern with dye lot – color name and number- ( and frequently wash dry and block it)

    Know what? Doesn’t matter if I do! Swatches lie! Like you, same yarn, same needles. It varies from place to place. (I tell myself, it will block out!) But swatches lie like a dog!

    • THIS! No matter how perfectly you do the right thing, and make the swatch, match the gauge, block and dry it, keep track of the dye lot, etc, in the end, it’s still kind of down to luck, chance, prayers, wits, and whatever you can finagle at the end of the project. I think that’s part of what I love about knitting.

    • Yes, I chime in with this sentiment every time Kay posts one of these gauge puzzlers. I swatch for sweaters, but there’s often a redo needed anyway. You can get away without swatching most scarr or shawl projects, but this one ran into trouble because of color changes.

    • Swatches lie like a big stinky sheddy dog. But I do them anyway, so I can say it again, swatches lie!

  • NAH. Tis a shawl. And an abstract one to boot …. ENJOY the FUN. It looks lovely!

  • I’m with you! It’s the reason none of my shawls are shawl size. Yet I still am constitutionaly unable to check gauge on a shawl. Alas. (On my last sweater I checked it every hour. Seriously. Perhaps that’s why I can’t get myself to knit another sweater?)

  • Oh dear! I think we’ve all been there though. I swatch for sweaters, though not much else (I’ve had to redo hats due to this, though I just call the first hat the swatch and carry on). But I also knit with a lot of superwash and when you block an XL superwash sweater (especially say in worsted!) it doesn’t always behave the way the 4” swatch did! (But that’s what the dryer is for.)

  • Guilty as charged!! Its only in recent years, as prices started rising & good yarn has become more difficult to obtain have I started to do a swatch.

  • Swatching might not have helped given your gauge changes. I don’t swatch for shawls or scarves either, I go by the fabric.

  • #gaugerogue! I love it.

  • Look at it this way, Kay: you are the test knitter for those of us who don’t swatch either. And we appreciate that.

  • Wow. I just had an ah-ha moment. I am a religious swatcher that did not previously realize that different types of needles (not different sizes) could make a difference on the way the fabric looked. Now I finally have proof that I need multiple sets of interchangeable needles!! Hot Diggity!! $$$

  • So happy to find myself in good company. I’m a reluctant swatcher. The swatching necessary for sweaters and mixed results (on swatches and sweaters) led me to abandon knitting altogether for ten years. I decided I was swatch challenged. Listening to the elaborate swatching rituals some other knitters (you knit swatches on several needle sizes, wash and then remeasure!) only reinforced my accessment. Then I rediscovered scarves and slowly came back. And shawls! The smaller yardage required to make these garments allow me to indulge in the loveliest yarns. I have found my happy place. The advent of the internet with the ability to communicate with like-minded individuals has helped me see I am not alone one this and this swatch challenged knitter need not give up this pleasing activity.

  • I love you, Kay. You brighten my morning.
    PS I’m an swatch obsessive. I make them big and beautiful. I make many of them. I don’t swatch for scarves. I just use the needle that I suspect will give me gauge (because I’m an obsessive swatcher and it has ‘educated’ me on some level about my own process).

  • Yarn chicken Hail Mary: When I’ve run out of yarn close to the end of the row, I tink it back a row or two and then squeeeeeeeze that yarn into the tightest knitting I possible to make it last. I know it’s like changing the font size in the middle of a paragraph, but sometimes it works.

  • What is that device you’re using, that measures both stitch and row gauge? I haven’t seen one like it before, and I want one!

    • I have one of those by Akerworks. I’ve seen them in various online shops so a web search should do it. It’s a pretty nifty tool.

    • I immediately thought I want one too.

    • After checking several of my usual suspect sources for the guage, I went to Akerworks directly. $17.50 plus 3.00 shipping, Paid through Amazon (though not available on Amazon). Easy as pie. I’m so excited. This is what I’ve been looking for. Had an old guage that was 2 right angle slits. It was flimsy and broke in the corner at some point. The slits made it so much easier to count than with a ruler, but they were only 2 inches on a side. Akerworks is 4 inches and looks sturdy. Thanks for the information, Lynn.

  • Why, gauge IS an issue with shawls. Otherwise, you could get one of two things: 1.) a bedspread; or 2.) a fashion doll (like B*****e) with a warm neck.

  • No judgment here either! I sometimes swatch, but I seldom completely trust gauge given in the pattern.

    What needles were used? What if I use the same weight yarn of a different fiber? Does the designer/editor knit more loosely or tightly than I? Does their gauge vary throughout as it does for many of us? How good are they at counting? Could be anything.

    In the end, we happily adjust and find a solution. We’re so creative that way!

    • I totally agree with you Annie. Swatching is a crap shoot! Too many variables. Pattern designers “suggest” fiber, needle size, gauge like it’s “suggested” to wear a parachute when jumping from a plane!!
      I prefer to live a little dangerously and pray to the Yarn gods lol

  • I can’t imagine swatching for a scarf or a shawl! Maybe for a sweater, if it’s for me and me only. But seriously? Just buy more yarn, That’s what it’s there for!

    • I’m in a shawl club. The yarn is limited edition specifically for the club. You’re sent enough for the pattern with very little left over. If you don’t swatch, you may end up spending hours and hours creating a lace shawl only to discover you cannot finish it. It’s happened to a few in the group. Those who had left over yarn helped them out with donations, but swatching is less aggravating and stressful. As much as I despise swatching, I do it.

  • Okay, cautionary tale taken, but it is still not scary enough to make me try to get gauge. I’m happy to see lazy, impatient knitters are heavily represented in the comments.

  • We’re both renegades, as are many others from reading the comments! I don’t swatch on much more then a sweater. If a run afoul it’s a “design element”. #gaugerouge

  • I only swatch for sweaters. And those swatches lie; you have to #trustbutverify just like with kids! Also, your specified gauge doesn’t say if it’s blocked or unblocked. You’re a VICTIM here!

    I’m in the middle, or was in the middle, of a cowl I’m designing. I realized last night that I don’t like my fabric. Too loose. Now I’m back at the beginning. I changed needles. Not size, but type. My HiyaHiya stainless were too slick for this particular yarn, and when I changed to my trusty Lantern Moon ebony needles, things tightened up and evened out. Go figure.

    Back to my Shakerag Top after I get enough cowl to write it up. Deadlines!

  • Gauge is why I might start drinking…

  • I feel your pain! I’m exactly the same way. I shared my gauge experiences in a post on my own blog…and I need to do a follow up post on what happens when you follow all of the rules, only to find out (too late) that the bleeping pattern was wrong! Here’s my post, if you’re interested. 🙂 https://www.knittingbyjen.com/post/265705785455/gauge-of-enlightenment

    • I only swatch for garments. Otherwise, why bother? Lol!

      What kind of yarn is being used in the shawl project? That blue so beautiful.

  • I hear you. I’ve often wondered why there isn’t a book out there about things you can knit without knitting a swatch! Dive In and Knit!

  • I see a beautiful shawl! What errors???

  • Frankly, I don’t see any problem at all. So far it looks gorgeous.

  • Yay! I’m not alone in never, ever checking gauge! So loved your artclar! Love it totally got me on my last project when I was making a poncho size s/m and it ended up measuring xl! Ugh I ended up making it into a kimono but I think I may have to start checking my gauge a little more often

  • Hello, Pot.

    Love, Kettle

  • Hi! I’m new to your blog and I’m so happy to have found it!! No judgement from me either. I’m not what I’d call an advanced knitter anyway, and I’m spending a lot of time building my skill level this year. Man, did this ring my bell! I have the same adittude when it comes to swatching. If it’s not a “fitted” garment I pretty much never swatch. I never considered the possibility of running out of yarn? I’m guess I’ve been blessed by the yarn gods so far that that hasn’t to me yet.

  • Please remind me hpw tp find the rainbow shawl and yarns to go with it.

  • I rarely swatch but after my last sweater with linen that I had to rip out the entire sweater and reknit! The entire thing….well, this next one I swatched. But I will forget for the next one…

    • Had that very experience with linen yarn (sourced, spun, dyed and retailed by the store) and pattern bought from a shop in Paris 2015, but I DID do a swatch, it was close enough…in my mind anyway, I am gauge-adverse!
      I had nearly got thru the back section late 2016 and could work out my usage vs quantity remaining was not going to complete it, not likely the store would be able to provide same colour etc and given I live in Australia unlikely I would be in Paris anytime soon. So, I pulled it out and revised my plan and knitted a smaller size and re-did gauge…..this time I got it exact. It made a lovely gift for a friend who has translated several French patterns for me and who does not knit.
      I now do gauge for most projects. That gauge thingy looks marvelous, I am going online to get one of those, will make ‘gauging’ easier and fun.

  • I’m not a swatcher in 99% of my own projects (but they usually don’t get finished). I’ve learned to at least measure partway through some knits because I love to make baby things and I’ve had, ahem, several “newborn” items fit til they were two. bwhahhaaa I’m a guage pirate!

  • Siena Farley was my teacher extrodinare and she would have called it a design inclusion❤️

  • Ha. I hate swatching. It is a big fat waste of time. But I swatch. I am a tight knitter. I usually have to go up a few needle sizes to get the right gauge. Especially with Stephen West patterns. He must be the loosest knitter on earth! If he’s using a #4, I’m using at least a #7. I also tend to get half stitches in my gauge every single time I knit. If the pattern calls for 22×17 in a 4 inch swatch, I’m going to get 21.75×16.5 or 22.5×17.25 in that swatch. I’ve learned to go with “close enough” and adjust the pattern. What I cannot learn is to knit looser. Tried it. Utterly failed.

  • Gauge, schmauge. I gave up on it years ago – I never even seem to come close. If you watched me knit, you’d surely say ‘loosen up your hands, I’m getting arthritis just watching you!’ and yet, my gauge is always waaaaay too loose. Which meant, for my first few knitting years, I plugged along on nothing but scarves and shawls. Finally, I needed to expand and try some fitted things. I have almost no problem with hats, socks, mittens and top-down sweaters: I usually make the absolute smallest size listed (even though I’m usually a solid medium), and take my needles down at least by 2 sizes from the size recommended in a pattern. It has seemed to work! And, with top down sweaters, there’s the beauty of trying it on repeatedly and adjusting further.

  • Well…I hate to say it ,but I check gauge every time on everything.Because I have a health problem that causes a problem with the strength in my hands, I have a problem with keeping the right gauge once I get it.So if I ever hope to have anything I knit turn out to look better than a poorly executed dishrag,I always need to know where I stand as far as my gauge goes .There is nothing sadder than getting it ,checking it,loosing and then ripping back half sweater because the yarn ran out .Makes a girl a believer .

  • What is the tool you are using in the photo above for checking gauge? It looks so much more sensible than the one I use.

  • I have no room to judge anyone. This summer, I joined a KAL and didn’t bother to check my gauge, since it was a shawl. I’d never run out of yarn on shawls. This time, I did, twice. Thankfully, I was able to get the yarn I needed, but it showed me that I need to change my ways. It may take some getting used to, but I’m trying to do better.

  • Golly, looks like the never swatchers are out justifying why they don’t swatch. Guilt. I’m not finding many comments from the always swatchers. Stop the guilt. It’s your yarn, your needle, your TIme, your business. Get on with the knitting fun!

  • I read Snippets religiously, and really appreciate the laughter and lightness on Saturday morning. Kay, you’re a genius. That said, I have so many problems with gauge remaining consistant throughout projects, even when I swatch. Is there a solution for this? Thanks!

    • I think if you know this is a problem that affects your final outcome, you should indeed check gauge every 4 inches or so (or interval you determine), and then change your needle size in response.

      I also feel, however, that gauge is the subject of too much anxiety. I’ve knit so many sweaters, despite my own problems with gauge variation. Typically my gauge starts out loose, then I go down a needle size (or 2 or 3) to correct it, and then it figures out how to loosen up again. Nevertheless, I’ve knit so many sweaters that I’m very happy with. The stitches in a garment are all connected to each other, and as long as the fabric appears even (not loopy, holey, or inconsistent), things really do tend to even out.

      I hope that’s helpful or at least encouraging!

  • I learned ( many, many years ago ) to knit and crochet loose because tight knitting feels stiff. Now, I have to go 3 sizes lower in hook or needles to get the correct gauge. I long to be able to just grab the suggested needle size and go to knitting but I don’t see that happening. It is a real problem for me. Any suggestions. HELP PLEASE!