Ask Patty: More Chatting about Gauge

February 22, 2019

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  • Brilliant! This is not surprising as I took classes from you several years ago and still use what I learned there all the time. I agree that inches are very misleading. I almost always knit socks two at a time because, if I do them one at a time, they are never the same at the end no matter how often I measure (I do not count rows on plain vanilla socks or ones where I play with the pattern as I go). Converting the inches to rows on patterns where I do count rows or repeats (everything else I do, basically) makes perfect sense and the two minutes it will take to do the math is no biggie. Thanks!

  • Thank you, Patty. I work at a yarn shop in Florida and even I secretly cringe when gauge is the question. And not many people really want to understand the numbers themselves; I get the deer-in-headlights stare usually followed by the scrunched up face that communicates “numbers are icky.” They just want to know the ending of the story—which needle to go with. Aaaaand unless they swatch properly then it’s hard for me to say. It’s only a handful of numbers. Make friends with them and really learn what they mean and how they can make your knitting the best it can be.

    • Just tell them to try to imagine what a cake would come out like if you didn’t measure the ingredients. Most knitters have an ah ha moment with they think about their yarn as the ingredient and the needle as their measuring cup

  • Thank you….but as a swatch virgin I am still
    confused.Can you write a piece that showshow to count rows, etc? I don’t even understand how tp read the ruler in these photos.

    • Hi Cyndi,

      Here’s a nice article on how to count stitches and rows:

      • The holes in the rulers in the photos don’t have anything to do with measuring or counting. They are needle sizers. Just look at the inch marks on the ruler.

      • ah! Beat me to it. I was just going to link that that fab article!

  • Great advice, and so funny!

  • Lol, I can sooo relate to Dr. Kubler-Ross’s 5 stages of grief in this post!!

  • The bit about not measuring progress with a tape measure is a bummer, but after having several sweater adventures (fortunately only small children’s sweaters) I will apply this to the current large sweater in progress. Thanks for tackling more gauge questions!

  • Yep. very funny, too! Loved the kubler-ross analogy, Altho I don’t agree w her tbeory for grief I think it’s great for swatching!

    • ironically, she came out later and said she didn’t agree with her theory, either. 🙂

  • People hate to swatch (is that a verb?). However, it is very necessary for proper fit, and or matching. A good friend of mine used to say “pay now, or pay later”. The former is much easier.
    However, I never gave much notice to the rows on a swatch. Now I will.

  • You don’t touch on the thing that affects my willingness to swatch, which is that if knitting with stash yarn of which I only have x number of yards, which is more or less exactly what the pattern calls for, I have the fear that if I use so many yards for my swatch I will be that much short for my project. Suggestions?

    • Undo the swatch and use it, if you need the yarn. If you’re worried about it being kinked up, hold it over some steam and let it dry, the kinks come out like magic!

    • One thing you have to ask yourself is HOW do you know you have enough yarn if you don’t swatch? So save yourself some heartache, since your swatch will tell you how much yarn you need. You can always unravel it and use it for seaming or picking up stitches in your neck band.

  • Do they even make canned hams anymore?

  • Your article was very needed!! I have gone through every stage of knitting swatches EXCEPT,
    yes, acceptance. So now it is a settled matter. I swatch!!

  • Thanks for the swatching encouragement. My current sweater is one where I did my swatch as close to properly as I can – I even washed it as I would the finished garment. And I’m so, so glad. This particular yarn shrank close to 20% in the finishing – but I ended up liking the finished fabric with the fulling that happened. But it changed my sweater math so much. I started with plenty of yarn for a finished sweater. Now I’m going to be cutting it a bit fine. But at least I won’t be sad about my super small finished sweater.

  • Ah – knitting advice that is just too dang real. I kinda wanna stay in denial….LOL. The humor in your reality therapy on swatching is much appreciated. at least next time when I’m foolish enough to think I can go ahead without swatching, I’m going to have that image of the vibrating weight loss belt!

  • LOL it feels like the answer is always “swatch!”

  • I have been using my actual blocked row gauge to calculate my “inches” into rows lately. (see part 1 above) It works! I have been having much better luck at sleeves and bodies that are the right length. And in the end, it’s easier. I don’t have to wonder if I’m stretching my fabric in hope, nor do I have to shorten my sleeves after they block out longer (a common occurrence for me).

  • My grandparents had that “exercise” machine!!

  • The swatch problem I always have is when the swatch is required to “knit in pattern” – and THEN be counted. Good grief. I am resistant enough to swatching and I have a hard time counting stitches correctly in stockinette – I can’t even contemplate counting “in pattern”! I just started a hat pattern in double moss or double seed stitch and the swatch was supposed to have been made in pattern and then the stitches are counted. I skipped it completely because I figured I’d never be able to count it accurately anyway. (Of course I cast on 80 stitches and had to unravel after knitting an inch of the hate – and re-cast on 88 stitches – so the knitting gods smote me for not swatching!) I have even seen swatches required in cables! How would I even count that?!

    My question is why can’t the designers (I am sure there is a reason) just take the yarn they are using – make a gauge from stockinette for us knitters – and then assume it will translate once we are making the pattern in seed, moss or any other stitch?

    • I have the same issue, it really grinds my gears well. EZ also made the same comment in one of her books too.

    • I strongly prefer when they have us swatch in pattern and do not like it when the swatch gauge is stockinette and we knit in pattern – the opposite of your preference. I find my stockinette to lace translation, for example, may not be the same as the designers. I may have tighter or looser yarnovers, etc. and this means my stockinette can be spot on and my in pattern knitting not work out the way the pattern expects. I avoid patterns where the gauge is stockinette and critical parts of the item are in pattern for this reason. My favorite is when there are gauges for all the critical stitch patterns. I guess the poor designers cannot please us all!

      • If a pattern (like a vintage pattern) every gives you only the gauge in stockinette, yet it’s an all over stitch pattern, ignore it and use math to find the actual gauge!

        Say the sweater has 110 st at the chest and it’s in an all over patten stitch. The schematic says it’s 17″. The gauge is only given as 24 st / 4″ in stockinette, but you know that’s not going to be super helpful because there is not one bit of stockinette in the whole sweater. Swatch in pattern stitch instead! What’s the pattern gauge? It’s hiding in plain sight:

        110 st / 17″ = 6.47

        So your pattern stitch should be 6.5 st per inch

        Drop mic.

      • That is good to know Debbi2 – I can see your point. I just can’t rely on myself to count accurately in the lace pattern. For some reason I can’t seem to accurately count gauge swatches even in stockinette. I am always off a bit.

    • It’s VITAL that the designer give you the gauge in the dominant stitch pattern. To only give you the stockinette gauge would not be helpful. Just because you match the gauge in stockinette will not mean you will match the gauge in the pattern stitch. AND (most importantly) you are making a fabric sample. You need to see, do I like this yarn in this stitch pattern. Is this a fabric I like. When It comes to cables and lace you are not counting stitches, but rather measuring an entire repeat and then doing math! Say a lace pattern is 21 st per 4 inch in lace. The lace multiple is a multiple of 6 +1. SO, I would cast on 37 stitches. I would keep 3 stitches at each edge in stockinette or seed and have 31 stitches of lace pattern in the middle.

      Now I measure the full lace repeat (31 st) and based on the math of gauge, that best measure about 6″

      31 st / 5.25 (gauge) = 5.9″

      • Patty – All good points – thanks! I can measure a repeat (probably) better than guessing whether half a knit stitch is really part of that “inch” I am measuring on stockinette.

        I never really thought about the fabric aspect – matching yarn to pattern. I have come to rely too heavily on Ravelry to see matches between yarn and pattern instead of making my own. I guess it means buying one skein of yarn for a swatch before buying a shawl or sweater quantity – and I have never done that!

        • Unless you’re a stasher- I buy sweater quantities of yarn that I love, then find a suitable pattern. The swatch for an unsuitable match becomes more info for the next contender.

  • I have a question which might be a quaking belt type denial question. Say I knit cascade 220 yarn in blue and get 20 sets over 4 inches on size 6 needles. Is it safe to assume- with a huge, very controlled brand like Cascade- that the red yarn will get the same gauge?

    • Only one way to find out 🙂

    • Of course Patty is right (that goes without saying!), but I have done this with Cascade 220 in particular and nothing bad has ever happened. For instance I made hats for my kids without swatching both colors, but for something high-stakes like a sweater, I think you’d want to be extra, extra sure!

  • Perfect timing for this – I’m ready to start a sweater, and had convinced myself I didn’t need to swatch since it would ‘fit someone’. Since I don’t want to produce a Franken-sweater that fits no one, I’d better swatch. Thanks for the handy article and tips, especially the one about the tape measure.

  • Um, so this seems to be the one topic where the more I read, the less I understand.

    • There are a lot of different viewpoints on swatching. I’m often in the Jen camp, especially when I’m knitting a sweater for myself. I rarely swatch, preferring to see how I’m doing by measuring the unwashed gauge as I knit, and ripping back if I’m seeing a problem. Starting over is the answer to many problems in knitting!

      Right now, I’m finding Patty’s first tip here to be a huge help in understanding how many rows I have to knit on my Rowan Denim version of the Calligraphy Cardigan. It’s been a lifesaver to have the washed swatch. I counted the number of rows per inch in that swatch, and multiplied that number by the measurement I am trying to achieve on my sweater. Despite all my years of knitting, I never did it this way before, and I’m excited to see how it works. (Pretty confident that it will work!)

    • Of course you want to check in on your progress as you work, but there are two main disadvantages to the “just cast on” method for me personally. The MOST important part of swatching is to make a fabric sample. Do I like the fabric, does it drape the way I want, is it stable but not stiff, do I like this yarn in this stitch pattern, and what the heck happens to it when blocked!!

      Skipping that is like a sewer walking blindfolded into a fabric shop, grabbing something from the shelf and then checking to see if they like it once they cut the pieces and start sewing. Which brings me to my next drawback – LAZINESS!!!

      I’m far too lazy to cast on for a whole sweater start working it, stop and wonder what the fabric will do once blocked, block the lower 4″ of a sweater, find out it doesn’t work, rip it out, steam the yarn, save it for seaming, cast on again . . . oh god, I’m tired just typing that.

      Another way to go – swatch :). In all my years as a designer my swatch has not once lied to me. When your swatching properly it will tell you everything you need to know.

      • Thank you, Ladies. 🙂

  • After spending frustrating hours trying to get gauge, I take an alternate tack. I knit a swatch to achieve a fabric I like in the called for stitch pattern and then measure the gauge I’m knitting. For a sweater or vest, I figure out how many stitches I’ll need for the bust and hip measurements plus suggested ease. I take those numbers and match them to one of the pattern sizes.

    • That IS making a gauge swatch. Knitters need to make a fabric sample they like and understand their gauge. Nobody says it has to match the pattern (that’s why I teach a class called “Make YOUR Gauge Work.” You do want to also do the same thing with your row gauge and then adjust your rate of shaping. More on that next month??

  • This makes me think of the Monty Python Spam song (replacing Spam with Swatch)…

    Lovely Swatch! Wonderful Swatch!
    Lovely Swatch! Wonderful Swatch!


    Lovely Swatch! (Lovely Swatch!)
    Lovely Swatch! (Lovely Swatch!)
    Lovely Swatch!

    swatch, swatch, swatch, swatch!

    (He he he)

    • 🙂

    • Oh no, now I’ve got the Spam song stuck in my head

  • Hi Patty my problem is working out what size needles to change to after I have knitted my swatch. I have not been well so as many times as I read instructions on how to do this they all sound confusing. Can you explain this in SIMPLY terms for us that have mushy brain syndrome. Thank you.

  • Patty, you’re a hoot! And absolutely Correct! I’m 2nd generation off the farm ans have been knitting, crocheting and creating for 44 years. Done Ragland sleeves on the Round (love those!), Basket-weave cables, lace and even one skirt and EVERY TIME, I check the Victim (who ever I’m knitting for) 6 or 7 times before binding off (an entirely different discussion on binding…). Socks are the trickiest but both my son & husband love them for warmth & fit (Hub is a EEE foot & Prodigy is AAA in width).

    Thanks sooooooooo much for the proverbial Shoulder tap. 😉

  • Thank you thank you thank you! I have a sweater in time out right now because I…followed all your advice. I did a blocked guage swatch first. I measured the swatch. Gauge is good to go. I know the number of rows (not inches) needed for the body. But it looks so long. And I put it in time out because I was going to grab a tape measure and measure the unblocked sweater to see if I made a huge mistake.

    Your response to the first letter makes me feel like it’s ok to just trust my swatch and continue on. Because the sweater will get wider and shorter when I block it. Because that’s what the swatch did. And maybe I didn’t manage to follow all the rules and still mangle months of work.

    I’m locking the tape measure back up and continuing on with the knitting instead. Thanks for the confidence booster!

  • I have a problem.
    I swatch religiously if it’s something other than baby knitting, but find that my gauge changes over the course of the project.
    I know it’s obviously tension problems, but don’t know how to rectify the problem.
    I think as I relax into the project my tension becomes more relaxed!
    Any advice would be appreciated.
    Thank you.

    • I think you just inspired my next column!