I’m not going to pretend that I am a perfectly well behaved knitter that always checks gauge. I will often cut corners if I’ve used the same yarn before and know what my gauge is with different needle sizes. I really only check gauge on sweaters because I don’t feel that I need to with hats or socks.
Gauge really matters for garments. If you are going to be wearing something it is important to make sure it’s going to fit properly. I mean, who wants their pants to fall off?
In order to end up with a garment that fits you need to knit your gauge swatch with care. Here are several things you should keep in mind when knitting up your swatch.
Number 1: Needles and Yarn
You need to knit you gauge swatch with the exact same needles and the exact same yarn that you intend to knit your project in. Many knitters find that the needle material will affect their gauge. Also, think about things like the length of you needle tip. Chances are you 16″ needles have shorter tips than your 40″ needles. I know that I knit tighter when I knit with shorter needle tips. If you aren’t going to knit your project with a particular set of needles you shouldn’t knit your gauge swatch with them either.
Number 2: Size
Most patterns will give you the number of stitches and rows in a 4″/10 cm square. You want your gauge swatch to be larger than a 4″ square so that you can measure gauge more accurately. Refrain from measure the number of stitches per inch. While you may need to know this measurement you should always measure the stitches per 4 inches and then calculate the number of stitches per inch. This way you will get a more accurate gauge measurement. Always be sure to measure your gauge in multiple places to get the most accurate measurement.
Number 3: Knitting in the Round
If your project is going to be knit in the round than your gauge swatch should be knit in the round. Most knitters find that their knit gauge is different than the purl gauge so if you knit your swatch flat and then knit your project in the round you will probably find that you gauge is slightly different. I have noticed that when I knit flat that my row gauge is a bit looser but not enough to affect the fit of the finished garment.
Number 4: Washing
Different yarns and different fibers behave differently depending on how they are washed. If you are going to machine wash your garment before blocking you should machine wash your swatch as well. I have two reasons for this: A) if your yarn choice is not going to survive machine washing it is much better to destroy your gauge swatch than a garment you have spent hours working on and B) hand washing your swatch then machine washing your garment might result in two separate gauges.
Number 5: Blocking
Blocking your swatch might sound silly but since no one is going to see it but blocking your swatch it the only way to know what you gauge is going to be in the finished garment. Make sure you measure your swatch before washing and blocking. Knowing the finished dimensions of your swatch is not helpful if you don’t know how big it was to start with.
I am going to be perfectly honest and say that I don’t always follow my own advice but when I do I am always much happier with my finished project. Do you always knit a gauge swatch or do you like to live on the wild side?