the Importance of Gauge

Posted by Jorie Jones on

What is ‘Gauge’ and Why YOU Should Care

On most yarn labels there is information about the yarn, such as fiber content, care instructions, yarn weight, and gauge for both knitting and crochet. You’ll also see many patterns reference how to meet gauge. This is all great, except what is gauge and why is it important? 

Gauge is a way to determine if your tension as a crocheter will meet the expected sizing of the pattern you’re following given if you are using the same yarn weight and hook size as the designer has specified. Gauge is also a way to calculate a final size of an item or how much yarn (think meters or yards) you’ll need to complete a project based on the pattern or stitch you are using.

 Not every crocheter completes their work the same as the next. This is influenced mostly by the crocheter’s tension, but can also be influenced by how one holds the hook, the weight of the yarn, the complexity of the stitch(es), and type of hook being used.

Now let’s dive into gauge and how to use it to end up with the best finished project you can.

Generally, gauge is not important for flexible items such as blankets, afghans, scarves, shawls, etc. as long as you’re using the same yarn weight as the pattern calls for and a relatively close hook size to what is specified.

Gauge absolutely matters on wearables such as sweaters, socks, shirts, and more.

Typically gauge is creating a 4” x 4” square and counting the stitches within that square.

 

Example:

        This label is stating that to accomplish a 4” x 4” square:

  • Use a 5.5mm hook (I-9)
  • Width is made up of 12 single crochet (sc)
  • Height is made up of 15 rows of single crochet (sc)

My Square Came Out Smaller Than Expected

If you attempt to make this gauge above, and your square comes out smaller than 4” x 4” you likely have a tighter tension than what is considered “normal.” To correct, you may go up a size, say to a 6.0mm (J-10) hook.

        If once you size up, you are still not meeting the gauge, consider going up another size. Typically, I would not adjust up more than 1mm in hook size as it could change the overall drape or look of the item being made. This is personal preference. Rather than continuing to go up in hook sizes, check a few more items.

  • Is your yarn the same weight as the pattern you are following?
  • Is this a new stitch for you? If so, do a little practice without worrying about size so you can get adjusted to the new stitch. Once you have gained a bit more confidence, try your gauge swatch again.
  • How are you getting the yarn from the skein (hank, cake, ball, etc.) to your passive hand? Is it pulling against you and causing your tension to be too tight? Consider caking skeins and hanks vs. creating a ball.
  • What is your hook made of? What is your yarn made of? Some combinations just don’t work and cause the crocheter to change their hold on the hook. If you’ve got another hook around, consider trying that out. More coarse yarns, such as wool may snag on hooks that are not perfectly smooth or have an imperfection, whereas acrylic may glide regardless of hook material.

If you’re still not meeting gauge, feel free to keep moving up in hook sizes until you meet gauge. If you’re just a touch over or under the measurement (let’s say ⅛”) then you are likely okay to push on. If you’re much over that and this is a gauge critical item, keep practicing until you meet gauge.

        Keep in mind that if you choose to continue on without meeting gauge as specified, your final item is going to come out smaller than the pattern calls for, or you may need more yarn than anticipated to obtain the desired size. Not all patterns will include instructions on how to adjust for your gauge, so best to learn to master gauge and save frustrations later.

 

My Square Came Out Larger Than Expected

If you attempt to make this gauge above, and your square comes out larger than 4” x 4” you likely have a looser tension than what is considered “normal.” To correct, you may go down a size, say to a 5.0mm (H-8) hook.

If once you size down, you are still not meeting the gauge, consider going down another size. Typically, I would not adjust down more than 1mm in hook size as it could change the overall drape or look of the item being made. This is personal preference. Rather than continuing to go up in hook sizes, check a few more items.

  • Is this a new stitch for you? If so, do a little practice without worrying about size so you can get adjusted to the new stitch. Once you have gained a bit more confidence, try your gauge swatch again.
  • How are you getting the yarn from the skein (hank, cake, ball, etc.) to your passive hand? If it isn’t feeding to your passive hand consistently, your tension could be impacted from this. Consider caking skeins and hanks vs. creating a ball.
  • If you’re still not meeting gauge, feel free to keep moving down in hook sizes until you meet gauge. If you’re just a touch over or under the measurement (let’s say ⅛”) then you are likely okay to push on. If you’re much over that and this is a gauge critical item, keep practicing until you meet gauge.
  • What is your hook made of? What is your yarn made of? Some combinations just don’t work and cause the crocheter to change their hold on the hook. If you’ve got another hook around, consider trying that out. More coarse yarns, such as wool may snag on hooks that are not perfectly smooth or have an imperfection, whereas acrylic may glide regardless of hook material.

Keep in mind that if you choose to continue on without meeting gauge as specified, your final item is going to come out larger than the pattern calls for, or you may need less yarn than anticipated to achieve the desired size. Not all patterns will include instructions on how to adjust for your gauge, so best to learn to master gauge and save frustrations later.

 

My Square is Not a … Square? A Trapezoid, maybe?

If your 4” x 4” gauge square is clearly not square, let’s take a step back.

  • Did you lose stitches along the way? (count, count, count!!)
  • Consistently losing stitches will actually result in a trapezoid, or eventually a triangle. Whereas if you’re compensating and losing and adding on the same row, you’ll end up with more of a parallelogram.
  • Did you gain stitches along the way? (count, count, count!!!)
  • Consistently adding stitches will actually result in a trapezoid. Whereas if you’re compensating and adding and losing on the same row, you’ll end up with more of a parallelogram.
  • If you’re having trouble locating the last stitch of each row, consider using stitch markers until you get good at seeing it without the marker.
  • Did you put it down in the middle and then pick up the wrong hook when you resumed?
  • Were you fighting with a knot (or yarn barf) part way through?
  • If you’re constantly stopping to untangle, you might be working with inconsistent yarn tension. I find that I avoid knots so I’ll bring the knot to me. This always results with a cluster of tighter stitches because of the weight of the knot as I bring it to me.
  • Were you multitasking and your tension doesn’t appear consistent?
  • If you stopped in the middle of a row/round, consider frogging back until the start of that row/round. Even if your tension is changing from one row/round to the next it isn’t always as obvious as if it changes mid row/round.
  • Is this stitch new to you? Maybe a bit of practice before attempting gauge could help you out.

Most of the time, a trapezoid gauge swatch is due to adding or losing stitches along the way. Consider placing a stitch marker at the beginning and end of each row to ensure you are placing your stitches in the right place. If you’re using a starting chain, such as a “ch 3” on a swatch using double crochet (dc), then make sure you are being consistent on whether the ch 3 counts or does not count as a stitch. Sometimes this is preference, sometimes this is included within pattern instructions. I prefer for it to not count.

        

As much as no one likes to do a gauge swatch as the excitement of a new project is generally too much, remember, they can save you a lot of frogging (tearing out stitches/rows - can you hear it? Rip it …. ripp it  … rippit … ribb it … ribbit) down the road. This is especially beneficial if you’re using an unforgiving yarn, or working on a specific timeline. Also, it could save you a lot of heartache when you set out to make that beautiful cardigan (insert project you’ve been swooning over here) in size medium and you finish it after weeks of hard work, then it doesn’t fit! WHAT!? Yep, if you didn’t check your gauge, you may end up with a size large, or maybe that xs that you’re contemplating on dressing your pesky garden gnome in. Trust me, gauge is your friend.

 

Below is a sample of gauge swatches that I made. I used Hobby Lobby “I Love This Yarn” in color Mustard. All swatches were stitched the same day using a Furls Odyssey I hook (5.5mm).

 

I naturally crochet a bit tighter than most recommended gauges. Over time I have learned to anticipate this and often have to size up a hook on wearables. My natural tension resulted in a smaller square both wide and tall. This is not always the case, so always measure your swatch.

 

 

Per the yarn label, this is about what the gauge swatch should look like. Although the rulers in the photo don’t line up perfectly, this swatch is nearly exactly 4” x 4”

 

 

This swatch was me purposely holding my yarn very tight to my hook. This is quite a bit tighter even than my natural tension and at times was even hard to put the hook through a stitch. This swatch ended up both less wide and shorter than the recommended size.

 

 

This swatch was me purposely allowing my yarn to hang a bit loose and not controlling its flow. You can see much wider gaps in the stitches as well as my end result was taller than what we were going for.

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