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Are you committing a gauge sin?

Ordinarily, I’m the sort of teacher who will say, ‘Do whatever you’d like, as long as it’s working’. I don’t care if you throw or knit continental, I don’t care if you crochet while holding your hook like a knife or a pencil. I even don’t really care if you pick up stitches with your fingers to manipulate them instead of using your hook/needle.

But, I’ve seen a couple gauge sins happen in my presence that need to be stopped! I’m going to tell you what the 3 biggest gauge sins are (regardless of whether you knit or crochet), explain why they’re hazardous to your fiber health, and tell you how to fix them.

Gauge Sin #1: changing how you knit/crochet

The other day, I met someone who was getting too many stitches per inch on her knitting project. Instead of switching to a larger needle, she said, ‘Oh, it’s no big deal, I’ll just knit looser.” Bad idea.

Why this is hazardous

The goal in knitting/crocheting is to first and foremost achieve an even gauge. That is, you want each stitch to be the same size as the next stitch, across your entire piece. This is what results in a professional-looking finished product.

The second goal is to get a gauge that matches the one specified in your pattern (if you’re following one). This is the only way to ensure that your finished item will fit you properly and as the designer intended.

If you rely on excess looseness in your stitching to get a certain gauge, you have almost no hope of achieving consistency… especially if it’s a project you work on for multiple days. You come home stressed one day, and you tighten up a bit… looser on days when you’re relaxed. This procedure = uneven gauge!

How to fix it

Different sized needles/hook were invented for a reason. They allow us to achieve different sized gauges effortlessly. You should work to create a consistent stitching style that allows the different sized hooks/needles to do their work!

I know… sometimes it hurts to buy a new needle. They can be pricey, and you already have so many! But think of it this way: you’re about to spend 40+ hours working on a sweater. Don’t you want it to turn out nicely?

If you have extreme buy-phobia that’s interfering with proper knitting, you may want to get it all over with at once and buy an interchageable knitting needle set. The set made by Addi gets very good reviews (lovely needles, smooth join). Too pricey? The Denise Interchangeable Set and the Knit Picks Set are more affordable options.

Gauge Sin #2: deviating wildly from the norm

Everyone knits/crochets slightly differently. Some folks are naturally tighter, others a little loose… and you’ll typically hear someone say, ‘I usually need to go down a needle size from what’s recommended in the pattern to get gauge’. That’s fine.

Saying, ‘I usually need to go down 4 sizes to get gauge’ means there’s a problem.

Why this is hazardous

There are two reasons why you don’t want to deviating in a significant way from normal stitching patterns. The first is that, if your knitting is so loose that you need to go down 4 needle sizes, then you’re probably not using the needle properly (as I mentioned above). The needle is there to lead you to the proper gauge. If you’re not following it’s lead, there’s a big chance that you’re going to get some unevenness.

The second reason is for practicality: what if you want to knit socks that call for size 0 needles… but you need something 4 sizes smaller? What are you going to do then? Manufacturers make supplies based on standard stitching practices. And the more you deviate from them, the more difficult you’re going to find getting supplies/following tutorials and patterns.

How to fix it

Your goal should be to knit/crochet so that the loop sits snugly on your needle/hook, but with a little wiggle room. I always say to look for a teardrop shape (shown here on my crochet hook):

The little teardrop is a way to check that your stitches are pretty snug, but not strangling your needle/hook.

If you can drive a VW beetle down your crochet hook and under the next stitch, that’s bad. You need to tighten up.

And it just takes a little practice. Read this blog post and spend some time making swatches with the goal of developing a snug and consistent stitch. Your future knitting/crocheting self will thank you.

Gauge Sin #3: assuming a yarn will always knit to a particular gauge

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard, “this yarn knits to 5 sts/inch… so I can’t use it for this pattern”. Hold your horses! The yarn label is a recommended gauge on a certain needle size, not word from the yarn gods about how it needs to be used.

Why this is hazardous

Let’s say that you you have a pattern for a loosely-knit sweater. The pattern may say they are using a worsted weight yarn, size 13 needles and getting 3.5 sts/inch.

If you look the label of a worsted weight yarn, it’s going to tell you that it knits to 5 sts/inch on size 8 needles… but this information is irrelevant to you! You want to knit it on size 13 needles!

How to fix it

Don’t obsess over the yarn label!

Check out this blog post on why yarn labels can be deceptive. A manufacturer puts a gauge that states how their yarn knits with a certain needle size.

When you’re following a pattern, it’s important to select the proper thickness of yarn, not match the gauge that’s indicated on the label.

If you’re comparing thicknesses of yarn, it’s okay to glance at the gauge info on the label… as long as you realize it’s for comparing weights, and not the gauge for your final product.

Confession time!

Have you fallen prey to any of these sins? I’ll have to admit, the third one had me mighty confused for a while. Have you been working on your gauge? Any tips to share?

Now that we’ve had this talk… you’re not going to do any of these, right? Good.

13 COMMENTS

  1. chris SAYS...

    hi stacey, thanks for all the information. it was excellent.

  2. I’ll admit that I don’t like making gauge swatches. When I have a new project I want to get started right now!! That said, I always force myself to make the swatch. I’ve learned the hard way that the time spent up front will ALWAYS save you time and more importantly frustration in the long run! Thanks for the reminder!

  3. I am probably doing the opposite of your example above about having to go down four hook sizes. I usually need to go up two or three. Especially when the pattern uses double or triple crochets. Probably because I’m not doing them right. But since I mostly do amigurumi which focuses on single crochets and gauge is not really important I never really bothered much. I figured tighter can be better since the goal is not to let the stuffing show through. Let me know if you think I should reconsider!

  4. I used to be very guilty of #3, until I did more and more projects and got comfortable with my judgement… and I’m guilty of not swatching most of the time, but maybe that’s why I rarely make adult sized garments where it’s super important.
    But, aside from all that, what is that amazing pink being knit up in the second photo?!

    • The pink thing is my Abalone 🙂

  5. I was guilty of not making a gauge swatch when I was a newbie knitter. Now I know better. I read on another designer’s blog that she was knitting a cardigan on a deadline and ended up a size smaller because she realized she knits too tight under pressure. Who knew pressure/stress matters too!

  6. My guage swatch sin is not making a gauge swatch, but hten I rarely make clothing and you don’t really need to worry about guage when making toys, doilies and blankets.

    • sharlene beatty SAYS...

      Me too.

  7. Joeli SAYS...

    I’m okay with those three, my problem is being lazy and swatching flat even though the project is worked in the round and I know that I purl looser than I knit. I use the phrase “close enough” more than I should. Also not blocking the swatch to see how much gauge will change after,

  8. First off, Love the pink yarn. I am a non-swatcher. but, I will need to at least once this year as I want to make myself a sweater. Will have to swatch.

  9. Raven SAYS...

    I bought this very expensive yarn I love for easy peasy sock pattern but have to go from 40 cast on to 80 using number I-2 needle not sure( 2nd hand) so turning heel and gusset decreases and increases a BIG problem. help?????

    • Hi Raven-
      I released the Easy Peasy Sock pattern for beginners who wanted to do their first sock in worsted weight yarn. If you’re interested in doing a sock with fingering weight yarn, I recommend purchasing a pattern that specifically calls for that weight of yarn instead of modifying the pattern. I love Churchmouse Yarn’s basic sock pattern.

  10. Kay SAYS...

    I’m trying to crochet my first sweater and the gauge calls for 15 stitches and 12 rows of alternating sc and dc rows in a 4” square. So far I’m getting the 15 stitches, but 12 rows leaves me with a 4×4.5” rectangle. What am I doing wrong?