Every knitting and crochet pattern specifies a gauge. Frequently written in terms of a square, it tells you how many stitches and rows you need to have in a certain number of inches.
But all too often, you get the right stitch gauge only to discover your row gauge is off. Or you match the row gauge, but now your stitch gauge is off. Argh!
What are you supposed to do?
Here are some tips that will (hopefully) keep you from pulling your hair out.
1: Be sure to follow the stitch instructions exactly
Are the gauge instructions in single crochet? Through both loops or just one?
Gauge swatches are frequently in single crochet/stockinette stitch, but not always! The designer will have you make a gauge swatch for the most important stitch pattern, so read carefully! You want to be sure to do your swatch in the specified pattern!
2: Is the swatch blocked or unblocked?
Gauge swatches may be blocked (that is, wet/stretched/dried) or straight off the needles. Be sure to do what the instructions say! Otherwise, your swatch may not be in the ideal dimensions.
Why does it make a difference? A particular yarn or stitch pattern may be likely to stretch more vertically than horizontally, for example. Blocking helps get the swatch into it’s ‘final configuration’ and may provide a more accurate measurement.
3: Change your needles
If you’re pretty close to reaching the right row gauge (but not quite!), try a different needle/hook material. The grippy-ness of bamboo or the slippery-ness of metal may be just what you need to get your gauge spot on.
4: Change your yarn
If you’re flexible about the type of yarn you’re using for your project, try a new yarn. The closer the yarn you’re using matches the yarn in the sample (in terms of fiber and ply), the closer gauge you’ll be able to achieve.
5: Accept your fate
Sometimes, it’s just not possible to match a designer’s exact gauge. For garments, aim to match the stitch gauge, and then take note in the difference between your row gauge and the pattern’s. You may be able to compensate by adding/removing a row or two as you work.