We all know how important it is to match the gauge stated in the pattern before we start a new project. Every time (or at least most of the times :-)) that we are about to make a garment, we take the time to knit a swatch with the same yarn, needles and stitch pattern that we plan to use for that project.
Sometimes we can skip this step as we discussed in this tutorial. But in most cases, it is highly recommended to make a swatch and count the number of stitches and rows in 10 x 10 cm / 4 x 4″ of that swatch.
The problem is that more often than not the numbers we get are not the same as the number of stitches and rows provided in the pattern.
It gets especially frustrating when the difference is not big, sometimes we even get one of the numbers right – for example, the number of stitches is correct but the number of rows is off, or vice versa.
What do we do in cases like this? There is a little trick that I use every time I need to match the gauge provided in the pattern.
It is based on a simple fact that the number of stitches and rows in a 10 cm / 4″ square is just a numerical representation of the density of the fabric. A piece that has more stitches and rows is denser than the one that has fewer stitches and rows.
That means that we can rely on the total number of stitches in a 10 cm / 4″ square. We find it the same way as we find a surface area – by multiplying the number of stitches by the number of rows.
Number of stitches x number of rows =
= total number of stitches
If that number matches or is close to the total number of stitches of the gauge stated in the pattern, we can confidently start our project.
How is it possible that the total numbers of stitches match but the numbers of stitches and/or rows are different? In my experience, it can easily happen because we stretch the swatch slightly differently than the designer did when she was writing the pattern.
When we block a swatch, even a little stretch will change the number of stitches and rows. If we stretch the swatch sideways, we get fewer stitches and more rows in a 10 cm / 4″ square. If we stretch it more between the cast on and bind off edges, we get more stitches and fewer rows.
Of course, I’m not saying that we would intentionally distort the fabric. The swatch might look perfectly fine to us, but the stretch will be slightly different from the swatch the designer measured to come up with the gauge provided in the pattern.
Because we never know how the designer blocked her swatch, there is no way we can block our swatch in exactly the same manner.
The good news is – no matter how the swatch is stretched during blocking, the total number of stitches stays approximately the same.
Let’s run a little experiment.
Here are two identical swatches knitted simultaneously with the same pair of needles using two ends from the same ball of yarn.
When I blocked these swatches, I deliberately stretched one of them sideways.
As you see, the stretch is quite visible. In real life, we would never stretch our swatches that much, but for the sake of this experiment, I exaggerated the stretch a little bit.
Now let’s measure the gauge. The number of stitches is not the same – the first swatch has 19 stitches in 10 cm / 4″, the second swatch has 16.5.
The number of rows doesn’t match either – the first swatch has 22 rows in 10 cm / 4″, the second one – 25 rows.
But when we multiply these numbers, we get an almost identical total number of stitches:
Swatch #1: 19 stitches x 22 rows = 418
Swatch #2: 16.5 stitches x 25 rows = 412.5
The minor difference in numbers happens because we do not account for fractions of a stitch.
It is common to round the gauge to half of a stitch – for example, you can get 21.5 stitches and 28.5 rows in a 10 cm / 4″ square of your swatch – but frankly, I can’t remember ever seeing a gauge rounded to a half of a stitch in a pattern. Generally, the patterns round the gauge to a whole number (most likely not to scare knitters with decimal points :-))
One more thing that we should always remember – knitting is not a precise craft. Our gauge fluctuates even within the same project. It depends on our mood and the level of stress we are in, whether we knit while watching a romantic movie or a thriller, whether we talk to our family and friends as we knit, or we knit alone.
So, please, do your due diligence and try to get your gauge as close as you can to the gauge in the pattern, but don’t stress over it too much.
As long as the total number of stitches in a 10 cm / 4″ square of your swatch is very close to the total number of stitches of the gauge in the pattern, your project will turn out all right.
If you enjoyed this tutorial,
here’s something else you might find helpful:
“Neat Side Edges” Book
Learn twelve ways to make side edges of a knitted project nice and tidy. Plus, ways to fix side edges, and a way to improve edges of finished projects.