The Difference the Gauge Makes
I was looking at a stack of samples awaiting attention from me a few days ago, as we were getting ready to leave for a week at the beach, and saw a sample I had never been happy with. Earlier in the week I had seen the swatch I had done. It was clear that the difference in the gauge was the reason I wasn’t happy with the look of the sample.
Don’t get me wrong, the sample was beautifully executed —at a completely different gauge than the one I had used. My swatch was lofty and textured–the sample compact, firm, and almost flat. The difference the gauge makes was huge and ultimately disappointing in the final product.
This is not to point a finger at the sample knitter — these things happen, and although disappointing, kind of par for the course as you learn someone’s knitting. I often think I can live with things, but that is not actually true.
It’s All About the Fabric
Gauge is chosen to create the fabric I want. I swatch extensively, and in this case, had gone up in needle size from a US 3[3.25mm] to a US 5[5.75mm] to get the lofty fabric I wanted. I knit quite loosely, so needle changes can be significant.
Why Gauge Difference Matters
What I want to talk about here is why the gauge matters. So many knitters treat gauge as a suggestion, not a goal. The designer has likely spent time working out a fabric that they like and that will create the piece that they then offer to you.
That is what you are reacting to when you see their work — not the suggestion of what it might be, but what was actually created. The piece here is an accessory, and size wasn’t a crucial piece of the equation; what the difference in gauge impacted most was the fabric, and in turn how the fabric would relate to the body when being worn. Oh, and the size too.
Getting Good Gauge
I have a whole process I go through to find the fabric and determine gauge. I’ve worked the process for years (the first time I gave a workshop called Getting Good Gauge was in 2002) — get the handout (updated) when you sign up for my newsletter — and although I rarely knit my samples, gauge, if met, is rarely a problem. When I say swatch, I mean a piece of sample knitting that is usually a number of stitches wide likely to give me a 6″ width, and knit to some length beyond 4″.
This process takes several days:
Step 1 Knit a sample; I tie knots into the tail to record the US needle size. I frequently take a photo of the needle and the swatch for future reference.
Step 2 Trace around the swatch in pencil; measure and record unblocked gauge
Step 3 Wet block swatch, and air dry
Step 4 Steam block ** swatch
Step 5 Trace round the swatch (laying it on top of the original tracing) in ink; measure and record blocked gauge and other relevant information
Now I know what the fabric is like unblocked, and blocked, and the gauge information is available for comparison. Sometimes, when it is a yarn I am likely to use in more than one project, I make a second swatch so I have one blocked and one unblocked for future reference. All of this information is kept on 11″x17″ pages that I keep in similarly sized notebooks. Often the swatches are clipped to the page for ready reference.
What a Difference the Gauge Makes
Before I ripped out the sample I took gauge. There are 4 stitch patterns. Let’s take a look.
The biggest differences are in round gauge, but if you think of this multiplying across 22″/ 55.9 cm up to 80″ / 203.2 cm, even the smallest difference can have an impact. There are four sections in the piece, each in a stitch pattern, so they work over different numbers of stitches to keep them the same size. At the start, the seed stitch has 5.6 stitches difference, moss has 2.5 sts difference, lichen has 1.375 sts difference. If worked to 8″ / 20.3 cm length, there is a rounds difference of 30 rounds, 16 rounds, 20 rounds, and 13 rounds more than at my gauge.
What you know when you have your unblocked gauge numbers is whether the piece you are knitting is the same gauge as what you expected. I can compare what I have on my needles with the unblocked gauge from my swatch. If they don’t compare, the blocked gauge likely won’t either. This can save a lot of knitting of something that isn’t quite right.
That is the beauty of taking time to achieve and record gauge information. I’m a process knitter. I literally love just making the stitches, but I also value my time and don’t really want to waste it.
**I do not pin out my knitting. Come to my Studio Chat on December 14 where I’ll demonstrate my steam blocking technique, which is ideal for those of us without a lot of space!