Getting Gauge Part 3: Make it Work for YOU

Welcome to Part 3 of the Getting Gauge series! This is the last part in a series on gauge; Part 1 was the intro and Part 2 was all about swatching. This final installment of the Getting Gauge series will go over how to leverage the information you got from your swatch to get the best finished object possible. This post is for you if:

  • your gauge did not match the pattern at all, even on another needle size, or
  • you are substituting yarn of a different weight.

Usually stitch gauge is more essential to a fitting garment. It is easy to modify your pattern if your row gauge is off by adding extra rows. This post will start with, and go into detail about, finding a stitch gauge that works for your project. The end of the post will touch on row gauge and how to fix it without going into too much depth.

Stitch Gauge Fix

or what to do when your swatch is too wide or too narrow:

1. Pick the needle size that gives you the fabric you want.

Choose a needle size that give you a fabric that will most match the intended project. If your pattern is a drapey cardigan, make sure that your swatch mimics that fabric. Likewise, if you're making a dense winter hat, ensure that your swatch doesn't have visible holes where wind can sneak in.

2. Figure out your stitches per inch. 

Measuring your swatch was actually the last step in Part 2 of this series. Take your number of stitches per 4 inches, and divide by 4. This will give you your stitches per inch more accurately than simply counting the stitches in an inch. 

If my swatch gives me 30 stitches of row gauge, 30/4 = 7.5 stitches per inch.

3. Determine how many inches around you want your item to be.

This can be the bust/chest of a sweater, crown of a hat, hand circumference of a glove, or back width of a cardigan.  If it's available, use the pattern schematic for this.

Take your body measurement +/- any ease indicated.

For example, my bust is 48" and the pattern for a pullover indicates 4" of positive ease. The finished bust of my ideal size would be 52".

Another example: a hat. My head is 22" around and most hats have at least 1" of negative ease. My ideal hat size would be 21".

If your pattern says "to fit" a certain measurement, it likely has the ease already built in. This happens often with hats, where the pattern will likely say "to fit an 18" (20", 22").  In this case, you'd need to find out how much ease is built into the pattern. Step 4 will go over that, so, onwards!

4. Determine how many stitches around you want your item to be. 

This is where the magic happens:

Take your number of stitches per inch (Step 2).

Multiply it by the number of inches around you want your item to be (Step 3).

That is the ideal number of stitches for your finished piece. 

Go to that part in your pattern - where underarms join, brim of hat, hand of mitten. Find the stitch counts. Find the stitch count closest to how many stitches around you want your item to be. That is your size.

Using the same examples from Steps 2 and 3:

I want my pullover to be 52" around, at 7.5 stitches per inch:

52 x 7.5 = 390. My ideal pullover would be 390 stitches around.

I go to the part of the pattern where the stitch counts for the bust are. I see 360 (368, 375, 382, 390, 395). Great, I know that I should make the second, to largest size because the stitch count (390) matches my ideal stitch count.

It is more likely that your stitch count won't match. In that case, you can reverse-engineer your size as well - take the number of stitches, divide by the number of stitches per inch, and that is how wide your item will be. 

If, instead of the last 2 stitch counts being (390, 395) they are (388, 395), I can use the reverse-engineer formula to help choose a size.

388 stitches/7.5 stitches per inch = 51.73" around garment.

395 stitches/7.5 stitches per inch = 52.67" around garment. 

The first formula gives me the closest measurement to the intended garment, so I would knit that one.  

This is also the formula to use if your pattern lists sizes as "to fit." You can always bypass a designer's pattern-writing choices and go directly to the numbers to figure out how to knit any pattern. 

Row Gauge Fix

or, what to do when your swatch is too long or too short. 

Row gauge isn't usually as big of a problem if it's off. Most patterns say "knit to x inches" and if your row gauge is off, it doesn't matter.

But sweater shaping! Unless your row gauge was way off, I would knit the pattern as written. Blocking can do wonders to a finished item, and it's not worth altering (and possibly messing up) the actual content of a pattern.