Size Matters

So, for this week’s installment, we’ll continue on with our Gauge Swatch.  I hope you had a chance to do a sample for needle size and gauge as we discussed last week.

Now, if you’re doing just a scarf or something that doesn’t require adhering to a specific size, then your gauge really is a matter of personal choice.  But if you’re doing a garment, you’d better believe that SIZE MATTERS!

Let’s look at our sample from last week together, shall we?

Gauge Swatch for blog
Test Swatch marked for Gauge

Here we have our sample from last week.  But you’ll notice something different… I’ve placed markers in each section of the swatch so that we can easily measure both stitch and row gauge.  Why each section, you ask?  We’ll need to take measurements in ALL THREE SECTIONS to make our final needle decision!

Placing Markers

Really look at the sample:  I’ve marked each section of the swatch in the center.  Markers left and right will be used to measure stitch gauge.  Markers top and bottom will be used to measure row gauge.  Remember, when we measure for gauge we want to measure the center of the swatch.  This will avoid the distortion at the selvedge edges.  Place those markers between the selvedge stitch and the first full knitted stitch, on each side of the swatch.  For row markers, mark FULL stitches just above the purl ridge and just below the next purl ridge (or bind-off row).

Here, I’ve used some Sirdar Snuggle 80% bamboo/20% wool, in color #149 in a DK weight to mark my swatch.  You’ll want to use a pretty smooth yarn/thread and a color to contrast your swatch yarn.  This will make it easier to see stitches and rows.

Measuring Stitch Gauge

We’ll start by measuring our stitch gauge.  For this sample, I’ll work with section 2 of the swatch, but you’ll want to do these calculations on each section.  Recall that the fiber used in this swatch has a recommended gauge of 5 to 5.5 stitches/inch. (If you didn’t remember, that’s ok; see last week’s post and the ball band I included)

Use a ruler (NOT a tape measure… they tend to stretch out over time and will not give you an accurate measurement).  Place the 0″ mark at the left marker (on the toward-the

stitch gauge
Measuring stitch gaugecenter side of the marker) and measure over to the right marker (also on the toward-the center side of the marker).

center side of the marker) and measure over to the right marker (also on the toward-the center side of the marker).

I’m using a slightly larger size photo here, so hopefully you can see the marks.  Remember to place your markers between the selvedge column of stitches and the first column of “real” stitches.  (It helps to block your swatch so that the selvedges lie flat… CONFESSION:  Don’t rush through the blocking like I did on this sample).

Now, count the stitches between the markers.  Yes, it really is that simple.  In the sample, I’ve got 23 sts to 4.25″ (or a stitch gauge of 5.4 sts/inch, on  size 7 needles).  To contrast, I’ve gotten a stitch gauge of 23 sts to 4.625″, or 4.97 sts/inch (that’s close enough to 5 sts/1″ for a worsted weight) on size 8 needles in the top section of this swatch.

Now, you’ll notice I’ve gotten 23 stitches in each section of the swatch:  this is correct as we cast-on 25 stitches; take away the two selvedge stitches and that leaves us with 23 stitches between markers.  Handy-dandy!

You may have noticed I measured to the 1/8″ mark increment.  That gives us the most accurate measurement of gauge.  I encourage you all to get in the habit of measuring that precisely.  Here’s a handy little table of decimal conversions for your calculations.  I refer to my handy little chart ALL.  THE.  TIME.

1/8″ = .125          1/4″ = .25          3/8″ = .375          1/2″ = .5          5/8″ = .625

3/4″ = .75           7/8″ = .875


Yes, many of us hate math.  But math is a necessary evil, and you’ll be glad you remember your grammar school arithmetic classes.  Now, this is the 21st century, so let’s use a calculator.

Divide STITCHES/measurement

e.g. 23 stitches/4.25″ width = 5.411 sts/inch.  Round up/down as you feel more accurate, but don’t round up/down too much!  Two decimal places is plenty accurate.

Measuring Row Gauge

Now measure your row gauge.  This is the same process as before, except measure rows row gaugefrom bottom to top, within the markers, and count the rows!  Not so hard, now is it?

In the ‘second’ section of this swatch, I get a count of 18 rows/2.5″, or a row gauge of 7.2 rows/inch.  In the top section I get a count of 14 rows/2.25″ (yes, I knitted that top section 1/4″ too short; though if you included the bind-off row we’d get 2.5″ — c’est la vie), or a row gauge of 6.2 rows/inch.

Now, in your pattern, you will need to determine which is most important to you — stitch gauge or row gauge.  Both can affect the final project, though stitch gauge is most often the measurement you’ll really need.  Many patterns today tend to instruct you to knit to x” length instead of an exact number of rows.  It’s always good to know your row gauge, however, as you will be able to calculate how many rows it should take you to reach said measurement!  I’ll explore row gauge further in another post, because there ARE some circumstances that you will need to know your row gauge!  That being said, do take the time to measure your row gauge every time, and look for an exposé on row gauge in the near future.

Divide ROWS/measurement

e.g. 18 rows/2.5″ = 7.2 rows/inch.  Round up/down as you feel more accurate, but don’t round up/down too much!  Two decimal places is plenty accurate.

Bag and Tag

What to do with those pesky little swatches all over your house?  Bag and tag ’em!  How many times have we knitted swatches and they never see the light of day again?  I know I USED to do that.  CONFESSION:  I used to actually throw my swatches in the trash.  Oh, the horror!  BLASPHEMY!  

Nowadays, I like to keep swatches.  Who knows — you may want to knit another project using the same yarn at another point in the future.  If you’ve kept your swatches organized and tagged, you can quickly refer to an already-knitted swatch and you’re ready to roll. You’ll know the fiber, the needle size you need and your gauge!

Here’s a quick and dirty tag to attach to your swatch.  You’ll find some good info on the tag

swatch tag
Tagged and ready for filing

you can use for your current project or a future project using the same yarn.  Have you ever done a gauge swatch for a project, then didn’t bother to start that project until days/weeks/months or even years later?  This will save you some grief!

Get yourself some of those merchandise tags from the local office supply or variety store (shout out to Cliff’s in the Castro, as that’s where I happened to purchase these tags).  You can write on the tag the relevant information, or if you’re really wanting to be anal-retentive, print up a nice, neat label to put on the tag.

On the front of this tag, you’ll see the following information:

Swatch Name
Needle size(s)

If your swatch is marked, you can quickly recalculate your gauge.  Or, perhaps even better, would be to write the stitch and row gauge for EACH needle size on your tag.  I didn’t on this tag, though likely before I file it I’ll add that information.

What do you mean — FILE MY SWATCHES?

That’s right… file those swatches.  Get yourself a good 3-ring binder and some page protector sheets — also at your local office supply or variety store.  Stick that finished, blocked and tagged swatch in a page protector, and insert it into your binder.  You’ll slowly build a little library of swatches that you can refer to again and again.  Your swatches will be protected and nicely organized.  Keep that binder with swatch info sheetyour knitting supplies and you’ll have your very own reference manual.  Even better, you’ll have practiced and improved your own knitting!

If you like you could type up a “Swatch Information Sheet” that details a lot more information, like stitch pattern, fiber content, gauge, references and any other notes you like.  Here’s a sample from my TKGA Master Knitter submission.  (Pardon the glare on the plastic sheet)

And that, my friends, is the low-down on prepping a gauge swatch.  It’s been fun and educational for me, personally, to explore some ideas with you to help you improve your knitting.

I can’t say for sure what next week’s post will bring, though I’ve got several things in the works for you.

If you found this little mini-series on Gauge Swatching helpful, let me know!  And as always, if there is a topic you’d like me to cover, drop me an email or a comment and I’ll put together something fun for you (and for me!).

Until next time, happy knitting!



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