Checking your gauge (also known as ‘tension’) is a very important first step before embarking on a new project. Take my word for it, it’s worth every minute it takes to knit or crochet a gauge swatch!
How to check your gauge
This tutorial applies to both knitting and crochet. See? We can all get along!
The gauge for the Mystery Afghans is:
Knit: 18 stitches (sts) & 24 rows = 4″ [10 cm] in stocking stitch.
Crochet: 12 double crochet (dc) & 7 rows = 4″ [10 cm].
Making a knitted gauge swatch
Using the yarn and needles recommended in the pattern, cast on enough stitches to create a swatch (or piece of fabric) at least 4″ [10 cm] wide. Why 4 inches? Most patterns, as well as yarn ball bands state a gauge measured over 4″ [10cm]. A larger swatch will be more accurate, but use your own discretion. Sometimes the gauge will be listed for only one inch, and in those cases making a 4 inch swatch is still advisable. Just multiply the number of stitches per inch by 4 to determine your cast-on number and you’ll be ready to go!
It’s a good idea to knit your swatches with a garter stitch border to prevent curling and to make it easier to measure. Adding a border will mean adding a few more stitches to your cast on. Here’s the break-down of making a swatch for our Knit-Along Mystery Afghan:
We will want to cast on at least 18 sts for our knitted swatch. To create a border we’ll need to add a few stitches. Because we want to have 3 sts of garter stitch bordering the swatch on either side, we’ll add 6 sts.
3 sts garter st + 18 sts stocking st + 3 sts garter st = 24 stitches to cast on.
Here’s the “pattern” for the knitted gauge swatch:
Cast on 24 sts.
Knit 4 rows.
Continue as follows:
1st row: (WS). K3. P18. K3.
2nd row: Knit.
Rep these 2 rows for 4” [10 cm].
Knit 4 rows. Cast off.
Making a crocheted gauge swatch
Using the yarn and hook recommended in the pattern, chain enough stitches to create a swatch (or piece of fabric) at least 4 in (10 cm) wide. Why 4 inches? Most patterns, as well as yarn ball bands state a gauge measured over 4 in (10 cm). A larger swatch will be more accurate, but use your own discretion. Sometimes the gauge will be listed for only one inch, and in those cases making a 4 inch swatch is still advisable. Just multiply the number of stitches per inch by 4 to determine the number of stitches over 4 inches. For our sample swatch pattern, we will add one stitch to each side of the swatch.
14 stitches needed to make 12 dc + 2 extra edge stitches
Here’s the “pattern” for the gauge swatch for the Crochet-Along Mystery Afghan:
1st row: 1 dc in 4th ch from hook (missed ch 3 counts as 1 dc). 1 dc in each ch to end of chain. Turn. 14 dc.
2nd row: Ch 3 (counts as dc). 1 dc in each dc to end of row. Turn.
Rep last row until work measures approx 4” [10 cm].
Measuring your gauge swatch
Now that we have a nice little sample, we need to measure it. Lay your swatch down flat (on something solid – your couch won’t do!) and go get yourself a ruler.
Place your ruler horizontally across one row being careful not to stretch or distort your swatch. Now start counting! Some people count stitches within 2″ [5 cm], though counting over 4″ [10 cm] will be more accurate. Try to count your stitches in a few different spots, perhaps turning your work upside down to make sure you get an over-all average. The number of stitches you count over 4″ is your “personal” gauge or tension.
Now count your stitches vertically to find your row gauge.
So what happens if you don’t get exactly 18 sts and 24 rows (or 12 double crochet and 7 rows)? If you get more stitches than the suggested gauge, your finished project will end up smaller than it should be and the fabric you produce will be denser than it should be and you may require more yarn than stated. If you get less stitches than the suggested gauge, your finished project will end up larger than it should be and the fabric you produce will be looser than it should be. Even a variation of half a stitch makes an obvious difference in the finished size. What to do?
If you’re getting too many stitches, go up a needle or hook size. Let’s say you count 20 sts on your 5 mm needles. Try making another swatch using 5.5 mm needles/hook and count again. If you’re getting too few stitches (say, 16 sts), go down a needle or hook size. Keep changing needle or hook sizes until you get that magic number!
What about row gauge? In most cases, matching the row gauge of a pattern isn’t deathly important. If you get your stitch gauge, chances are your row gauge is pretty darn close, so don’t sweat it!
This is just one method for testing gauge. Do you have your own tip or trick for checking gauge? Let us know in the comments!