Playing with Gauge – Part 1

Last time I told you we would begin working with gauge to take control of our knitting. So, I’ve included a PDF file that contains a couple of simple exercises for you to  get started with. Just click Charting1  and it will open the file so that you can print it out to use as a worksheet. You might want to use a yellow marker to highlight the basic formulas so they are always easy to find.

Next time we’ll start applying these same formulas to a sweater pattern, using an entirely different gauge than the pattern calls for. For most of us, not matching a pattern’s gauge is pretty much the norm and once you learn how to manipulate gauge you will be free from that restriction.

This means that you can work from hand knit magazines; be able to convert bulky patterns to the standard gauge and visa-versa. Keep in mind that all I am talking about here is the actual directions for how many stitches and rows to knit and the resulting changes to increases or decreases.

A re-worked pattern may not, for example, leave you enough needles to reproduce a specific fair isle or intarsia design. You may or may not be able to knit a specific stitch by machine. For now, however, let’s just deal with stitches and rows and start you on the road to an endless supply of patterns to knit!

I’ll try not to keep you waiting to long and in a couple of weeks, my schedule will even out for the fall and I will post more regularly. For now though, I am just getting settled into a new teaching gig at FIT – which I am loving – and next week I head out to Denver for a week at Craftsy. Shhhhh. Don’t tell anybody yet.

See you soon – calculator in hand!

Patterns for Machine Knitters

While you may not be able to chart out a complex garment right away, understanding gauge will help you work with irregular shapes and unusual structures like this modular cardigan. The modular method is explained in Hand Knits by Machine and there is a free download at www.guagliumi.com that explains exactly how this garment was constructed.
While you may not be able to chart out a complex garment right away, understanding gauge will help you work with irregular shapes and unusual structures like this modular cardigan. The modular method is explained in Hand Knits by Machine and there is a free download at www.guagliumi.com that explains exactly how this garment was constructed.

I think I get more questions like “where can I find a pattern for _________” (you can fill in the blank with socks, sweaters, raglans, hats, etc) than I do for any other problem. If you are a careful swatcher and you learn to work with gauges just a little bit, you can use most hand knit patterns, which tend to be more interesting and fashionable than the few that have been available specifically for the machine knitters – and it increases your options endlessly!

Keep in mind that stitches are stitches and rows are rows, regardless of whether you form them with two needles or a whole bed of them. Stitches are still stitches, but the lengthwise measurement must be considered as row counts (RC), rather than measured in progress as hand knitters do. Both, nonetheless, are dealt with in terms of gauge.

Before we start working with gauge, let me add a couple of thoughts to what I wrote in the previous post. Even by machine, there is no such thing as “knitting to gauge”. You simply must do a gauge swatch – knitted as large as possible with the same yarn, stitch size and pattern specs as the sweater. You’re kidding yourself (or magical with blocking!) if you think you “always knit to gauge”.

The “correct” gauge for any pattern was determined initially by the way the yarn was manufactured and any unique characteristics (like slubs or loops or “fur”, etc) then further defined by the designer who wrote the pattern. Matching that pattern’s gauge is your guarantee that the garment you knit with those directions will knit to size. Deviate from gauge and you are probably putting your efforts into a give-away project.

Most patterns specify the number of stitches/rows in a 4” square because that is usually large enough to average in any discrepancies in tension from row to row. (That consistency is usually more of a problem for hand knitters than it is for us.) While it is always tempting to stretch or scrunch a swatch to match 4”, there is just no such thing as “coming close enough”.

Consider this: if a pattern’s gauge is  22 stitches = 4” (which is DK at 5.5 sts/inch) and the sweater back calls for casting on 110 stitches, the piece is supposed to measure 20” wide (110 ÷ 5.5 = 20). However, if your swatch doesn’t really measure 4”, look what happens to those 110 stitches:

If your swatch measures Actual Gauge STS/inch 110 stitches will measure
4.5” 4.88 22.5”
4.25” 5.17 21.25”
4” 5.5 20”
3.75” 5.86 18.75”
3.5” 6.28 17.5”

In the example below the gauge is supposed to be 28 sts = 4” or 7 stitches/inch, which is a typical gauge for fingering weight yarn. The pattern calls for casting on 140 stitches so that the back of the sweater will measure 20” wide. Once again, look what happens to the actual width of the sweater when your gauge is not exact:

If your swatch measures Actual Gauge

STS/inch

140 stitches will measure
4.5” 6.22 22.5”
4.25” 6.58 21.25”
4” 7 20”
3.75” 7.46 18.75”
3.5” 8 17.5”

By the time you apply the “close” gauge to a back and a front, the resulting sweater could be as much as 5” too large or too small and wouldn’t fit before you even start knitting!

Keep this in mind: It takes fewer big stitches and more small stitches to make up an inch of knitting. If your swatch measures less than 4”, it means the stitches are too small. If your swatch is larger than 4” your stitches are too big.

Carry this a step further and you will see that the coarser the yarn/gauge, the more critical it is to match the required gauge exactly. With finer yarns, there may be a tiny bit more leeway. The difference between 7 and 7.25 stitches/inch probably won’t make or break a garment. However, if you are knitting on a bulky or mid-gauge machine, it is imperative that you match the gauge exactly or be prepared to re-chart the pattern in whole or in part.

While you can usually match a hand knit stitch gauge, the row count is often a bit more elusive. In my next posting, we’ll begin working with gauge to adapt existing patterns or to chart our own. Even if you use DAK or Garment Styler to chart your patterns, this is information worth understanding so you are never again a prisoner of somebody else’s designs!

Swatching for Success!

It has been a while! I could blame the unrelenting heat: high 90’s with 98% humidity for my lack of activity, but  this kind of weather provides great opportunities for hibernating with the air conditioning and getting lots of work done inside. The truth is that I have been busy prepping for my two classes at FIT (Fashion Institute of Technology) in NYC this fall and also a trip to Denver with those great folks at Craftsy.com in early fall. Just saying…

Before I get into this week’s topic, I also want to mention that I will be doing a class here in Northford, CT November 12 & 13 for the North Branford Recreation Department and will post the contact and registration information in a couple of weeks. If you live in the Northeast – save the date!

A collection of recent gauge swatches
A collection of recent gauge swatches in graduating stitch sizes

Swatching

One of the most important – and least addressed (and maybe one of the most boring)- parts of knitting is The Swatch. I sometimes spend an afternoon swatching a variety of yarns, then another day charting and planning before I actually get around to any knitting.

The most important thing about swatching is to make sure you knit enough stitches and rows to accurately measure – this is no place for skimping! If you use a charting attachment (i.e. Knit contour/radar/leader), you must do your swatch according to the directions in your manual. These are the normal guidelines:

Standard gauge machines           40 stitches/60 rows

Mid-gauge Machines                  30 stitches/40 rows

Bulky machines                           20 stitches/30 rows

 

Programs like Garment Designer and Design-A-Knit can utilize these same measurements or the number of stitches/rows in 10 centimeters. If you are just trying to match somebody else’s gauge or designing your own patterns, it really doesn’t matter how many stitches and rows you knit as long as you write it down so you can figure out the exact gauge later on.

Assume that I am swatching a yarn for my mid-gauge machine, I’ll cast on with scrap yarn over a width of 40 stitches and knit some rows. Next, I’ll change to my main yarn and set the row counter (RC) to 000; knit 20 rows and then make two eyelets by moving the 16th stitch at each side of zero to the adjacent needle, leaving the empty needles in working position (WP). Knit 20 more rows and then knit two rows with waste yarn.

The scrap yarn acts as a marker for the required 40 rows and there are 30 stitches between the two eyelets. Now, so I don’t forget what stitch size I used, I make a series of eyelets in the scrap yarn. For size 6, I would just make 6 eyelets, but for size 6ŸŸ I would make 6 eyelets at one side and two more at the other. Follow the eyelets with a couple more rows of scrap, slowly increasing (or decreasing) the stitch size for the next sample.

Then just repeat knitting 20 rows, making the eyelets to mark the 30 stitches and knitting 20 more rows. Follow that with some rows of waste knitting and eyelets to mark the stitch size. I often knit a strip of gauge swatches with four or five different sections so I can compare and choose the absolute best gauge.

I bind off the strip and then finish it exactly as I plan to finish my sweater. For most yarns, that means hand wash and lay flat to dry. For superwash wools or cottons, that means running the swatch through the dryer.

You don’t want to measure any swatch until it has been finished. Otherwise, you might be wasting your time knitting a sweater that only fits until the first time it is washed. Most yarns have some tendency to bloom (i.e. fluff out) or shrink or otherwise alter once washed and you don’t want any surprises later on!

Lay the swatch flat and measure between the eyelets for the stitch width and between the top and bottom rows of waste knitting for the rows. You’ve already done the counting!

For a charting attachment, you need to use the special ruler that came with your machine. It converts the required number of stitches/rows to a single number you can use to choose the stitch scale or set the row rotation. For other purposes, you can just divide the total number of stitches (or rows) by the inch measurement to find out how many stitches (rows) per inch.

For general purposes, I usually make a chart like the one below to record the measurements of 30 stitches or 40 rows so I have all my figures in one place to compare and choose which stitch size will get me closest to my gauge goal.

Stitch Size Tagged 30 stitches 40 rows
6
6Ÿ.
6ŸŸ..
7
7Ÿ.

If you are trying to match a specific gauge and haven’t done so, I plan to address some charting in the next couple of blogs so stay tuned!