Knitting gauge is a measure of the number of stitches and rows knitted within a specific area. It is very important to be sure you are knitting to the correct gauge, which will be given on the pattern by the designer. Most patterns will include the words make a gauge swatch, so it is important to learn how to make a swatch and, to measure the knitting gauge.
Knitting Gauge Tutorial
What is Knitting Gauge? Definition
Knitting gauge is the measurement of the number of stitches and rows in a square of fabric which is usually 4 x 4 inches (10x10cm). It is determined by making a knitting gauge swatch and using a measuring tool to measure stitches and rows. You will often see this in the knitting pattern instructions as "knit a gauge swatch".
KNITTING GUAGE is determined by knitting a gauge swatch and measuring a 4x4 inch square for the number of rows and stitches across.
Gauge measures the tension in your knitting. In other words, how tight or loose the knitting stitches are. By matching the knitting gauge to the pattern, you will end up with a garment or knitting project that is the correct size.
How Do I Get The Correct Knitting Gauge?
Getting the correct knitting gauge is a combination of using the right yarn, needles, and tension. The best way to avoid having to pull all your knitting efforts out and start again is to take the time and make the effort to knit a gauge swatch.
Knitting gauge is usually measured as the number of stitches and rows per 4 inches. (10cm). This is more accurate than just knitting a tiny 1” 2.5cm) square swatch, as tempting as that may be!
Supplies for Knitting Gauge
- Knitting needles in the correct size
- Pattern with the recommended gauge
- Tape measure, gauge ruler or knitting gauge measuring tool
You can buy special gauge measuring rulers or templates, which have a 4” (10cm) square hole cut out of them. You place this ruler over your knitting and then count the number of stitches and rows within that cut out square.
If you don’t have one of these nifty templates, it is just as easy to measure your gauge with a tape measure or conventional ruler.
How to Gauge Measured? Stitch Gauge vs Row Gauge
Stitch gauge is the number of stitches measured horizontally. Row gauge is the number of rows measured vertically.
New to Knitting? Read my article on how to knit for tips and advice for beginners.
Abbreviations for Knitting Gauge
Most patterns will abbreviate their instructions for the knitting gauge
- sts = stitches
- r = rows
- st st = stockinette stitch
An example might be:
Knitting Gauge: 13.5 sts + 18 r = 4" in St st
Knitting Gauge on Yarn Labels
As well as patterns, you can also find a knitting gauge on most yarn labels. The yarn label below specifies that you will have a gauge of 18 rows and 13.5 stitches per 4 inches (10cm) square using 6.5mm needles.
You can see this in the little square gridded image on the right side, as well as the recommended needle size, which is 6.5 mm needle or UK3 or 10.5US.
This is useful to know if you are making your own pattern or using a different yarn than the recommended yarn in a pattern.
How To Measure Knitting Gauge, Step by Step
Step 1 - How to Knit a Gauge Swatch
The first step in determining the knitting gauge is to knit a square swatch to measure. While this seems painful and will slow the start of your knitting project, it is a necessary step that you should rarely miss.
The good news is that over time you will learn whether you are a tight or loose knitter and may be able to make adjustments from the beginning.
- SUPPLIES - Use the same needles and yarn as you will be using for the project to create a swatch.
- CAST ON - Cast on more stitches than you actually need for the 4” (10cm) measurement. You want your swatch to be at least 6 inches (15cm) square. The reason for this is that the edges often roll and are harder to count.
- KNIT A SQUARE - The knitting stitch you use will be specified in the pattern. For my sample, I have used a stockinette stitch. Knit until your length is at least 6 inches too.
- CAST OFF - Cast off or knit a few extra rows if you want to leave it on the needles.
EXAMPLE: So if the gauge given in the pattern is 32 stitches per 4” (10cm), cast on around 40 stitches. Then knit until the swatch is longer than number of rows given for 4” (10cm). If your pattern says 20 rows per 4” (10cm), knit at least 25- 30 rows. Or knit until your swatch is around 5-6” long. (13-15cm).
Which Stitch to Use for Knitting a Gauge Swatch?
Most designers will specify stockinette stitch for the gauge swatch, but this can also vary. Read the pattern instructions carefully, as your swatch size will vary dramatically if you use the wrong stitch.
Occasionally you will need to make more than one swatch for different stitch patterns.
Step 2 - Horizontal Knitting Gauge (Stitch Gauge)
Now take your tape measure or ruler, and lay it across the swatch horizontally. Mark the 4” measurement with long straight pins. Count how many stitches fall within the 4” (10cm).
In my swatch, I have 12 stitches per 4” (10cm). Keep in mind that sometimes you will have half stitches in your horizontal measurement.
Step 3 - Vertical Knitting Gauge (Row Gauge)
Then lay the tape measure or ruler vertically across the swatch. Mark the 4” (10cm) mark with pins. Count how many rows fall within the 4” (10cm).
In my swatch, I have 18 rows per 4” (10cm). Once again, make sure to count any half rows in your 4 inch measurement.
Knitting Gauge Measured in 1 Inch: Occasionally, a pattern gives the gauge as per inch, not per 4 inches. In this case, divide your number of stitches and rows by 4. If you are working with metric measurements, still divide by 4, as there are 4x 2.5 cm in 10 cm.
Step 4 - Compare Pattern Gauge Measurement
Once you have measured your swatch, you may need to make adjustments to match your pattern.
In the sample above, I had 12 stitches and 18 rows per 4-inch square. It is quite normal for the rows and stitches to be in different amounts.
If your gauge matches the pattern, then start knitting the main project. You are all set! If it doesn't match, keep reading to see how to make adjustments. You will probably have to knit another swatch and measure it again.
Comparing Swatches: If you look at these two knitting gauge swatches of garter stitch together, it is amazing to think that they are made with the same yarn weights, and both have 10 stitches cast on.
The one on the right was made with a larger needle size and intentionally knitted loosely. The left one was made on smaller needles and intentionally knitted tightly, pulling the yarn tightly after each stitch.
You can see what a difference in size there is, and even though you can't actually feel these samples, you can see that the right one is loose and floppy, but the right one is tight and rigid. This demonstrates just how important it is to get the correct gauge!
What To Do If The Knitting Gauge Is Incorrect
Here are some suggestions to adjust the knitting gauge. I usually just try one fix at a time, as otherwise, the change can be too drastic. For example, try changing needle size only. If you change size and tension at the same time, you may be left with a swatch that now has a problem too far the other way.
Too Few Gauge Stitches per Inch
This means your knitting is too loose.
- DECREASE NEEDLE SIZE - Try decreasing your needle size, just one size at a time.
- DIFFERENT NEEDLES - If it is only slightly out, try using needles made from a different material. For example, bamboo needles may cause you to knit more loosely than metal needles. A bamboo needle may be rough or smooth, and this can make a difference to gauge. Circular needles vs straight needles can also make a difference.
- DIFFERENT YARNS - Try using a thinner, lighter yarn. This will help to fit more stitches into each inch of knitting.
- PULL TIGHTER - You can also try to consciously pull the yarn tighter as you make each stitch. This will feel very awkward at first, but it will tighten up your knitting tension. You will need to keep concentrating to do this, but eventually, after a bit of practice, it will become second nature, and that will just be the way you knit.
Too Many Gauge Stitches per Inch
This means your knitting is too tight. Your garment will turn out too small!
If you find you are struggling to insert the tip of your needle into the next stitch, you are knitting too tightly.
- SHIFT POSITION - Make sure that you are not working at the very narrow tips of the needles but around the thicker shaft of the needle. Keep sliding your knitting down the needles. It is where your stitches are actually formed that makes the difference to their size, rather than where they sit once they are made.
- LOOSEN GRIP - Try not to pull too tightly on your yarn when wrapping it around the needle. Loosen your grip on the yarn. Hold everything loosely and comfortably.
- CHANGE NEEDLE SIZE - Again, knitting needle size will make a difference. Try using a larger knitting needle or heavier weight of yarn. Or both! This will increase the size of your stitches.
- NEEDLE MATERIAL - As explained in the section above, needle material makes a difference to the tension. Change to bamboo, steel or another material.
Uneven Knitting Tension
This happens often, especially to new knitters! You may find that you sometimes knit tightly and loosely at others. This will make your tension uneven and your knitting gauge inconsistent. This is one of the reasons why you need to make a gauge swatch larger than 1 inch so that the tension averages out over more stitches.
Your level of concentration, mood, and stress levels can all affect the way you knit. This applies even to seasoned knitters!
The best way to fix this issue is to practice a lot and concentrate on the formation of your stitches as you go.
If your gauge is noticeably inconsistent on your garments, try blocking the garment, which should even it out somewhat. To do this, wet the knitted fabric and pin it out to size, then allow it to dry flat. Or you can pin it out to size and steam it without actually pressing the iron down onto the fabric.
More Knitting Gauge Solutions
Another way to help you adjust the size of your garment if your gauge is incorrect is to check your knitting pattern to see if knitting a different size will produce the results you want.
For example, if the pattern tells you to cast on 70 stitches for the size you want, but your personal gauge works out at 80 stitches for that size.
Check to see if the next size up is closer to the width you need to make for that size. If so, simply follow the instructions for that size. Or the same in reverse (smaller size) if you need to have fewer stitches to make up the size you want.
Why Is Knitting Gauge Important?
The knitting gauge measures how big or small your stitches are. If your knitting doesn’t match the right gauge given in the pattern, you may have any of the following problems:
- Your garment won't fit
- You won't have the correct amount of yarn
- The garment will look different
Here is more about each of these problems in more detail.
1. Your Garment Won’t Fit
Your pattern will have a range of sizes available. For example, small, medium, and large, or Size 34”; 36”; 38”. You would then choose the most suitable size for your requirements and underline or highlight the instructions for that size throughout the pattern.
If you match the knitting gauge given in the pattern, your finished item or garment will match the size you are choosing to work.
If you knit loosely, your gauge is looser, and your garment will be too large. If you work tightly, your gauge will be too tight, and your garment will be too small.
2. Incorrect Amount Of Yarn
Patterns usually give a suggested amount of yarn to complete the project. This gives you a guideline of how much yarn to purchase.
If your gauge is not correct, and you knit fewer stitches per inch than the gauge recommends, you will not have enough yarn. Buying more yarn separately may mean it is not from the same dye lot, and so the color may be different.
If you knit more stitches per inch, you will have leftover yarn, which often cannot be returned.
3. Garment May Look Different
Most patterns come with a picture to show how the completed garment will look. This is probably why you chose this pattern! You want it to look and fit the same as the designer intended.
If your stitches are close together, you will have a firm, solid fabric, which may not have the fabric drape shown in the picture.
If you knit loosely, your whole garment will look looser and possibly baggy. It may even have holes showing and not be as warm to wear.
Knitting Gauge FAQS
Why does knitting gauge vary?
Everyone’s style of knitting is unique. Some people knit loosely, and some knit more tightly. Even when you are using the correct yarn and needles for the pattern, your gauge may differ from the designer of the pattern. This is why you need to know just how to adjust it.
Factors that affect knitting gauge include:
- How you hold your yarn and needles: Holding the yarn tightly means you will have a higher tension.
- Knitting needle sizes: Using different knitting needle sizes will make your stitches looser or tighter. Most patterns specify the needle size, for example, 4mm. Tighter knitters may need to use a larger needle size of 4.5mm. Looser knitters may need to use smaller needles of 3.5mm.
- Knitting needle materials: Most knitters tend to knit differently on needles made of different materials. For example, I knit tighter on metal needles than on bamboo needles. I also knit tighter on circular needles than on straight needles.
- Yarn weights: Many times, you will need to substitute a yarn in a pattern. Even though it may have the same label (eg chunky or bulky yarn weight), there can be differences between manufacturers. A thicker yarn may mean you have less stitches per 4 inches and so you may need to compensate by using smaller needles.
Most of the time, the knitting needle size is the easiest of all these changes. Even a half-size up or down can fix a tension issue. All these 4 factors need to be adjusted and taken into consideration together
How big is a knitting gauge?
A standard knitting gauge is 4 inches by 4 inches (10x10cm) square but it can vary depending on the pattern designer. Your pattern swatch should always be larger than the required gauge to get the most accurate measurements of stitches and rows.
Should you block before measuring knitting gauge?
If you intend to block your final knitting project, then block your knitting gauge swatch the exact same way. Use the same washing, wetting or pinning method.
How do you adjust row gauge in knitting?
The easiest way to adjust the row gauge is to change the size of the needles. If your number of stitches is too tight, go up a needle size. If you are knitting too loosely, go down a needle size. You may even just need to adjust by half a size. Another option is to knit tighter or looser, but this often takes more concentration and is hard to adjust for a whole garment.
What does gauge mean in knitting?
Gauge means the number of stitches and rows in a 4-inch (10cm) square. It is determined by knitting a swatch of at least 6 inches square and measuring the stitches horizontally and rows vertically in a centered 4-inch square.
Is knitting gauge important?
Most of the time, knitting gauge is very important. Anything that needs to be a correct size needs to have an accurate knitting gauge. This means that all clothing, hats, socks, and sized items need to be knitted with the appropriate gauge.
When the gauge is not important is when sizing doesn't matter. Examples are when knitting a scarf or blanket. If these are out slightly or even a lot it probably doesn't matter, and you can still get a great-looking finished product.
What to Do With Knitting Swatches
If you knit swatches to measure knitting gauges all the time, then you will end up with a little pile. There are lots of things you can do with these squares, so don't throw them away.
Here are some ideas -
- Blanket - Join all the patches to make a large or baby blanket. I still have one my Mom made me as a kid. It is a little moth-eaten and is in my dog's basket in my office, but it has a lot of sentimental value. It makes me happy when I look over and see it.
- Coasters - Leave the patches as they are and use them as coasters to stop your drinks from marking tables.
Knitting Gauge - In Conclusion
You will see from this discussion that a knitting gauge is actually very important if you want a garment that fits well. When I started knitting, I tended to ignore the gauge section completely, and I made a lot of very loose, baggy sweaters!
It is very tempting to skip the effort of making a gauge swatch - you are eager to get going with knitting your garment and complete it as soon as possible! Don’t give in to that temptation!
In fact, making the gauge swatch saves time, yarn, and enthusiasm, as it prevents large mistakes and a lot of pulling out! Working a gauge swatch also gives you a little practice run of the knitting stitch you will be working to get familiar with it before you start the actual garment.
If you are making something that is not required to fit you, such as a scarf or a blanket, it is not as important size-wise but is still relevant to your yarn consumption and the appearance of your knitting.
Take that little bit of time to make that knitted gauge swatch; you will be glad that you did!
- Knitting Needles
- Tape Measure or Ruler
- Knit a test swatch in the stitch specified in the pattern in a square at least 5 inches (12.5cm) in size.
- Count horizontally, the number of stitches in 4 inches (10cm).
- Count vertically the number of rows in 4 inches (10cm).
- If the stitches and rows do not match the pattern, then make adjustments. Adjustments can be made by larger or smaller needles, tighter or looser knitting and, adjusting where you knit on the needles.