How do you make sure that the sweater you’re making will fit? Make a gauge swatch! A gauge swatch is a small sample of your pattern that you make before starting the main item. By doing the stitch pattern for a few inches you can make sure that your gauge, or the number of stitches and rows in a set number of inches, matches the gauge called for in the pattern. If your gauge does not match the pattern gauge your item will not be the same dimensions as the pattern describes and you may run out of yarn. Not matching gauge isn’t quite as crucial for something like a dish cloth or a simple bag, but for garments such as hats and sweaters having the wrong gauge could mean that the finished item turns out fit for a giant!
How to Make a Gauge Swatch
When knitting or crocheting a gauge swatch, always work with the same yarn as for the main item. Cast on or chain enough stitches for your swatch to be 5-6 inches across, and knit or crochet enough rows to make a square. Work in the same pattern as the pattern calls for. For example, if the pattern says that the gauge is 16 stitches = 4”; 18 rows = 4” in garter stitch, make sure you work in garter stitch. If different gauges are given for different stitch patterns, make sure to make a swatch for each. If no pattern stitch is given for the gauge, work in whatever the main stitch for the item is.
After completing your gauge swatch, measure it! Use a ruler or a gauge measuring device like the Susan Bates® Knit-Chek or Susan Bates® Gauge Grabbers. Lay your gauge swatch on a hard, flat surface with good lighting, and count the number of rows and stitches in the number of inches given in the pattern gauge. Best practice is to count over 4”, but some gauges call for 2” or 1”, especially if the yarn is quite thin. Always make your gauge swatch larger than the number of inches you need to measure, and then count the gauge using the interior stitches. Remember, half-stitches count too!
What if my gauge doesn’t match the pattern gauge?
Unless you knit or crochet with the exact same tension as the designer, your gauge won’t exactly match up with the pattern gauge using the same yarn and hook or needle size. This is normal! To make your gauge match, choose a different needle or hook size.
If you have more stitches and rows per inch than the pattern calls for, use a larger size hook or needle.
If you have fewer stitches and rows per inch than the pattern calls for, use a smaller size hook or needle.
Example: Any Time Top
For this sweater, the Stockinette stitch gauge is 16 sts = 4” [10 cm]; 24 rows = 4” [10 cm] in St st with larger needles. Consider size Medium, which has a finished bust measurement of 41.5”. If you have 15 stitches in 4”, instead of the 16 called for by the pattern, you will end up with a finished sweater with a bust measurement of 44 1/3” – much too big! Conversely, if you have 17 stitches in 4”, you will have a finished sweater measuring just over 39” – way too tight!
Uses for Gauge Swatch
Treat your gauge swatch the way you would treat your finished item: block it and wash it to make sure you know how to take care of your work when it is complete. You may find that wants to stretch some when washed, for example, and you must carefully lay it flat to dry.
When you’ve finished your item and don’t need the gauge swatch anymore, recycle it! Combine it with other swatches to make pillows, bags, afghans….whatever you can envision!