Dear Olive: How to Measure Gauge in Pattern

womans hands with measuring tape on a yellow garment

Dear Olive,

I struggle with gauge, but especially measuring gauge in pattern – is it really necessary?

Sincerely, Swatch-Shy

__________

Dear Swatch-Shy,

Ah gauge, my favorite topic! Thanks for asking. There are really only two reasons a handknit garment doesn’t fit: 1) Choosing the incorrect size, or 2) Not getting gauge.

It really is that simple.

Gauge is the partnership of the yarn + needles + knitting tension as they work together to create the desired fabric for the pattern. We knitters get so excited about the yarn and the shape that we forget we are also creating the fabric; unique textures/stitch patterns often play a role in the fabric we create. So in answer to your question, yes. Absolutely. Measuring gauge in pattern is just as important as measuring your gauge in stockinette stitch – for best results, measure your gauge in whatever stitch the pattern suggests.

Think about a winter coat. Would it be as cozy if it were made of silk? Or imagine a pair of underpants… what if they were made of stiff dungaree denim? The shape of a garment is important, but if the fabric isn’t right for the job, well… you might end up with dungaree underpants.

A Very Quick Crash Course on Gauge

Gauge is the math that makes a pattern work – it’s how we calculate the size of a pattern, and how you – the knitter – can predict the outcome of your project. It’s how we know that knitting a sweater is more than crossing our fingers and hoping for the best. 

Gauge is precise. And while a sweater doesn’t have to be EXACT to be comfortable, it does need to fit. If you have 230 stitches and your gauge is 20 st in 4 in/10 cm, you’ll get a 46 inch finished measurement. (Because 20 st in 4 in is 5 stitches per inch, and 230 stitches divide by 5 stitches per inch = 46 inches. Easy breezy lemon squeezy.)

But let’s say you think you’re on gauge (but didn’t measure accurately), so your gauge is actually 22 stitches in 4 inches. Using the same example of 230 stitches, the result of this different would be 41.8 inches. Same number of stitches. Same pattern. Slightly different gauge. MUCH different outcome. This is why I always say that “close” isn’t close when it comes to gauge. Being off by a stitch or two can make a real difference.

Being able to measure your gauge accurately – whether it’s in pattern or not – is one of the most important skills to have as a garment knitter. Here’s a little video I created on measuring gauge in Double Moss stitch, which illustrates how to apply gauge measurements to a textured stitch pattern.

 

As with all things in knitting, practice practice practice. The more you knit and measure swatches, the easier it will be. Promise.

Sincerely, Marie Olive

Other Resources:

Kindling Cowl

Twisted stitch texture

Visby Hat

Quick textured beanie
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