5 Secrets of Row Gauge
I have written about gauge many times. I think about gauge, I teach gauge, I believe in gauge. I’ve filmed a video for a special cast on for gauge, written about how to measure when you can’t see your stitches, how to block your swatch, and how to swatch for in the round projects.
Today it’s time to turn our attention to something that can make or break a sweater, and reveal . . .
5 Secrets of Row Gauge
First let me get one thing out of the way – row gauge does matter. So often I hear people say row gauge doesn’t matter since most patterns have you knit to a certain number of inches. Except for two important things . . . one, anything with shaping is based on row gauge, and two, even with straight knitting, measuring knitting in progress can have it’s issues.
More about that in a moment. Let’s discuss the 5 important secrets of gauge:
1. Needle Material Matters
If you have gotten your desired stitch gauge, but not row gauge, try keeping your needle size, but changing needle material. I did a segment on this on Knitting Daily a few years ago. I knit a lace swatch and changed my needle material for every repeat and the height changed with each needle material change!
2. Knitting Style Matters
One of the reasons I love having multiple knitting tools at the ready (Continental, English, Portuguese, Eastern, Western, Combination, Knitting & Purling Backwards), is so I can create a fabric I like. You can get a very differnt row gauge by switching up your style or method. To learn more, you can check out my Craftsy class: Improve Your Knitting.
3. Lock up Your Tape Measure
If you’ve taken ANY of my classes, you’ve heard me say, “your tape measure touches your knitting twice, once when you measure your gauge swatch, once when you block your piece.” When you read in a pattern “now work straight until your armhole measures 8”, I want you to think “now work straight for 8″ worth of your finished row gauge.”
Not only can blocking change your gauge, but measuring your knitting all bunched up on your needle will give you a big fat lie. Better to cross out all those inch instructions with how many rows you need to work based on your blocked gauge swatch.
4. Row Gauge is WAY off . . . No problem!
Say, the pattern gauge is 7 rows / 4″, but yours is 5.5 / 4″. If you follow the pattern as written, nothing will look right. You can, however, rework your rate of increase or decreases. This is not that hard. For sleeves, you have the sleeve length on the schematic. There’s not always a measurement on the schematic for where the waist is, but you can find that
- Add up the number of rows used for the shaping (e.g. if you are to dec 1 st each side every 6th row 3 times and every 8th row twice, you have used 18 rows + 16 rows, so 34 rows.)
- Divide that by the pattern row gauge, to get the number of inches in your shaping zone (e.g. if the patterns row gauge is 7, divide 34 / 7 = 4.9″)
- Multiply shaping zone inches by your row gauge. (e.g. 4.9″ x 5.5 = 27 rows in your shaping zone)
- Start with one shaping row (one row used) and then divide 26 (remaining rows) by the number of remaining shaping rows you have and round down. Yes there are fancier ways to do it, I teach them in my design classes, but this will give you a fine result (e.g. 26 / 4 = 6.5, rep dec row every 6th row).
When altering a pattern, your shaping might end up being on an odd number row which will mean you have shaping on both the RS and WS. If that bugs you, you could always go round down to the nearest even number.
5. Row Gauge is a little off
Sometimes your gauge is a bit off, and all the shaping in your sweater will be fine, but there’s one tiny place you might want to tweek – your sleeve cap. If your sleeve cap is too tall, it’s hard to seam in without it ending up the Seinfeld puffy sleeve. If it’s too short, it’s just plain hard to seam!
Say the pattern gauge was 8 rows, but you are getting 9 rows per 4″. You can squeeze in or cut our a few rows from your cap to have it fit perfectly.
- Count how many rows are in the cap after the initial bindoff (e.g. I counted 38 rows in the cap. 38 rows / 8 rows per inch = 4.75 “)
- Multiply the desired cap height by YOUR gauge (e.g. 4.75” x 9 rows per inch = 42.75 So if I knit a cap that is 42 – 43 rows it will work. This means I need to add 4 – 5 rows (whichever is easiest)
- Add or subtract the number of rows you need evenly.
For more information on adjusting patterns, and to learn the math to tweak your patterns, check out