5 secrets of stitch gauge

5 Secrets of Stitch Gauge

Tuesday Tip copyI 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, secrets of row gauge and how to swatch for in the round projects.

In the Tortola video sweater class. There are THREE video tutorials just on gauge, as well as a how to document to teach you the math you need if your stitch gauge is off. There’s a lot of great info going on between knitters in my Ravelry group about gauge, so I thought I’d devote this month’s Tuesday Tip to the wonders of the . . .

5 Secrets of Stitch Gauge

I often hear knitters say that swatching is a waste of time and yarn. To say it doesn’t matter is akin to saying you can bake a cake without measuring your ingredients. Are there projects where gauge is not important? Of course, but we all know what those are, but we are here to talk about garments, so, READ THIS if you think it doesn’t matter.

A swatch is a fabric sample of the garment you are about to make. In future Tuesday Tips I’ll talk about all the other things you can get out of a swatch beyond gauge info, but today I want to talk about the all important issue of GAUGE!

1. Use your measuring cup!

The biggest no no knitters do is not actually use their tool to create the size of the stitch. I teach a class live called “Improve Your Knitting Technique”, and I talk a bit about this in the first lesson of my Craftsy class. It’s important that you are moving the stitch you are about to work onto the tip of the left needle, and when you wrap the yarn around and pull the new loop through the old loop, you are pushing fully up to the shaft of the right needle with tension still on your yarn before you move the new stitch off the left needle.

It’s remarkable what a small change in your knitting technique can do to change your gauge. If you feel like you change needle sizes but your gauge doesn’t change . . . come join me in class or in the Tortola video sweater class!

2. Your exit path matters!

Another thing I teach in my technique class is the proper exit path of your stitch. If you are seeing big spaces between the columns of stitches, you’re running thread is too long. This can come from working too deep on the left needle (instead of advancing the stitch you are about to work onto the tip), and draaaaaaging it off the left needle creating an elongated running thread.

3. Cleanliness is next to Godliness (or do onto your swatch . . .)

I’m always amazed at how many knitters ask if the gauge in the pattern is blocked or unblocked. Well . . . look at the schematic, those are the finished garment measurements. There’s no way that the gauge in a pattern could be unblocked. If the schematic shows a sweater front at 20″ wide, and the number of stitches for the chest are 100, and the gauge is 5 stitches per inch, well

Stitches (100) / gauge (5) = inches (20) – make sense?

So, it’s vital that you treat you swatch as you would treat your garment. For more information on blocking, check out my class.

4. Patience is a virtue!

There are many fibers whose gauge changes after wet blocking. BUT, a yarn can feel dry to the touch, but still not be dry all the way through. Recently I was swatching with 100% cotton and I gave it a nice wet block, and put it down to dry (no pinning!). Once it was dry (or so I thought), I measured it. Luckily, I couldn’t remember where I put the note about the gauge. I remembered my stitch gauge (25), but forgot what I wrote down for my row gauge. I went back to measure it the next day, and as long I was measuring row gauge, for some reason I remeasured the stitch gauge. WELL, turns out it was not dry all the way through to the core and it was still shrinking up. The first time I measured it in three different spots, I got 25 st / 4 inch, but when it was actually dry I got 26 st / 4 inch.  Yikes!

5. Why NOT matching the gauge is sometimes just what you want.

Say, the pattern gauge is 6.5 stitches / 1″, but yours is 6.25 / 1″. Before you swatch again, stop and check. There are times when you might want a size that is between two sizes. Say the medium was a 35″ chest, and the large was a 39 1/2″ chest, but you’d like a size between them. Well not matching the gauge might be your answer

  1. Stitches / Gauge = inches
    Stitches / Inches = Gauge
    Gauge x Inches = Stitches
  2. So, looking at the schematic measurement for the med, you see 17 1/2”. There are 113 sts at the chest
  3. Let’s see if we understand the pattern:17.5 (inches) x 6.5 (stitches) = 113.75 , so 113 (stitches) / 6.5 (gauge) = 17.4 (rounded to 17 1/2″)
  4.  So to see what size you would get if you followed the medium:

113 (st) / 6.25 (your gauge) = 18.08 or 36 1/8″.

Viola! You get a size between the medium (35″)  and the large (39 1/2″)!

More to learn about Gauge!

There are so many other gauge tips and ways that we can let our swatch lie to use, like rounding up or down, stretching out stockinette swatch out and pinning it, measuring it on the needle, only working a few inches. There are so many things you want to understand about swatching like, why a garter edge can lie to you, why size matters, what to do if hit a partial stitch at 4″, why you need to abuse your swatch, what to do if you are working in the round, how to handle pattern stitches, what about multiple stitches in a pattern . . . on and on!

To learn more about swatching, join me in one of my video sweater classes.

There are also soooo many other math tricks to make YOUR gauge work for the pattern, things like how to adjust your rate of increase and decrease, how to add a stitch pattern, how to get a size outside the pattern and more! To learn more join my gauge class check out my upcoming classes.

For more information on adjusting patterns, and to learn the math to tweak your patterns, check out

Customizing Sweater Patterns Pt. 1 & Pt 2

To REALLY explore gauge, enjoy my video class. Click on the picture below

Make Your Gauge Work

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  • Rita February 11, 2017   Reply →

    great gauge tips

  • Lorene February 11, 2017   Reply →

    Very helpful! Thanks for posting this!

  • Aly DeMarco June 6, 2020   Reply →

    Can’t Tell y’all how much I enjoyed this class — but I am not done — I think I am going to be taking one of her Sweater Classes — There are more secrets to be learned.

  • Amy Saunders December 13, 2021   Reply →

    Phew, it was such a relief when you mentioned about just who quick it is to use stitch gages when measuring a pitch. This reminds me of my niece who’s been searching for additional equipment for her workshop. I’ll ask her to keep this information in mind so she’ll make the right purchase later.

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