How to Make a Gauge Swatch -- An essential guide to learning the basics.

Many times you may see patterns or yarn mention a suggested "gauge"

Is this leaving you mystified? What does gauge mean? Why are these numbers important?

This blog post aims to help answer these questions and get you on your way to making your own gauge swatches for your projects. It has a LOT of information, but it's very worth a read and you will learn a LOT!

Gauge in basic terms means the number of stitches per inch across a row horizontally, and how many rows per inch vertically in your knitted fabric.

Gauge isn't always important. For instance if you are just knitting a straight scarf or something that doesn't need to fit precise dimensions or measurements, it shouldn't matter if your gauge is a little off.
But when you're making pieces that have a size, such as a sweater or a pair of socks, the gauge you knit at is very important for getting the correct size and important to ensuring that the estimates of yarn amounts are accurate.
It may not seem like much, but one or two extra stitches per inch can add up across multiple inches, which can really throw off your sizing and the amount of yarn you need for a project, and you may run out of yarn before you finish your project! Oh no!

How do you find the suggested gauge?Most yarns have a suggested gauge and needle size listed on their label. You can also always search a particular yarn online or on Ravelry to find info about it's gauge.

For this example, we have chosen Cascade 220 Superwash. Lets look at the label:

By looking at this label I can determine:

The gauge is 20-22 stitches per 4 inches (10 cm) when worked on a US 6 or US 7 needle.

Another way to read this would be to say that for each inch we knit on a size 6 or 7 needle, we should have about 5 to 5.5 stitches in that inch.

Now that we have determined the gauge, we can begin to test if we match this gauge or not with our knitting.

We've made three different gauge swatches using the same yarn on different needle sizes. This will show you the effect that needle size has on your gauge. When you make a gauge swatch for your projects, you will probably only need to make one or two, to make sure you are matching the suggested gauge. Gauge swatching is also a great way to get a feel for a particular yarn and how it works on your needles.

How to make a gauge swatch?

To demonstrate the look of a swatch, we made three swatch sizes:

All made with Cascade 220 Superwash (DK weight)

Swatch 1: Knit on US size 4 needles

Swatch 2: Knit on US size 6 needles (recommended for this yarn on label)

Swatch 3: Knit on US size 9 needles

Step 1: Figure out what gauge is suggested for the yarn or pattern you are using! This should be listed on the label of the yarn or on the pattern.
Step 2: A little (easy) math:
For 220 Superwash, the label calls for a size US 6 or US 7 needle, we chose a US 6.
We know from the label that 4 inches = 20 to 22 stitches. We also want to add a little border to keep it from rolling. If I add two stitches to each edge, we will Cast on 26 stitches. (22 stitches + 4 inches for border = 26 stitches)
We will use the same number of stitches for each swatch, the only factor changing is needle size.
If using a different yarn, simply do this same process using their numbers for gauge suggestion. You may cast on more or less stitches to achieve a 4 inch area in a different yarn weight.

Step 3: (If you haven't already in the previous step) Cast on 26 stitches
Step 4: Knit two rows
Step 5: Now continue as follows, all Right Side rows, knit all stitches across. All Wrong Side Rows, knit first two stitches, purl to last two stitches, and knit the last two stitches. This creates a garter stitch border to prevent curling. (essentially you are alternating a knit row with a purl row, but on purl rows you need to knit the first and last two stitches)

Step 6: Continue like this until your piece measures almost 4 inches from the cast on edge.

Step 7: When you've almost reached 4 inches, Knit across the last two rows and bind off!
Step 8: Block your swatches. Just dunk it in the sink until it is damp, squeeze out the extra water, and lay flat to dry. This is to keep your swatch flat for easier measuring, and is great practice for blocking items later.

unblocked swatches will curl on their edges....

blocked squares are nice and flat!

Swatch 2: On US 6 needles, 5.5 stitches per inch (we are also on gauge on this needle size! The fabric is just a little denser and the stitches closer together than on size 9 needles)Each differing needle size produces a different number of stitches per inch, and a different feel to the fabric. On smaller needles, your fabric will be denser, tighter, and stiffer (the smallest swatch).
On larger needles, your fabric will be looser, more "drapey" and "floppier" (the biggest swatch).
If you repeat this experiment yourself, you will notice the different feel to each fabric. Sometimes you may choose to use a smaller or larger needle on purpose to create a desired effect in your resulting fabric, such as knitting a tight fabric on the bottoms of socks so they stay warm and cushion your feet more.

Step 9: Measure! Line up your tape measure or ruler so you can easily count the number of stitches in one inch. Each stitch will look like a little "v" in your knitting. Count each "v" in one inch section. It is okay to count a half a stitch. Since gauge can vary throughout your own knitting, the best thing to do is to measure a few different sections of your knitting and average them. You may count five stitches per inch in one area, and 5.5 stitches per inch in another area. You're still right on gauge, even though it varies slightly across your knitting, you just want to be sure you don't have TOO much variation! We like nice even stitches :)

Note: We are focusing more on the number of stitches horizontally than rows vertically, because this measurement is a little more important. Usually patterns give precise stitch counts horizontally for casting on (i.e. cast on 26 stitches), but will tell you to continue your rows for a specific measurement (i.e. 4 inches). It is easier to add or subtract rows to achieve a desired length (like how tall you want your socks to be) than it is to add stitches across to make something wider (like how wide the sock opening should be). You should measure your rows so you are aware of how many rows are in one inch, but you don't need to worry about this number too much.

Our measurements turned out as follows:
See images below for pictures of how to count stitches!

Swatch 1: On US 4 needles, 6 stitches per inch (We have too many stitches per inch, which means we need to go up a needle size to be on correct gauge. If we knit on this needle size in a pattern, it would turn out too small!)

Swatch 3: On US 9 needles, 5 stitches per inch (technically we are still on gauge when knitting on this needle size, since we would get 20 stitches per 4 inches.)

Swatch 1: Knit on a US 4 needle. Gauge is 6 stitches per inch x 9 rows per inch

Swatch 2: Knit on a US 6 needle. Gauge is 5.5 stitches per inch x 7.5 rows per inch

Swatch 3: Knit on a US 9 needle. Gauge is 5 stitches per inch x 6 rows per inch

Say you knit your swatch on size 6 needles, but when you measure your stitches per inch you have SIX stitches, when the suggested gauge says you should have 5-5.5 stitches per inch. You have too many stitches per inch. This means you are knitting too tight and you need to go up a needle size or two to achieve less stitches per inch.

As a general rule:
If you end up with too many stitches per inch, you are knitting too tightly and need to go up a needle size or need to loosen your tension (how tightly you hold the yarn)
If you end up with too few stitches per inch, you are knitting too loosely and need to go down a needle size or tighten your tension.

When stacked on top of each other, you can see the different sizes of each swatch.

Even though we used the SAME number of stitches for each swatch, the different needle sizes produce DIFFERENT sized swatches.

This is the basic lesson of gauge: the number of stitches per inch matters when determining size!

Once you know this, you can very easily customize projects.

For example: Say you want to knit a straight scarf that is 8 inches wide. You knit a gauge swatch on a size 8 needle and find out that you have about 4 stitches per inch. To get to 8 inches, simply multiply 4 stitches by 8 inches. That gives you 32 stitches, which means you should cast on 32 stitches on a size US 8 needle to create an 8 inch wide scarf. You could calculate rows in the same way (multiply number of rows per inch by the number of inches you want) or simply knit rows until you achieve your desired length.

Voila! You should now be on your way to creating your own gauge swatches and testing out yarns that you may want to use in your projects. By knowing the specifics of gauge, you will ensure that your knitted garments will come out correctly and the way you are expecting and hoping they will be.

Collect all your gauge swatches and when you have enough, sew them together for a funky, colorful throw blanket or pillow!
You can also use your gauge swatches to test how particular yarn will take to washing. Should it only be hand washed? Can it take a run through the washing machine? Use these little babies to test your yarn! That's what they're for.

If you need yarn or needles for some fun new projects, you can find it all in our
Nordic Mart Webstore

Happy Knitting!