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How to Use Your Gauge to Decide What Size to Knit

The big question with gauge isn’t really how to get it, but “Will this sweater fit when I’m done?”

Let’s say your gauge is close but not quite. You’ve substituted yarn and changed needle sizes, and it’s pretty close to what the designer recommends, but maybe it’s coming out to in between sizes. How do you choose which size to knit?

The first thing to take into account is ease. A good pattern will usually tell you how much ease has been built in. What is ease?

Negative ease means the fit is tighter than the body measurements. It will be tight and stretchy.

Zero ease means the fit matches the body measurements. It will be form fitting but not stretched.

Positive ease means the fit is bigger than the body measurements. It will be trim but not form fitting with 2″ of positive ease. It will be a relaxed fit with 3-4″ of positive ease. More than that could be baggy, oversized, drapey, or breezy, depending on the garment style.

If the sweater you’re knitting is aiming for 2″ of positive ease, then you know you have some wiggle room with your stitches. As long you choose the size that knits up to be slightly bigger than your body measurements, it should work.

But first, here’s how to find out how large your sweater will be based on your gauge:

If your pattern’s called-for gauge is 4 Sts per inch, and your chest measurement is 34″, and the sweater measurement is 36″, then the pattern will likely tell you to cast on about 144 Sts (assuming the fit is straight and the stitch pattern is simple). Because 4 x 36 is 144.

But let’s say that you keep getting 4.5 Sts per inch. What size would your sweater be if you just knit it at that gauge? Well, 144 divided by 4.5 Sts per inch is 32″. Your sweater would end up being 4″ smaller in circumference. It would have 2″ of negative ease instead of 2″ of positive ease. Uh oh.

What if you’d like to stick with that 4.5 Sts per inch gauge and just cast on the right number? In that case, you’d multiply your Sts per inch (4.5) by the size you want (36″) to find the new St total around the chest, which would be 162 in this case.

But, you’d have to be ready to make other adjustments during the pattern, too. Changing the Sts can change the stitch pattern repeats (if you’re working cables, for instance), it can change the number of decreases or increases used, the cast on number, etc…. Better to just choose another size in the pattern and use the numbers the designer already calculated for you. (We use spreadsheets. And calculators. And percentages.)

So which size would you choose? Well, in this case, you’d choose a larger size for your stitches, but use the same length measurements as for the size you would have chosen so you don’t end up with too-long arms or a weirdly situated waist shaping.

Did this help you today, or is this whole sweater math thing still confusing? Leave me a comment and let me know. Tomorrow, I’m going to start showing you some little tricks for making nice edges in knitting.

31 Days to Your Nicest Knitting series. #write31days #knittingtipsThis post is part of my 31 Days to Your Nicest Knitting series. Every day, I’ll post a new tip or trick to make your knitting nicer. You can follow along easily by subscribing. If you have any knitting problems you’d like me to fix, let me know and I’ll try to answer your question as part of the series. You can find all the posts in the series here.



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How to Adjust Gauge in Knitting

Yesterday, we talked about a simple way to measure gauge.

Now, what do you do if your gauge isn’t matching the gauge your pattern calls for? How do you adjust gauge easily?

If you have too many stitches per inch, that means your stitches are too small and you need to make them bigger. Go up a needle size and try again.

If you have too few stitches per inch, that means your stitches are too big and you need to make them smaller. Go down a needle size and try again.

Keep adjusting your needle size until your gauge matches the pattern’s gauge.

To test different needle sizes using one swatch, work about an inch or two of stockinette using one needle size, then knit a ridge in garter stitch (knitting the wrong-side row instead of purling it). Change needle sizes and work another inch or two in stockinette. Knit another garter ridge, then change needle sizes again. This way, all your different gauges will be separated by a garter ridge.

To remember which needle size made which section, you could do a couple things:

1) Write it down in detail in a notebook of knitting & project notes.

2) At the start of each new section, work 7 purl stitches (bumps) for size 7 US needles, 6 purl bumps for size 6 needles, etc. Then, your notes will be knit right into your swatch.

3) Use your Ravelry project page as your notebook and write it all down there. Or use Evernote. Whatever digital brain works best for you.

4) Unless you’re Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory, don’t assume that you’ll remember. If you’re more like me, you’ll think you’ll remember, then you’ll get distracted by something else and forget about it for a couple days, then pick it up and wish you’d written everything down somewhere.

If you’re a really tight knitter, don’t be alarmed if you need to go up a couple of needle sizes. That’s totally normal.

If you’re a really loose knitter, you may need to go down a couple of needle sizes. Also totally normal.

The point of getting gauge isn’t to compare yourself to others’ knitting styles, but to accurately measure your own knitting, in your own style, and make it work for you.

Tomorrow, we’ll talk about adjusting patterns to fit our gauge. Sometimes, we want to use a different yarn that just won’t cooperate. How do we make it work?

31 Days to Your Nicest Knitting series. #write31days #knittingtipsThis post is part of my 31 Days to Your Nicest Knitting series. Every day, I’ll post a new tip or trick to make your knitting nicer. You can follow along easily by subscribing. If you have any knitting problems you’d like me to fix, let me know and I’ll try to answer your question as part of the series. You can find all the posts in the series here.

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How to Measure Gauge in Knitting

In knitting, “gauge” just means how many stitches you get per inch using your yarn and your needles.

Some of us knit tightly, some knit loosely, and some of us knit with average tension. And that’s why we need to measure gauge before starting a project that we want to actually fit. If your stitches are bigger than the designer’s were, then your sweater and her sweater will look vastly different, even if you both cast on the same number of stitches.

There are a couple methods out there for measuring gauge. This is the simplest one I know:

Lay a straight ruler along a row of stitches. (Not a fabric measuring tape; they can stretch and distort the measurements over time.)

Line it up with the zero measuring line directly between two knit stitches. Knit stitches look like V’s, so the line should be between two full V’s.

Now, count the V’s that are in that inch. If your inch contains 4 full V’s and just one side of a V, the gauge is 4.5 Sts per inch.

Move the ruler to another row, across other columns of V’s, and measure again. Measure three times, in three different places, and average your measurements. Don’t forget to include the partial knit stitches because they’ll make a difference. If there’s just a quarter of a V, don’t ignore it.

It might help to poke your needle tip in the center of each V as you count it. Do NOT count in the upside-down V’s. If you need to blink, poke your needle in the V first so you don’t lose your place.

Do not measure gauge near the cast on edge or near the sides of your swatch or directly under your needles. Measure in the middle where the stitches are not distorted. (This means that your gauge swatch needs to be big enough to have a middle with undistorted stitches. Aim for about 4 – 6 inches wide and tall.)

About your gauge swatch

Don’t dread your gauge swatch! It is your friend. It can save you hours of frustration. Would you like to spend a whole month knitting an entire sweater that doesn’t actually fit a human person? Neither would I.

Now, here’s the trick about gauge swatches. They won’t show you how your sweater will behave unless you wash them, just like you’re going to wash your sweater, and then measure them. Sure, your sweater might fit perfectly before you wash it, but what will the yarn do after it’s been washed? Some fibers really fluff up and spread out or relax or do nothing. You won’t know until you test it. So wash your swatch.

(For the yarn-frugal, yes, you can probably unravel a washed swatch if you need to later. Or, you could save them all up for a walk-down-knitting-memory-lane patchwork blanket.)

If you’ll be knitting your project in the round, knit your gauge swatch in the round, too. Most of us purl more loosely than we knit, so this really does make a difference. Knit your swatch in a way that mirrors your project. Always.

Most patterns will tell you whether their gauge was measured over the pattern (like cables or lace) or over stockinette. There’s a bit of disagreement on which way is better, but for your gauge swatch, measure it in the same way the designer did.

Row gauge

Row gauge is really hard to match. And most of the time, it doesn’t matter, because a pattern will tell you to knit for such-and-such inches instead of so many rows. So don’t worry too much about it unless the pattern tells you to.

There’s lots more to talk about when it comes to gauge. Tomorrow, I’ll tell you how to adjust your gauge and how to do some basic knitting math.

31 Days to Your Nicest Knitting series. #write31days #knittingtips

This post is part of my 31 Days to Your Nicest Knitting series. Every day, I’ll post a new tip or trick to make your knitting nicer. You can follow along easily by subscribing. If you have any knitting problems you’d like me to fix, let me know and I’ll try to answer your question as part of the series. You can find all the posts in the series here.

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Zimmermania: I finally get it!

Why is it that I sometimes need someone else’s permission to be confident?  There it is: the truth about me.  I constantly need to either  talk myself into being confident, or let someone else do it for me.  It doesn’t come naturally.  Thank God it can come by outside means!

I am currently reading Elizabeth Zimmermann’s Knitter’s Almanac, and now I know what all the fuss is about when it comes to EZ.  It seems like every knitting forum online eventually mentions EZ’s technique for this, or EZ’s pattern for that.  Well, this EZ book was the cheapest one on Knit Picks, and it contained the pattern for a sweater that I wanted to knit for the upcoming baby girl, so I bought it.  I splurged all of $7.50, and I think it’s the best knitting money I’ve ever spent.  (Well, except for maybe that grey merino that is now my favourite cardigan; but I guess that’s a fish, and the book is a fishing rod, to borrow from that old metaphor.  You get my point.  I hope.)

Said EZ sweater: February baby sweater on two needles (but I did the sleeves in the round because I hate seams.)

Listen to this:  “Don’t place unlimited credence in us knitting-instruction-writers, or believe everything in print to be infallible.  We do our best, but it may easily be that your best is better than ours.  Don’t hesitate to improve on us” (p.102).  Isn’t that wonderful?  Elizabeth Zimmermann herself, the guru of modern knitting, thinks I can do better.  Thinks you can do better.

I admit, this particular book isn’t for beginning knitters.  EZ assumes that the reader knows a lot about the basics of knitting, and if I had read it ten years ago, I would have been lost.  But, as a baby “unventor” trying to figure things out and make some of my own really great patterns, it’s the perfect book for me.

Here are, for your entertainment and encouragement, some things I have learned while designing:

There is nothing new under the knitting sun.  I might come up with some pretty new sweater, but it’s just a combination of basic sweater techniques and basic stitch patterns that already existed.  Every baby sweater I looked up on Ravelry for inspiration convinced me of that.

Anyone can design, if they really want to.  (If they have really poor taste, their designs might look terrible, but they’ll still be designs!)  It just takes a little extra knowledge about the basic workings of things.  Oh, and knowing some tips and tricks helps, too.  For instance: do you know how to do an edge stitch so your back-and-forth work looks neat and straight at the sides?  Simply slip the first stitch as if to purl, then knit the last stitch of every row.  That’s it.  And you’ll be rewarded with a neat little chain of stitches travelling up the side of your work.  That neat little chain, if employed on heel flaps, will also make it easier and neater to pick up your stitches for the instep, especially if you twist them to avoid holes.  Now that wasn’t hard, was it?

Math.  *sigh*  Math skills are quite useful, after all, especially when getting things to be the proper size and planning out pattern spacing.  Did you know that you could change any of my preemie patterns to fit an adult simply by re-calculating the gauge?  For instance, the Tulip Hat is basically a repeated pattern of ten stitches.  Knit out a tiny one, measure it, then measure your own head.  Figure out how many more repeats of ten you need to fit yourself, then add that many to the hat.  Knit in the pattern until you’re about 2 or 2 1/2 inches from the top of your head, then start decreasing.  Ta-da!  You’ve just modified a pattern.  You’re already part designer.

I was pretty scared of gauge when I first started knitting.  I ignored it if I could, to be honest, and frankly I’m lucky that some of my knitted sweaters actually fit their intended owners.  But now I know: in designing, gauge is a big deal.  It makes everything easier.  For instance, if I want a sweater with a 40-inch chest, and my gauge swatch tells me that my yarn knits up at 5 sts/inch, I simply multiply 5 by 40 to find out how many stitches I’ll need in that 40 inches:  200.  Now, wasn’t that easy?

EZ mentions in her book that a hat is usually about half the circumference of a sweater, so in my determination to design a sweater for the new baby girl, I decided to knit a test hat.  I had picked a couple patterns from a big pattern book I have, and I incorporated them into the hat.  Since I wanted to knit the sweater from the top down (because the lace pattern looks better upside down), I started the hat at the top, too.  I used that little hat to experiment with how to increase in seed stitch without ruining its effect.  I discovered a couple things I would not do on the sweater, and I kept going.  When I switched to the lace pattern to see how it would look with the seed stitch, I realized that the lace would pull in the seed stitch and make it pucker.  Since I don’t want the bottom of my sweater to be narrower than the top, I now know that I’ll have to increase right before switching from the seed stitch to the lace repeats.  All this from a tiny little hat! And not from a useless square of fabric!

Here's my test hat. Sweater to come!

(Amazingly, the hat turned out wearable and even cute.  I am even more encouraged to keep experimenting.  My sister even wants one in her size, since she “hates hats that hug her head too tightly and likes the bubbly look at the top of this one.”)

So, let me encourage you, as EZ has encouraged me:  go for it!  Change things, make things up, and unvent to your heart’s content.  It’s pretty awesome.

More of the hat. I'm just so pleased with my first real "unvention!"