Adventures in Gauge

Gauge is dumb. Okay, no, I know it’s not. I know it’s very important for some things. For things where fit is critical, making sure your gauge matches the pattern is kind of a big deal. Because my brain struggles to understand gauge (do I go up a needle size or down? If I’m off by one stitch, do I need to adjust my stitch count? Will it be bigger or smaller?) I typically avoid projects where matching gauge is critical. Hats? They’ll fit somebody. Cowls, scarves, shawls…those are forgiving projects, and as long as you like the drape of the fabric you’re making, you’re fine.

EXCEPT. If your gauge is off, you will use a different amount of yarn than the designer. Sometimes it’s not enough to matter, and sometimes you have plenty of yarn so maybe you don’t notice. And then sometimes, you don’t. And that sucks. I’ve always been fine not worrying about gauge. The times I did check it, 99% of the time my gauge matched the designer’s with the recommended needles and yarn weight. But lately, I’ve had problems with several projects and I think gauge is to blame. Remember my Black Diamond cowl? How I ran out of the Anzula even though I should have had plenty? I’m guessing that was a gauge issue.

Now, I’ve got my Hitchhiker Beyond on the needles, and the pattern calls for 350-383 yards, and I figured my 420 yards of Malabrigo Mechita would be more than enough. I used the recommended needle size and happily knit away. Then I got about six inches from the end and ran out of yarn.

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What the heck? I checked my gauge and instead of the recommended 22 st/4″, I have 25! This is where I struggle with gauge, because even though I know I should have gone up at least one needle size, I don’t really understand why this used up my yarn faster. But clearly, it did. So now I’m stuck with a few options that all kind of suck: frog and reknit, bind off with a stupid blunt edge, or buy another $20 skein of yarn. Because I am too lazy to frog and reknit like my garter stitch dense and squishy, I’m going to buy more yarn to finish on these needles.

Learning about my gauge is important, because I’m still committed to making my first cardigan. I ordered some black Irish wool and had to go down two needle sizes to get gauge, and I was mildly panicked to think that my gauge had loosened up that much and it would affect every project I would ever do in the future. (I know, it’s really not a big deal, but I got really spoiled getting gauge easily in the past.) Now I know that’s not the case, partly because with the Malabrigo fingering, I was knitting more tightly. But I also know because I did another swatch for my cardigan today.

You see, even though I matched gauge over a week ago, I still haven’t cast on for the cardigan. I kept telling myself it was because I didn’t have the time to focus on it. Finally I realized I was putting it off because I didn’t like knitting with the yarn, especially on the size 6 needles. The yarn is so rough and scratchy, and I can’t imagine knitting with it long enough to make a whole sweater. If I’m going to commit to something like a sweater, it’s only going to happen if the knitting is pleasurable. So, with relief, I gave up on the scratchy Irish wool. At some point I will use bigger needles and make some felted totes or something, so it won’t go to waste.

In the meantime, I picked some purple cotton out of my stash for my Harvest Attempt #2. I have six skeins, the result of a failed cardigan attempt a couple of years ago. It’s not enough yarn; I’ll have to buy more eventually. But it’s enough to get a really good start. Thinking I probably do knit looser than I used to, I started with size 7 (instead of the recommended 8s) and made a small swatch: 20 stitches/4″ instead of 18. Made another one with 8s and this time I got 17 stitches. That’s pretty darn close, and I’m going to stick with it.

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So, FINE. I give in. You swatchers win this round: I concede that doing swatches is important. BUT: I’m still only going to do it for garments and when I have a limited amount of expensive yarn and I’m not sure I have enough. (And honestly, in those instances, I’ll probably just start knitting the project and check my gauge partway in. That’s gonna have to be close enough sometimes.)

What about you? Do you always check gauge? Never?

11 thoughts on “Adventures in Gauge

  1. I’m a tight knitter. Until now I’ve only really done hats and cowls and dishcloths so haven’t needed to worry too much about my gauge. But I am just about to start my first garment and so I’ve been doing a few swatches as I would quite like it to fit when I’m done.

  2. GAUGE, I HATE IT! I’m a snug knitter and 99% of the time my gauge does not match. So much so that I have to increase yarn weight because increasing needle sizes only creates a loos and sloppy garment. I don’t understand. I am a snug knitter, but not a tight knitter. I wish there was an easy solution!

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