The success of a completed item depends on a few factors.
The correct yarn, the correct hook or needle size and the correct gauge.
Sometimes though, even when using the correct yarn and hook/needle size, completed items may not fit, or fit poorly or end up being a completely different size.
This usually happens when the gauge (sometimes called ‘tension’) has been ignored. A lot of experienced knitters and crocheters often skim over this section in the pattern, and newbie knitters and crocheters simply don’t know what it means.
So what is gauge? Gauge is the amount of stitches used over a section of 10cmx10cm, over a stitch pattern or over a block or motif, both in width and height. When it comes to blocks (for instance blocks used in blankets or garments) the gauge of the item will be the size of the block in width and height. The same principles apply for both knitting and crochet and both mediums are measured in exactly the same way. Gauge samples are made according to the guidelines supplied on the given pattern.
Let’s start with blocks: (remember – it doesn’t matter whether the block is knitted or crocheted; the same principles apply)
The following blocks have been crocheted with the same yarn (Eco-Cotton in Orchid), the one on the left was done with a 4.00mm hook and the one on the right with a 4.50mm hook. The size difference is almost negligible.
The smaller one measures 6.50cm and the bigger one measures 7.20 cm. It is a difference of 0.7mm. That is certainly not a lot! But unfortunately there is an accumulative effect when these blocks are used in a large project. If the pattern called for a 4.00mm hook size and a 4.50mm hook were used (resulting in the slightly larger block) and 20 blocks were required in a row, the marginal difference of 0.7mm would’ve resulted in the item being a whopping 14cm larger than it should be.
What if it is a flat piece of work?: (once again remember – it doesn’t matter whether the block is knitted or crocheted; the same principles apply)
The designer will stipulate what the recommended gauge will be including how to get to that gauge.
Gauge: 17sts x 10 rows = 10x10cm using garter stitch and 4.50mm knitting needles.
To make this sample, cast on at least 10 sts more (in crochet, chain at least 10chs more). Work double the amount of rows required and then measure the piece both in length and width and count the amount of stitches in length and the amount of rows in height. Do not measure from the sides or top and bottom, but work on a section in the middle of the sample.
If the required sample is across a certain stitch count (for more intricate stitch patterns) and the stitch count is 20, do the sample over 60 sts/chs (twice as much as the stitch count given). Repeat the stitch pattern three times.
Gauge: 1x stitch pattern repeat = 14×14 cm. The amount of stitches for a specific stitch pattern will also be stipulated somewhere on the pattern.
In this case, if the stitch pattern were 10 sts, cast on or chain an amount of stitches that is three times that much. So you’ll be chaining or casting on 30 sts, then working three repeats of the entire stitch pattern. Once complete, measure the section in the middle.
Don’t ever measure a gauge sample from the sides, bottom or top of the work. The most accurate measurements will be in the middle of a piece (see picture below) as the sides, bottom or top sometimes either pull or pucker, thereby messing with the measurement.
So what do you do if you simply can’t get to the correct gauge supplied in the pattern?
Firstly, make sure you’re using the recommended yarn and hook/needle size. Also keep in mind that every crocheter and knitter has her own unique tension. Some people knit and crocheter tighter than the median, others crochet and knit a lot looser. This is luckily easily remedied.
If your gauge sample is smaller than stipulated, use a bigger hook/needles. If the gauge sample is bigger, use a smaller hook/needles. Keep experimenting until you get to the recommended sample size.
This may seem like a lot of work, but for items that require perfect sizing (like garments) it is crucial to get to the correct gauge size. If you’re going to spend a couple of days/weeks on a project it is well worth it to know that the finished product will fit and drape well.