How to account for gauge differences

How to account for gauge differences

Over the weekend, I got a gauge question from someone planning to join the Anna Vest Knitalong, and since it’s a universal question, and a conundrum that I see people struggling with a lot, I thought I’d write it up for the blog. The question is: If you’re knitting at a gauge that’s different than pattern gauge, how do you figure out how big the garment will turn out?

Long-time readers know I rarely, if ever, knit a sweater at pattern gauge. We have it drilled into us as knitters that you have to match pattern gauge or your finished object will not match the pattern dimensions, which is absolutely true. If your stitches are bigger, your garment will be bigger; if your stitches are smaller, your garment will be smaller. So we swatch, and we measure. (See How to knit and measure a swatch.) And if our gauge is off, we dutifully swatch again on a different needle until we “get gauge.” Unless you’re like me, and you rarely use the recommended yarn, and you’re more interested in getting a fabric you like than in matching the pattern gauge, in which case you swatch to get your desired fabric and its measurements. However, going rogue means you’re going to have to do some grade-school math. (Watch for my upcoming post: Does getting gauge mean never doing math? Not if you care about fit.) (Actually, see How to start knitting a sweater for that.)

So Jennie swatched for the Anna Vest and she likes the fabric she’s getting on size 6 needles, which is giving her 22 stitches per 4 inches instead of the pattern gauge of 20 sts. She’s a 34″ bust and would have chosen to knit the size 34 vest (for a zero-ease fit), but given her smaller stitches, knitting the 34 would result in a garment that’s too small. The next size up is 38″ at pattern gauge, but what size will it turn out if she knits it at her gauge of 22 sts?

There are a couple of different ways to look at it:

1) Stitch count ratio: 20 divided by 22 is .909 — we can round that to .91 and say that Jennie’s stitches are about 91% the size of pattern gauge, so her sweater will be 91% of pattern dimensions. If she knits the 38, she’ll wind up with a sweater that’s about 34.5″ circumference. (38 x .91 = 34.58) Perfect!

2) Actual stitches per inch: 22 stitches per 4 inches is 5.5 stitches per inch. (22 divided by 4 = 5.5) The back piece of the Anna Vest in size 38 is 97 sts, 2 of which are selvage stitches (i.e., they’ll disappear into the seam at the end) so really it’s 95 stitches across. 95 sts divided by 5.5 sts per inch = 17.27 inches. Double that for the circumference of the garment = 34.5″. (That number being the cast-on count, it is the hem circumference. In this case, the body is straight-sided — no waist shaping, A-line shaping, etc. — so it is the same circumference at the hem and chest. If you’re working with a shaped garment, you’ll need to read into the pattern to find the stitch count at its largest point in the bust, usually right before armhole shaping begins, and use that number to calculate your adjusted chest circumference.)

Easy, right?

SOME CAVEATS

To be thorough, don’t just look at the chest circumference. I’ve given a very detailed schematic in the Anna pattern, for instance, so take the time to calculate the changes in all of the widths and make sure there are no other areas of concern, such as shoulder width, neck width, etc. (Especially if you’re knitting a garment with sleeves — make sure they won’t wind up too tight or too loose.) If you decide to adjust stitch counts anywhere, bear in mind any necessary matching of stitch patterns at the side seams or stitch counts at shoulder seams, where it needs to match up with the back piece.

And there’s the matter of ROW GAUGE, the most critical factor in knitting that gets the least attention. Presumably Jennie’s row gauge is also tighter than pattern gauge. In the case of the Anna Vest, it’s not a significant concern. The lengths for the body and armhole are both given in inches rather than number of rows, so she’ll still just knit to those lengths — it will simply take her more rows to get there. All that will be affected is the few rows where the shoulder shaping occurs, which will be slightly shallower but not enough to make a meaningful difference in the outcome. Her neck shaping on the fronts will also be completed a little sooner than it would at pattern gauge, leaving her with a few more work-even rows at the top than she would have had otherwise, but that’s not a problem. For a pattern with more instruction given in rows than inches (or where a stitch chart is involved), there could be some concern about the armhole depth getting too shallow. If there were a sleeve cap involved, that might be cause for concern, as sleeve cap shaping happens over a greater number of rows, and you could wind up with a cap that’s a bit shorter than the armscye it’s meant to fit into. So just be on the lookout for anything where a difference in row gauge might be cause for adjustment.

And the number one thing to look out for if you’re knitting at a rogue gauge is if your row gauge is bigger than pattern gauge (fewer rows per inch). Shaping is nearly always distributed evenly over the length of an area, such as a body or sleeve, and nearly always given as “work the inc/decrease every Nth rows, X times.” If your row gauge is bigger — it takes fewer of them to make up that length — you’ll have fewer rows in which to complete those inc/decreases. So tally up the rows and shaping and make sure you can fit it all in, or recalculate the shaping according to your gauge. (See the Sweater math section of this post.)

It’s a big subject and I’m trying to not write a novel here, so I’m happy to answer further questions in the comments!

(Pictured is my original gauge swatch for the Anna Vest, along with the book Farm to Needle and Thirteen Mile Worsted. Bento Bag and wooden gauge ruler from Fringe Supply Co.)

41 thoughts on “How to account for gauge differences

    • Definitely — both in the sense of making sure your yoke isn’t too deep or too shallow based on row gauge, and same caveat about making sure you have enough rows to complete all of the shaping, or that you’ve accounted for your row count and inc/decrease count and have them well distributed.

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  1. Here’s the one that stumps me: if you are knitting smaller than gauge, are you using more yarn because more stitches to the inch or less yarn because of smaller stitches, compared to the pattern gauge?

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    • Yep! You’re packing more stitches and rows into every inch, making a denser fabric, which means you’re packing more yarn into every inch in the process. I have a bad habit of knitting at tighter than pattern gauge, which means I’m creating more work and cost for myself! But I tend to like fabric that’s a bit denser, especially if it’s stockinette.

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  2. I used to “do the math” all the time, which was successful some of the time. I’ve taken to swatching, but I’m almost always at least a needle size down, even if I’m using the suggested yarn. Mostly I don’t mind, but I’m starting a Brooklyn Tweed sweater and find it hard to believe I have to go two sizes down for my gauge to be on target. I don’t really think of myself as a “loose knitter,” but there could be rumours out there…

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    • I’ve just started Brooklyn Tweed’s “Ranger”, for my husband. My gauge swatch (flat) was spot on. The sleeves, however (two sleeves, on two circs) seem to be a little tighter… I’m going to do a few more inches and block to see if there’s an appreciable difference. Karen, thanks for this post, I’ll know how to adjust if it’s off.

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  3. Thank you! Once I’m done with my Design-a-thon entries for Guild I plan to knit a kind-of-Cowichan-inspired vest using Lion Brand Fishermen’s Wool held triple and the puzzle of it has been rolling around in the back of my brain. This will help.

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  4. I’m writing a blog post on my efforts to obtain correct gauge, and your post is very helpful! I have a question: I knit a swatch that was correct gauge stitchwise before blocking. After blocking it “lost” a stitch. Did the swatch shrink, or did it become bigger?

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  5. Thank you so much for this post!! I have always been one of those knitters who freaks out about getting gauge to match perfectly because I didn’t really know how to adjust, but this post has helped so much!

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  6. Thank you so much for these tips! I’d only ever really thought about it the second way you described, but find the first way infinitely easier to wrap my mind around. And I actually just used it to calculate my adjusted gauge and finished object size for the Featherweight cardigan that I just cast on! Thanks again!!

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  7. Hi Karen, I am glad I asked the question! It is clear from the comments that this post helped so many knitters. Thanks again for all of your help!

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  9. Great post! I am much more of an accessory than garment knitter, but do enjoy knitting for my 3 year old DD, who keeps getting bigger, so fit is more of an issue. Anyway, I almost always have a smaller row gauge than the pattern states when I match the stitch gauge. I guess it’s just how I knit, but there are times where it could be an issue! (sjn821 on Rav)

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  10. This is, hands down, the greatest tip I have ever ever read. So clearly explained and such freaking valuable information! I think you just made my whole life a tiny bit easier. Thank you! x

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  12. Great post and information. I am a loose knitter and almost never “get gauge.” The other caveat to keep in mind is that a change in gauge might require a different amount of yarn.

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