Dreaming of a gorgeous scarf or sweater? Don’t want to waste time on a gauge swatch because you are too anxious to get started with that amazing yarn you just bought? Too excited to make that sweater a sweet reality? I totally get it! Heck, I have done that many times. Yes, I admit it. I have, but always to my detriment.
I have wasted yarn, time, energy not to mention hopes and dreams all because I skipped the gauge swatch. To be honest, I skipped paying attention to gauge, period! It was like that part of the pattern didn’t even exist!
HUGE Mistake! Experienced crafters know that there are many crucially important aspects to yarn and project patters. None can be skipped or ignored if you want great results. Gauge is no exception. “But, yarn is standardized, isn’t it?” you ask. And the answer is, yes, the Craft Yarn Council has standardized yarn with the Yarn Weight System to make our crafting lives easier, and it certainly does! (Thanks, Craft Yarn Council!)
Because of standardization, each yarn weight has been shown to yield a range of stitches per inch, which, in turn helps us to figure out if that awesome something we want to make will be the size or dimensions we need or expect.
I can just hear the masses saying now, “Cool! I can just buy my yarn and start my project then! You are right, standardization is the best!”
[sirens wailing, skies are falling, there is now chaos everywhere!]
Oh, no! No!
No, my friend, I’m afraid you cannot just start your project. Well…not if you want to be sure it will turn out great!
Why do I say that? Well, you see, I made that assumption about standardization when I was young and sure I knew everything; while learning to knit and crochet at my mother’s knee all the time believing I was the smarter of the two of us. He, he! I also developed a slew of bad habits that carried into my teens and into my early adulthood.
How did I get away with such craziness for so long? I mentioned in another article I loved making blankets. To clarify, I loved making throw blankets. No, that’s not right either. I loved aiming to make throw blankets; I got twin size!
I continued to ignore fundamentals, to my mother’s great chagrin, because my bad habits didn’t negatively impact my results seriously enough. I thought, “So, my blanket is bigger than I expected…that’s actually a good thing! So, there!” As long as I didn’t mind, and no one but me was any the wiser (well, Mom was well aware and not letting me off the hook…and I thank her for that!), I saw no reason to waste time on boring old planning tasks like the ever-awful time-waster, also known as, gauge swatch.
And that worked for a time. Until the time came that I wanted to make something other than blankets, that is. I grew up and realized that my Mom was right, as she usually was, and I needed to do things properly to improve. Making blankets with the wrong yarn, needles, or both and calling it good because in the end they were still blankets was not, well, good. Or skilled. Or clever. I was only fooling myself, and in the process, limiting myself. I wanted to make a sweater that would fit me and not Shrek! To accomplish that, I needed to take my time and do the not-such-a-waste-of-time-after-all gauge swatch.
In fact, taking the time to make a gauge swatch is a huge time saver!
“How, so?” you ask.
Well, although the Craft Yarn Council published an expected gauge range for each yarn weight, this only gives you an idea of how many stitches per inch to expect for each yarn weight. This is just a range, though, it is not a substitute for creating a gauge swatch before you being your project to measure your exact number of stitches per inch.
“Alas!” If there are standards in yarn weight why is there a range of stitches listed for expected gauge?” you ask.
Great question! The answer is because we are all individuals and because of that we all do things just a bit differently. We hold our yarn differently, we all pull and work stitches with a different level of tension. Oh, and each yarn of a particular weight may “work up” slightly different. Also, the needle you use can really make a big difference in the size of each stitch.
So, how do you determine if your stitches will be like those used in creating your pattern? Easy! Read the pattern for the recommended number of stitches per inch. This is your stitch gauge. This gauge represents the number of stitches per inch the designer used when creating the pattern. Following this is what will ensure your project will be the size you want it to be.
Armed with the recommended gauge, go ahead and make a sample or swatch using the yarn and needle you plan to use for your project. Cast on some stitches and work up enough rows to make a sample that is several inches in height and width. Generally, a good size swatch is 4 inches long and 4 inches high. [You can go bigger if you like, but I wouldn't recommend making a swatch that is much smaller.] Now you can measure to see if you have the correct stitches per inch.
No, you can’t just make one row and measure your stitches. Well, really, you could, but your measurement may not be all that accurate. Yes, you do have to make several inches because you want to make a fabric that will mimic your finished project. One row won’t do the trick because you need to invite enough stitches to the party to make sure they are all relaxed and settled in with each other before you measure them. This sample size will ensure the yarn has enough room to move around evening out tiny variances in tension that may exist between stitches. This will really help you see and measure the gauge much more accurately than if you just made one row.
As an extra step, go ahead and block your swatch. Blocking will ensure your swatch will behave just as your finished project will. The sample will lay smoothly while you measure and double-check the gauge.
Yeah, I know, it will take up to an extra day with blocking and all to make sure you are working the correct gauge. But it’s sooooo worth it! It really is! If you think about it, you may be working weeks or months on your special something. It would be a shame to work all of that time on a sweater you can’t wear; and so disappointing! Spending a few extra hours before all of that work isn’t too much to ask to be sure your work is going to be great, right? Besides, it will build the anticipation!
Well, now that we have covered the importance of a gauge and making a gauge swatch, let’s head on over to the shop and pick up some luscious yarn to get started with! Whoo Hoo!
Until next time XO
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