I think I get more questions like “where can I find a pattern for _________” (you can fill in the blank with socks, sweaters, raglans, hats, etc) than I do for any other problem. If you are a careful swatcher and you learn to work with gauges just a little bit, you can use most hand knit patterns, which tend to be more interesting and fashionable than the few that have been available specifically for the machine knitters – and it increases your options endlessly!
Keep in mind that stitches are stitches and rows are rows, regardless of whether you form them with two needles or a whole bed of them. Stitches are still stitches, but the lengthwise measurement must be considered as row counts (RC), rather than measured in progress as hand knitters do. Both, nonetheless, are dealt with in terms of gauge.
Before we start working with gauge, let me add a couple of thoughts to what I wrote in the previous post. Even by machine, there is no such thing as “knitting to gauge”. You simply must do a gauge swatch – knitted as large as possible with the same yarn, stitch size and pattern specs as the sweater. You’re kidding yourself (or magical with blocking!) if you think you “always knit to gauge”.
The “correct” gauge for any pattern was determined initially by the way the yarn was manufactured and any unique characteristics (like slubs or loops or “fur”, etc) then further defined by the designer who wrote the pattern. Matching that pattern’s gauge is your guarantee that the garment you knit with those directions will knit to size. Deviate from gauge and you are probably putting your efforts into a give-away project.
Most patterns specify the number of stitches/rows in a 4” square because that is usually large enough to average in any discrepancies in tension from row to row. (That consistency is usually more of a problem for hand knitters than it is for us.) While it is always tempting to stretch or scrunch a swatch to match 4”, there is just no such thing as “coming close enough”.
Consider this: if a pattern’s gauge is 22 stitches = 4” (which is DK at 5.5 sts/inch) and the sweater back calls for casting on 110 stitches, the piece is supposed to measure 20” wide (110 ÷ 5.5 = 20). However, if your swatch doesn’t really measure 4”, look what happens to those 110 stitches:
|If your swatch measures||Actual Gauge STS/inch||110 stitches will measure|
In the example below the gauge is supposed to be 28 sts = 4” or 7 stitches/inch, which is a typical gauge for fingering weight yarn. The pattern calls for casting on 140 stitches so that the back of the sweater will measure 20” wide. Once again, look what happens to the actual width of the sweater when your gauge is not exact:
|If your swatch measures||Actual Gauge
|140 stitches will measure|
By the time you apply the “close” gauge to a back and a front, the resulting sweater could be as much as 5” too large or too small and wouldn’t fit before you even start knitting!
Keep this in mind: It takes fewer big stitches and more small stitches to make up an inch of knitting. If your swatch measures less than 4”, it means the stitches are too small. If your swatch is larger than 4” your stitches are too big.
Carry this a step further and you will see that the coarser the yarn/gauge, the more critical it is to match the required gauge exactly. With finer yarns, there may be a tiny bit more leeway. The difference between 7 and 7.25 stitches/inch probably won’t make or break a garment. However, if you are knitting on a bulky or mid-gauge machine, it is imperative that you match the gauge exactly or be prepared to re-chart the pattern in whole or in part.
While you can usually match a hand knit stitch gauge, the row count is often a bit more elusive. In my next posting, we’ll begin working with gauge to adapt existing patterns or to chart our own. Even if you use DAK or Garment Styler to chart your patterns, this is information worth understanding so you are never again a prisoner of somebody else’s designs!