Okay, time for a confession…
I NEVER made gauge swatches when following patterns… EVER.
I honestly don’t know if I truly understood what a gauge swatch was OR its importance in the process of following a crochet pattern. It wasn’t until I began designing my own patterns that I realized just how important it is to check gauge–it was actually my testers who pointed out to me that I really needed this as part of my patterns so that they could make sure they could re-create the item I designed exactly as it was supposed to come out. Gauge swatches are much more important when you are dealing with wearable items like cardigans, sweaters, crop tops, etc! Check out the two finished cardigans below–would you guess they were created by following the same pattern?
Both of these cardigans are versions of my Luna Cardigan but one has a much looser/larger gauge than the other. It’s not necessarily a BAD thing–both sweaters are beautiful and have their own unique style… BUT, if you followed a pattern expecting to get a more fitted/cropped sweater and ended up with a longer/slouchier finished project, you might feel a bit disappointed in the result. This is where gauge swatches make ALL the difference! All of us crochet with different tension–I tend to naturally crochet tightly, while other people might crochet more loosely. Checking your gauge allows you to make sure that you are achieving the same tension as the designer and that your finished project will end up being the right size and fit.
So, what Exactly is “Gauge”??
According to the Craft Yarn Council, gauge is the number of stitches and rows in each inch. Gauge swatches are generally 4”x 4”, unless you’re working in rounds. Don’t worry if it’s different than 4”x 4” – patterns will usually specify exactly what stitches and how many to work for the correct swatch for that project.
Let’s take my Luna Cardigan for example! My gauge for this pattern is 6 Half Double Crochet (HDC) Stitches x 6 HDC Rows in a 4″ x 4″ square. I also recommend using a 15mm hook and super bulky (6) yarn for the project. So, now that you know the gauge and the recommended yarn & hook size, it’s time to make a Gauge Swatch to see if you can achieve the same gauge!
Making Your Gauge Swatch
Using the recommended yarn and hook size, you can now make your swatch. There are plenty of tutorials out there that guide you through different ways to make and measure your gauge swatches, my version is below!
So, as an example (using the technique in my video above) let’s make a swatch for the Luna Cardigan (Gauge = 6 HDC stitches x 6 HDC rows). I always make my swatches a bit lager than the gauge listed to make sure that I’m not counting my starting chain or my chain 1 stitches at the beginning of each row in my measurements. This means that instead of a starting chain of 7 (which would give me exactly 6 stitches across) I will start by chaining 9 so that I end up with 8 HDC stitches across. I will also complete 8 rows instead of 6 before I make my measurement.
Here is the step by step breakdown to making a Luna Cardigan Gauge Swatch:
- Chain 9
- Row 1: HDC in the second chain from the hook and across (giving you 8 HDC stitches across), turn your work
- Row 2-8: Ch 1, HDC across, turn
- Measure how many stitches are in 4″ of length (using a gauge square or measuring tape)
- Measure how many rows are in 4″ of length (using a gauge square or measuring tape)
- If you matched the gauge listed (6 stitches & 6 rows per 4″) you can get started on your cardigan.
So, what if your gauge is not a match (meaning you had too many/too few stitches or rows)? You have two main options in this case:
- You can change the size of your crochet hook and make a new swatch. For example: if your swatch is too small (i.e. you end up with more than 6 stitches or rows per 4″) pick out a larger hook. If your swatch is bigger than the gauge listed (i.e. you end up with less than 6 stitches or rows per 4″) switch to a smaller hook and make a new gauge swatch to see if you get a match.
- You can change your yarn! If your swatch is too small, try using the same crochet hook but use a thicker/heavier weight yarn to make a new swatch. You can also add in a strand of lighter weight yarn if you don’t have a heavier weight yarn! If your swatch is too big, try using the same hook with a lighter weight yarn.
What if I’m Only Off by a Teeny Bit??
Okay, let’s look at a quick example of what can happen if you are only off by ONE stitch/row on your gauge!
We’ll start with a little math!
If there are 6 stitches per 4″ that means that each stitch is actually equal to 0.67″ (you get this number by dividing 4″ by 6 stitches). For the Luna Cardigan, the same goes for rows since there are 6 rows per 4″–each row is equal to 0.67″. (Note: not all gauges have the same number of stitches and rows per 4″, some might have 6 stitches x 8 rows per 4″ x 4″ or maybe 7 stitches x 5 rows per 4″ x 4″, this often depends on the type of stitch used for the gauge)
If you are making a Luna Cardigan in a size S/M, the back panel will be 30 stitches across. This means that if you match my gauge, 30 stitches x 0.67″ = 20.1″ across your finished back panel.
Let’s say you got 7 stitches per 4″ instead of 6 (and you decide to go ahead and make the cardigan anyway). Let’s re-do the math: 4″ divided by 7 stitches = 0.57″
This means that now your 30 stitches across the back panel (x 0.57″) now equals 17.1″ across. That’s a 3″ difference in the width of your panel! You can see how being off by just a single stitch in your swatch can cause pretty big differences in the fit and measurements of your finished item!
What About Patterns that AREN’T Wearables?
Again, fill transparency here, I NEVER made gauge swatches and if you purchase some of my older patterns or patterns I have written for smaller simple projects (like my Cat Cozies or my Simple Mittens Pattern) I don’t include a gauge because I don’t/didn’t think it mattered as much for those projects. ALL of my wearable items now include gauges and as I evolve and grow as a designer, I see myself including a gauge in more of my patterns–even the smaller, simpler ones!
I actually asked a large group of fiber artists if they did gauge swatches and out of 172 responses this is what I learned!
- 48% said they NEVER checked their gauge and preferred to wing it (even if that sometimes meant having to re-make the item after it was finished!) – Looks like I DEFINITELY was not alone in my lack of “swatching” before I began designing patterns! lol!
- 32% said they only checked their gauge for wearable items like sweaters, tops, socks, etc. but not for things like scarves, blankets or amigurumi.
- 10% said they either rarely or sometimes made swatches and it really depends on the project and the pattern.
- 9% said they would check their gauge if they encountered an issue, were testing a pattern for a designer, or were working with new stitches or materials.
- ONLY 1% said they always or often check their gauge!
Some of the reasons people listed for not checking gauge included:
- Not understanding the point or HOW to check gauge
- Not ever making wearable items
- Not having the patience or being stressed out by the thought of trying to match gauge exactly
- Just preferring to “wing-it”!
I hope that if you are one of those people who rarely or never checks your gauge because you don’t understand why they are important or HOW to make & measure a swatch that this article was helpful for you! If instead, you just prefer to wing it… I totally understand! I hope you do at least see the value of checking gauge for items where “size matters” like wearable items but I also understand that just rolling with it and seeing what you get in the end can be part of the creative process too!