Monday, 25 September 2017

How To... Get Gauge and Tension

Measuring the gauge or tension - they are basically the same thing - in either a knitted or crocheted project is easy to do and can be very important depending on what you are making.

If your gauge is too tight then the work will be too small or if for example you are making a shawl the fabric will be too stiff.  If it is too loose then your stitches will be all floppy and gappy or the item you have made will be too large.

There are three different parts to getting the right gauge.  What does the pattern say, what does the yarn say and what result does your test swatch produce.

Patterns will generally indicate gauge as a number of stitches and rows in a square of the work.  Sometimes it can be given as a pattern repeat - I will show you examples of both in a moment.  So to find out what the pattern says just read it.  If no gauge is given or if the pattern says something like "work to correct tension for yarn" or "gauge is not required for this pattern" then you need to work this out for yourself.  I suggest working a small sample up and seeing how the fabric flows.

So you know what the pattern says, then look at your yarn and see what that says.  The ball band will generally give an indication of the number of stitches in a specific size square and a hook or needle size to use.

In this example you can see that gauge is indicated for both knitting and crochet and gives stitch and row counts for a 4 inch (10cm) square along with the size of hook and needle to use.

Compare this with the gauge in the pattern.  If your pattern says to produce a gauge that is much looser - less stitches - or tighter - more stitches - then you might need to find another yarn.  If you have selected an appropriate yarn for the pattern though - the pattern will tell you what yarn to use - then these numbers should either match up or be pretty close.  This will mean that you are off to a good start to getting the correct gauge.

Then you need to make up a small sample that is slightly larger than a 4 inch square (or the size square mentioned in the pattern).  Use the yarn of your choice and the hook size specified on the yarn make a sample up and see how it looks.  Do you like the feel of it, does it drape nicely, or not drape too much if you are making something more structured.  Are there lots of gaps in the stiches.  These are all things to assess first.  After all even if you have gauge if there are lots of holes or tight stitches you are going to want to think again.  To loosen things up, go up a needle or hook size, to tighten things up go down a size.

Then look to see if the pattern says that gauge is calculated before or after blocking - see my tutorial here about blocking.  It is important to know this because work can get bigger after blocking and therefore you would not have the correct gauge.  It is worth blocking a swatch even if the pattern gives gauge before blocking to see if the fabric is still pleasing once it has been blocked because again, items can get a lot bigger and looser with blocking!

Once you are happy with the fabric that you have produced you need to measure your gauge.  There are two ways to do this, but one is trickier than the other!

The trickier way is to measure out a square and put pins round the edge, making sure you keep them straight and then count the stitches within the square.  It is quite possible to do this and many people use this method and have done for many decades and been very successful with it.

However, I think there is an easier method!  Draw a 4 inch square on a piece of paper - or stiff card if you want to reuse it - and then cut it out from the centre so that you have a 4 inch square hole in your paper.  You can also buy devices specially made for this purpose and I will be using one of those further down the page.

Lay this over your work, lining it up to the bottom of a row of stitches.

Then count the number of rows - or partial rows - within the square and going upwards and the number of stitches - or partial stitches - going across the square.  I suggest counting the rows at either side and the number of stitches at the top and bottom in case your count varies.

This will then tell you the gauge that you have in your work.  Compare this to what the pattern says.  If you have a much lower number then you need to use a smaller hook or needle to make more stitches and if you have a much higher number then you need to use a larger hook or needle to make less stitches.

There will be a certain amount of fiddling about to get the right yarn and the right hook or needle size for the project, but this is what testing your gauge is all about.  If you start off right then the finished item will look good and be what you are looking for, if it is too small or tight or turns out to be an enormous cardigan big enough for an elephant to wear then you will be disappointed.

Sometimes you can fudge things a little.  For example if you are making a blanket and you are one or two stitches too small or large then you may need more yarn to complete the project, but the size is probably not too much of a problem.  If you have half a stitch too many in a cardigan then you can perhaps reduce the number of the stitches in the row by one or two and the overall result will still be pleasing.

Gauge and tension can be tricky to get right, but they are easy to calculate when you use the right yarn and hook or needle and measure your work and compare the results against the pattern.  Over time you will also get to know if you are a loose crocheter or knitter or a tight one.  Ask anyone who crochets are they loose or tight and they will know!  I am tight.  So if you know that you are tight, go up a hook size, if you are loose go down a needle size.  The more samples you work and the more items you make the more familiar you will be with your tension and you can soon get it just right.

Here are a couple of examples of gauge on different projects - here I have used my gauge measuring gadget of choice the Ainsworth & Prin Needle and Tension Gauge that I bought at Fibre East from The Knitting Shed - I paid for this myself and am not sponsored or compensated in any way for mentioning this by the way!

First is my Hygge Shawl, this is rows of crochet back and forth.  Gauge here is 21 rows and 21 stitches.

Next is a sample of corner to corner crochet, in this example you count the number of repeats rather than stitches and rows.  Gauge here is 11.5 repeats up and 5 repeats across.

Finally a sample of knitting - not mine!.  Gauge here is 14 stitches and 19 rows.

I hope that this demystifies what gauge and tension are and how you work them out and how they can help you to get even better results in your work!



  1. A very useful explanation Amy and I like your handy tension tool!
    I find an adjustable hemming rule makes checking tension extremely easy, especially for patterns which quote pattern repeats against unorthodox measures (not 10 cm or 4" squares).

  2. Thanks Amy. That's something to think about. I've recently (last few big projects) started doing a tension square. It makes such a difference to getting it the right size.
    I often remember a jumper I made years ago, it should have been knitted in a soft grey / lilac coloured cotton mix yarn. The shop advised an acrylic yarn instead and as I was inexperienced I followed her advice. I've never liked that jumper and have probably only worn it once. It is way too large and just hangs floppy. At the time I was a loose knitter but am a tight knitter now. Cx

  3. Hi Amy. You have given a wonderful lesson on guage. What a nifty little gadget you have got for measuring, too. I will try and find one or make one for my next project. Thank you and enjoy your day! Pat xxx

  4. I know what you mean. Years ago when I crochet I found out that you have to be very careful about those two things.

  5. Thank you SO much for the tutorial. As a new knitter this is something I am having trouble with. I'm definitely going to look for one of those gadgets! Apparently I'm a tight knitter. The gauge swatches I make never end up 4 x 4 but a lot smaller.

    I'm going to check out the blocking tutorial too. I've heard it a lot recently but not exactly sure how to do it. You explain things so nicely I'm sure it will be a great help!

  6. Fab post Amy. Your work is always so neat.
    ps (check the typo in your title!) Jo xxxxxxx

    1. You caught it there!! Well Done. xx

  7. A great tutorial Amy, hope all is well with you.

  8. This is good info Amy. I'm off to make myself one of the devices as I'm not one who really does this on a regular basis.

  9. IM so impatient to start, I often ditch this important step! That's why I love my shawls. I just go by weight and pretty much it works

  10. Thank you! I am about to begin crocheting a baby blanket and this does help. I'm pinning this post.

  11. .Thanks for your posts and tutorials, Amy! After traveling for two months I have had the joy of visiting with you through your latest podcasts and posts this morning. I have been inspired by seeing all your beautiful stitching, and I appreciate your helpful instructions as well. I don't know whether you have chosen what to do with your gorgeous hug and kiss tapestries but I think Jo's idea is brilliant :) Since one of the places I just visited and posted about is New England, I especially enjoyed seeing your progress on your lovely New England crocheted blanket! xx

  12. Thanks for the info, Amy, I was never quite sure how to measure these things! It is so important when making something to wear! Love your pretty samples. xo Karen


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