(Yarn: Berroco Comfy Chunky in Goldenrod; Fabric: Heather Ross "Nursery Versery" for Kokka "Postage Stamp Cheater" in Yellow)
My mother and I both returned to knitting (and I was also learning to crochet) at the same time, about ten years ago. She was a new grandmother and I was hoping to become a mother soon, and the idea of little people around inspired us... I'm sure we weren't the first.
Anyway, I remember finding cute patterns and going to yarn shops to pick out a yarn and being completely bemused by the "gauge" references. I would hold a strand in my hand and compare it to another and if it seemed about the same I would go with it. Seriously. I had no idea what I was doing! One time I was working with a baby cardigan pattern and found a boucle yarn I loved but it seemed very thin so my mother suggested I double it. This is a good trick if you know what you are doing, but I didn't know the yarn's gauge to begin with and the result was a sweater that would fit a seven year old (Audrey is just now able to wear it).
For awhile I was content with these mistakes because I figured one of my girls would be able to wear what I'd made at some point. But I remember the day my mother called me excitedly after visiting a yarn shop. Some nice woman had helped her figure out the gauge thing! A whole new day dawned! I want to help you figure out gauge too. Because it is pretty essential to getting what you want out of crochet, or knitting for that matter.
OK. How about some basic definitions first?
If you are crocheting washcloths, or blankets, or perhaps even scarves it may be that "gauge" doesn't matter. This is because if the final product is a bit different in dimension than what the pattern set out it won't affect it's functionality too much. (There are some arguments against this however, for instance, washcloths should have a certain density to the stitch to work well...) Most patterns you pick up, however, will include a reference to "gauge."
GAUGE: Gauge can be thought of as "thickness" or "weight," similar to the term as it is applied to wire, but it also refers to the density of stitches in a crocheted or knitted thing. In knitting and crochet, gauge is defined as the number of stitches and rows per square inch with a defined hook or needle size. Usually it's actually stated per 4"x4". This "gauge" is what determines the final size of whatever it is that you are creating.
So, gauge is the result of the combination of yarn weight, and hook or needle size. But the person doing the knitting or crocheting has an influence on it too, because tension is the third element influencing gauge. This is why a pattern always includes gauge instead of simply a yarn and hook size: two different people using the same yarn and hook can produce different gauge swatches because of the way they handle the yarn. I for instance worked the yarn very tightly when I first learned to crochet and have since loosened up. And in another example, I have a friend who crochets very loosely and always decreases a hook size compared to what is called for to compensate.
GAUGE = # stitches + # rows within a 4"x4" square
GAUGE IS ACHIEVED BY: hook size + yarn weight + tension
Let's dive a little deeper into the elements of gauge...
YARN CATEGORIES: To make it a bit easier, yarn makers classify their yarns by their weight (otherwise thought of as thickness, or gauge). These weights are assigned a number from 0 to 6 and also have a corresponding name. The smaller the number, the smaller the gauge. Here is a brief summary of yarn categories:
• Cat 0: Lace
• Cat 1: Superfine or Fingering
• Cat 2: Fine or Sport
• Cat 3: Light or DK (double knitting)
• Cat 4: Medium, Worsted or Heavy Worsted
• Cat 5: Bulky
• Cat 6: Super Bulky
(Various sized hooks and yarns from my stash)
As nice and neat as those categories are, there is still quite a bit of difference between yarns that fall into them. Especially in the Category 4, worsted weight, in my experience. So the gauge definition of stitches per square inch is the information to rely on if you are trying to select the right yarn, but the categories help you get in the right ball park.
Now that you've picked the right yarn, there is one more thing you can do to be absolutely sure you're matching the gauge, and that is to create a gauge swatch.
GAUGE SWATCHES: Ugh. To be honest, I rarely make a gauge swatch! I am so impatient! I usually just check the gauge on the yarn to be sure it matches the pattern and then dive in and check my gauge a bit into the project. I've been pretty lucky. But, to be certain your invested time will yield the right sized result you should make a gauge swatch first and adjust the size hook you use on the project to a larger size if you created too many stitches within the 4 inches, or a smaller hook if you created too few. A pattern will often tell you how to create a swatch. It will tell you the number of stitches and rows and which stitch to crochet. In the example above I crocheted 20 stitches and 22 rows in single crochet to be sure I had a big enough swatch to measure 4"x4".
The gauge swatch on the left was done with an "I" hook and the one on the right with a "J" hook. Without even counting you can see that there is a difference in the resulting size swatch.
The next step would then be to count the stitches and rows within a four inch square and see how they compare to what is called for in the pattern. There are special tools you can buy to help you isolate a 4"x4" area for counting but you can also use a measuring tape or some kind of ruler. This transparent one above is pretty handy.
You may get the gauge right with your first swatch, but if your stitches are too dense you can try another swatch with a larger hook, or with a smaller hook if your stitches are too loose. If the correct gauge is somewhere between two hook size you can also will yourself to loosen up or increase the tension on your yarn to adjust.
If you master gauge you can be certain sweaters and hats will always fit, and you can even change the size of the project you’re making. For instance, I used the same baby layette pattern to make a newborn sized sweater and one to fit my three-year old daughter simply by substituting a larger hook and yarn.
Phew! That was a lot. But it's essential to understand gauge before you get too carried away. And once you know the rules it's easier to bend them!
How-to tutorials, patterns, giveaways, reviews and interviews to make certain you are smitten.
Click on the "HOH in Crochet" label or button to view all the content in this series.
Here's a quick list of all the "How to Crochet" posts:
How to Crochet 1: The Slip Knot
How to Crochet 2: Holding the Yarn
How to Crochet 3: The Chain Stitch
How to Crochet 4: The Single Crochet
How to Crochet 5: Seaming Your Work
How to Crochet 6: The Double Crochet
How to Crochet 7: Weaving in the Ends
How to Crochet 8: The Half Double Crochet
How to Crochet 9: The Triple Crochet
How to Crochet 10: Working in the Round
How to Crochet 11: Understanding Gauge