There’s a part of knitting that I’m not fond of. In fact, I usually skip over it, which is a bad, bad habit.

In the instructions of a knitting pattern, it tells you what type of yarn (usually expensive) and needle size (one you don’t own, of course) to use. That’s not usually enough to get started on the project.

Everyone knits just a bit differently. And sometimes you don’t want to use a name brand yarn. And do you really need to go out and buy new needles when you have the next size down?

Well, my friends, making a gauge will help you figure it out.

The pattern instructions will tell you what the gauge should be. The instructions usually say something like: Cast on 20 stitches. Knit 20 rows in a stockinette stitch. Swatch should measure 4 inches by 4 inches.

So you take your recommended needles and recommended yarn (or something close to it) and you knit a little square. Then you measure it. A lot of people prefer to block it as well, especially if they’re making something form-fitting like a sweater, so they know how the yarn will react. (Article on blocking coming soon.)

If what you just knit measures exactly 4″ x 4″, then congrats! You can begin your project, knowing that what you knit should have the same finished measurements as given in the pattern.

If your swatch does not have the correct gauge, then it’s time to get creative. Since I’m sure you like your yarn choice, change your needles. If your swatch is too large, say it’s 5″ x 5″, then try going down a needle size or two.

Likewise if your swatch is too small, try going up a needle size.

It can be frustrating to try and get the gauge exactly right, but do keep at it because I have unraveled many projects because I didn’t take the time to check and see how it would come out.

You don’t always have to make a gauge. If you’re making a scarf or a sleeping mask or an amigurumi, then it doesn’t matter. But if you want, say, a sweater to fit you perfectly, you should do a gauge.

Here’s one of my first sweaters.

I did not do the gauge. I used the same sized needles, and while I did not use the recommended brand, I did use chunky weight wool, the same as the original.

Oh, and did I mention this was supposed to be an OVERSIZED sweater?

I have learned my lesson. Always take the time to make a gauge, no matter how excited you are to begin!

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