We have all head it before – “Be sure to check your gauge before starting your sweater!”, “Don’t forget to work up a gauge swatch!”, “It doesn’t fit? Did you check your gauge?”
Any which way you turn in the knitting community, it seems that there is always something – a blog post, a paragraph in a book – educating us on the importance of gauge. Which is wonderful. It’s lovely to have that information so readily available. However, many of these pieces discuss the importance of gauge, how to check it, and how to adjust your needles to achieve correct gauge, but don’t necessarily explain how to change your pattern to suit your gauge. I can’t tell you how many knitters I have had come into the knit shop where I work, pull out their gauge swatch and ask “what next?”.
The truth of the matter is, sometimes we want to make a garment with a different gauge than the pattern suggests. Whether it’s because we have our hearts set on a yarn that won’t quite get gauge or we love the shape of the garment, but desire a different fabric, it sometimes just isn’t possible to knit a pattern to the suggested gauge. However, just because your gauge is off, doesn’t mean you can’t still make it work.
To adjust your pattern to your gauge, all you really need is some basic math. Say you’re knitting a sweater, and the given gauge is 6 stitches to the inch, but the fabric that you like is 5 stitches to the inch. All you need to do is go through the pattern and convert the number of stitches you’re supposed to have on your needle at any given time to match your 5 stitches gauge. Sound complicated? Don’t worry, it’s much simpler than it seems!
Say that the pattern you’re working on is for a top-down set-in-sleeve pullover, the first thing you would need to cast on for is the back neck. In the pattern’s schematic, you can check to see how many inches you’re supposed to cast on for the back neck in your size. If its 8″, all you have to do is multiply your inch gauge – in this case, 5 stitches per inch – by 8, and you’ll come up with your cast on number. You can also check this number against what the pattern says. If the pattern is having you cast on 48 stitches, you can divide the cast on amount by the number of stitches per inch that the pattern calls for. If the initial cast on is 48 stitches, and the pattern gauge is 6 stitches per inch, you can divide 48 by 6 to come up with how many inches to cast on. From there, you can multiply the number of inches by your own gauge to come up with how much to cast on.
The same holds true for differing row gauges. If the pattern you’re knitting calls for 10 rows per inch, but you’re knitting at 8 rows per inch, you can reference the schematic to see how many rows you should be knitting or check the row count in the pattern to figure out how many inches long the piece will be. For instance, if you’re knitting the back piece of a top-down set-in-sleeve sweater, it may be 7″ from the cast on for the back neck to the armhole. In that case, you would want to multiply your row gauge by 7 to determine how many rows you need to knit. Likewise, you can count out how many rows the pattern is asking you to knit, divide by the given row gauge, and multiply the resulting number by your own row gauge to determine how many rows to knit.
A combo of those two techniques can be used to adjust increases and decreases to suit your gauge as well. If you have to decrease the width of a garment by 4″ over 5″ of length in order to shape a waist, all that you need to do is plug your gauge in to know how many rows you need to knit, and how often you need to decrease. The row question is easy, just multiply your row gauge by the amount of inches given for the decrease section. To figure out your decreases, you can multiply your gauge by how much you will be decreasing to determine how many stitches you need to decrease. If you’re knitting a sweater, and have to decrease from a 36″ bust to a 32″ waist, then you would subtract the waist measurement from the bust measurement, and multiply that number by your stitches per inch gauge. In this cause, it would be 4″ of difference multiplied by 5 stitches to the inch, so you would need to decrease 20 stitches. If you have 5″ to do this, and you’re getting 8 rows per inch, then you have 40 rows in which you need to work your decreases. From there, you can decide how many decreases you want to do per decrease row, and how staggered you want the decreasing to be. A standard decrease row will have you decreasing 4 stitches each row, so if you need to decrease a total of 20 stitches, you would want to do 5 decrease rows. If you need to do 5 decrease rows over a total of 40 rows, and wanted evenly spaced decreases, then you would want to decrease every 8th row.
Increases can be adjusted for gauge in exactly the same way as decreasing, except you’ll be adding stitches back in, instead of taking them out.
The bottom line is, gauge is important, but not getting the expected gauges doesn’t mean you can’t make the pattern you want with the yarn of your choice. I have had so many customers come in discouraged because they couldn’t get gauge in the yarn that they really wanted to use. You are the boss of you’re knitting, and you can make it work for you.