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I am excited to share with you what affects gauge because often these things are overlooked and can be the cause of so much frustration. If you’ve made very many gauge swatches, you’ve probably had the experience of making swatch after swatch without meeting gauge. It can feel futile! The good news is there are several other factors that you can change to help you meet gauge.
If you’re frustrated about not meeting gauge exactly, it’s important to remember the smaller the project, the less a difference in gauge will change the finished size. The opposite also being true. The bigger the project the more even small changes in gauge will change the final project. You can use a slight difference in gauge to slightly change the fit of an item. We’ll talk about this more in another post.
If you want to meet gauge spot on and are struggling, try changing one, or a couple, of the things below to help
It’s so tempting to grab a beautiful yarn to work up your project without thinking about how similar it is to the yarn the designer used. Different yarns can behave differently depending on their fiber content, how they were processed, and how they were spun. If you’re not using the exact same yarn as the designer, switching your yarn to one that is more similar can make a big difference. You can read more about making good yarn substitutions here and watch my YouTube video here.
Yarn can vary from light to heavy within the same weight category. So picking yarn within the same weight category doesn’t necessarily mean your yarn is super similar to the one the designer used. Comparing the similarity of the yards or meters in each skein to the grams or ounces can help you compare the thickness of the yarn in many cases, though this is not full proof.
Even if you won’t be blocking your swatch or finished item, it is good to keep in mind that different fibers behave differently. Seeking out a yarn with a fiber content similar to the yarn used by the designer can help with meeting gauge. If you’ve swatched several times with a yarn, take a look at the yarn you’ve chosen and compare it to the yarn used by the designer. Then consider if changing your yarn would help you to meet gauge.
I definitely have preferences about what kind of hook I use and usually start with my favorites when swatching for a project. There are so many different kinds of hooks made out of so many materials – steel, aluminum, wood, resin – and this can affect your gauge. If you have hooks made from different materials, give them a try and it may help tighten or loosen your stitches.Generally speaking, hooks made out of smoother materials like metal will increase your stitch size. Materials with more grip, like wood, can tighten your tension.
It can be so frustrating if you meet gauge in number of stitches, but not in rows. This feels like an unsolvable problem. If you change your hook size, it will change your stitch size so your rows may be correct, but then you stitches are off – ugh! The good news if that you can change your row height without changing you hook size.
Rows that are too short or too tall can be changed by adjusting your golden loop. The golden loop is simply the first loop you pull up when making a stitch. It changes the height of your stitches. Intentionally adjusting your golden loop can help change your row gauge.
If you pull this loop tight, your stitches will be shorter, putting more rows in your swatch. When you find that your stitches are correct, but you have too many rows, try loosening up your golden loop. If you pull this loop high, your stitches will be taller. If you meet stitch gauge but don’t have enough rows in your swatch, try tightening up your golden loop. This will shorten each row, causing there to be more rows in your swatch.
The environment isn’t’ something we usually consider when we think about our yarn craft. If you’ve ever tried taking your yarn outside on a hot summer day, you know both the air temperature and humidity can affect your yarn. If it is hot outside and you are sweating, it can cause your yarn not to glide easily through your fingers, tightening up your tension. High humidity can have the same effect. Any moisture can tighten up your gauge, even putting lotion on your hands!
Conversely, dry air and normal skin can allow the yarn to glide more smoothly through your fingers, loosening your tension. However, if your skin is super dry, the yarn can snag, tightening your tension and make creating uncomfortable.
If you find that the environment is affecting your gauge, you may need to swatch in a more climate controlled place. You wouldn’t want these factors to give you the wrong information about your final project. This is also something to keep in mind if you find that your gauge is changing as you work on your project.
The Human Factor
It may seem obvious to say that we’re all human, but I think sometimes we underestimate how much our humanness can affect our craft. We are not machines and neither was the designer so we shouldn’t expect precision or perfection from ourselves.
Your mood can play a role in your gauge. If you are tired or stressed you may tighten your grip on your yarn, tightening your gauge. Even watching a scary or suspenseful movie while you work can change your gauge temporarily. Another thing that can affect making the perfect gauge is stress over having tried again, and again. If this is the case, it’s definitely worth taking a break so that your frustration doesn’t affect your swatch.
If you’re experiencing physical pain, even if it’s not in your hands or arms, This can tighten your tension too. I do not recommend working through pain. If you’re experiencing chronic pain, consult your doctor. If your pain isn’t chronic or even if you don’t regularly experience pain, it’s never a bad idea to take a break every 30 minutes or so and walk around, get a drink and rest your hands a bit.
Just like environmental factors, these human factors can cause your gauge swatch to give you inaccurate information. If you notice stress, frustration or pain, you’re better off taking a break and trying again later. Ultimately, patience, trial & error, and judgment are key in swatching.
One of the reasons meeting gauge is so hard is because there are so many things that can affect gauge. This may be encouraging because you’re not crazy; it is hard! Or this may be frustrating because getting it just right feels impossible sometimes. Keep in mind that close is often good enough. In my next couple posts and videos I’ll be sharing what to do once you’re done gauge swatching!
I hope this post has started to grow your understanding of what gauge is, when and why it is important. Again, this is just the beginning of the conversation. I hope you’ll read on, or watch more of my videos on YouTube to help deepen your understanding! Don’t forget to snag your free Gauge Swatch Info Sheet! It have lots of helpful tips and reminders about swatching and a place to keep track of all your swatching notes and measurements! Super helpful!
Often the first step in making the perfect gauge swatch is making a good yarn substitution. You can read more about yarn substitution and get another free printable here!
Read my first post about about what is gauge and why is it important here!
Next learn how to make a great gauge swatch here!