Why Gauge Swatches Lie and What You Can Do to Get a Finish Project You Love

May 20, 2022

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“GAUGE SWATCHES LIE!!!” a friend recently exclaimed in a group chat! She had finished a sweater and it ended up on the small side even though she met gauge in her swatch. If you’ve made a great gauge swatch, pat yourself on the back! No, seriously! Gauge swatching can be a challenge and you deserve to take a minute to appreciate your work! While meeting gauge is a great accomplishment, I think we all know that it’s just the start of your project. If you’ve had an experience like my friend, and haven’t we all, then you know that a great swatch doesn’t always result in a perfect final project.


Before You Dive In

Now that you’ve made the perfect gauge swatch it can be super tempting to dive into the pattern. Before you do that I recommend take a  look over the pattern. Before you start, it’s always good to give a pattern a read to get some feel for how it works. Take a look at the notes as well as at the stitches and techniques used in the pattern. 


If you’re unfamiliar with any of stitches or techniques, it can help to practice those with a swatch. If the pattern doesn’t offer one, find a tutorial and give them a try. Don’t worry, this swatch doesn’t have to meet a certain gauge, it’s just to help you become comfortable with those stitches so they can look their very best in your final project!



Getting Started

Now it’s time to get started on the pattern. As many experienced crafters would tell you, it’s good to remember that a perfect gauge swatch doesn’t always mean a perfect project. Each variety of stitches you make can change the gauge a bit as well as working those stitches over even larger fabric than your swatch. As you work your pattern, trust your instincts. There’s nothing worse than making an entire project only for it to not fit. Don’t wait to the end to check back in on your measurements if you thing somethings off!


Checking in on your project a few times while you work can make a big difference. Check back in on your gauge if you think it’s changed while you were working. Also measure your pieces and compare them to the measurements listed on the pattern. It’s much easier to make adjustments a few rows in than it is at the end! If your project is something that you’ll be wearing, try it on. If your project isn’t for you, or it’s not something to wear, measure the pieces and make sure they’re working up to the measurements indicated by the pattern. Remember to take your measurements on hard, flat surfaces.


It is not uncommon for your tension to change, especially over larger projects or projects that take you a long time to make. Measuring the total size of your project and comparing it to the pattern’s final measurements is super  helpful. You can also measure your gauge as you go and compare it to both your final gauge swatch and the pattern’s gauge. Don’t be too hard on yourself if you find your gauge has changed a bit. Your stitches may be exactly the same, but even if a part of an extra stitch was peeking into the edge of your gauge swatch, it can add up over a big project.


Depending on how close you are to the total yards needed and how important fit is, small variations may not be a big deal. Especially if you’re blocking the final project.



Try It ON!

I think this is one of the biggest mistakes people make when making garments. If you’re making a garment, you must try it on! And not just once or twice. It’s important to try your project on several times as you go. If you’re working a top down garment, try it on a little ways into the yoke to check the neck opening. Next check again once you reach the point where you’ll join the under arms. Then try it on again a few rows after you’ve attached under the arms. Try it on to check for body length. Check when you start the sleeves to make sure they aren’t too wide or narrow. This can save you lots of tears and frogging at the end.


As you try on your garment, be sure to keep in mind whether you’ll be blocking your final project or not. Hopefully, if you are planning on blocking your final garment, you blocked your gauge swatch. If your swatch grew with blocking, keep in mind that your garment will grow similarly to your swatch and a slightly smaller fit is preferable so there’s room for it to grow with blocking. Of course, if your swatch did not grow, or you won’t be blocking your final project, it’s more important to have the desired final fit as you work.




If your garment isn’t for you, or isn’t top down, it can be harder to try on. Instead know the measurements you’re aiming for by measuring yourself, the recipient, or a favorite sweater and compare your work to those measurements. If your garment is worked in panels, it can be helpful to quickly and loosely slip stitch the panels together to check on fit. These can then easily be unraveled to continue work!


Even if you’re not making a garment, it’s a good idea to put a hat on or measure it to check the circumference. It doesn’t hurt to measure a cowl to make sure the width is coming out correctly.


While home décor can be more flexible, making pillow pieces too big can make them look sloppy. On the other hand, if they’re too small they won’t fit over your pillow form!


Keep Environmental and Human Factors in Mind

To keep gauge consistent throughout your project you may want to refrain from taking your project out and about in more extreme weather conditions or be sure to check in with your gauge if you do. A drastic change in humidity can greatly affect gauge so be careful.


It’s good to be aware of your body and mood while you work as well. Pain, and stress are one of the biggest causes of tension changes. Check back in on your gauge when you notice a change in any of these factors too. Also, know that our habits and motions may change over time so if you put a project down for a while and come back to it, your gauge may change.



Make Adjustments

I firmly believe that once you’ve purchased a pattern you’re free to make adjustments so that you end up with a final project you love. The degree to which you make these adjustments is up to your preferences, skill level, and how adventurous you are. Please keep in mind that it is not the designer’s job to help you modify their patterns so be conscientious of that when asking questions or for help from the designer. 


While it can be scary to change a pattern, there are some simple adjustments you can make that can make a big difference in fit. If you want your piece longer or shorter, add or subtract rows. Just because it’s a crop top pattern doesn’t mean your sweater has to be a crop top. Need a little extra room? Go up a hook size for part of the pattern. Need a little less room? Go down a hook size for part of the pattern. Be sure to remember that these adjustments will change the amount of yarn you need.


With an excellent gauge swatch and checking in on your project several times throughout, you’re sure to have a finished project you love!




If you haven’t read my other posts on gauge, be sure to give them a read!

What is Gauge and Why is it Important?

How to Make a Great Gauge Swatch

What Affects Gauge

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!


Buy a gauge ruler set here. Get a cute one inch gauge ruler here. Purchase a wooden four inch gauge ruler here.

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