Ever had a project come out much larger than the instructions said? Have you ever had a project come out the right size only to stretch out so much it’s completely useless? I can tell you your number one problem is probably your gauge. I know the word gauge may be a bit scary or you might think it’s a waste of time but believe me, it will save you time and frustration later. It’s really not as hard as you might think and is worth the little bit of extra work in the beginning.
What is gauge?
Gauge is the exact tension you should use to make sure your project comes out the correct size. In a pattern the gauge is usually listed towards the beginning under the heading “Gauge” (usually pretty easy to find ;)). The pattern will list the gauge as a ratio of stitches and rows to a given measurement (12 sts by 15 rows = 4″). Sometimes a pattern will say what the stitches are (sc, hdc, dc…) but if it doesn’t chances are it is the stitch pattern used in the project so you may have to hunt for it. For example if your pattern uses single crochets chances are the gauge is measured in single crochets.
Now that you have found your gauge in you pattern you’ll want to do a gauge swatch. Gather your yarn (be sure to pick a yarn that is the weight listed in the pattern) and the appropriate hook and crochet a small square in the pattern listed.
How big do I make my swatch?
I like to make my swatch a bit bigger than listed in the pattern. That way, I have lots of places on my swatch to measure. If the pattern says 12 sts I might do 15-18 sts and a few extra rows as well. As you are working up the swatch be careful to keep your tension consistent.
I have my swatch so I’m done now, right? Nope!
Stop! Block that swatch!
Even if you’ve gotten the correct measurement at this point you are not done yet. Over time, crochet stitches will relax and stretch out. If you check you swatch now and make your sweater (or whatever it is) chances are after you wear it a few times or after you block it the sweater will be way too big.
How do I block my swatch?
Block your swatch like you’d block your project. For a lot of things I make this means just throwing it in the wash. You could also use steam from an iron (be sure not to put the iron directly on the swatch as some yarns might melt) to help the stitches relax.
*The steam from the iron actually makes most acrylic yarns feel much softer 😉
Now you can measure!
Now that your swatch is made and blocked grab your tape measure and check it. When you measure your swatch be sure to 1. NOT include the end or bottom stitches in your measurements 2. check a few different places on your swatch and 3. measure the whole stitch.
If your measurements are right on congratulations! You can now move on with your project! If it is off unfortunately, you will have to start all over but trust me, it’s worth it!
How do I adjust my gauge?
If your measurements are off you will now need to determine if you need to go up or down a hook size. Lets say you gauge states you need 12 sts in 4″ but you got more that 12 sts in 4″. That means you tension is too tight (it’s not a bad thing but not right for your project) so you will need to go up a hook size (or 2).
If you are getting less than 12 sts in 4″ (usually my problem :)) your tension is too loose and you’ll need to go down a hook size (or 2 or 3…).
I’m just not getting the right measurements. HELP!
This can be very frustrating. I know, I’ve been there. It sounds funny but what has always worked for me is trying a different type of hook. So if it’s just not working with your aluminum hook, try a wood one or a different brand. I can not tell you why but it works, haha!
That’s gauge in a nut shell. I highly recommended doing this process to check your gauge from now on. Your projects will come out nicer and your work will be more consistent. Once you’ve done it a few times you’ll know by looking at a gauge in a pattern whether you will need to adjust your hook size or not.
If you have any questions post them in the comments.