This guest post is brought to you by the lovely folks from the 30 Day Sweater Challenge (which I'll tell you more about this weekend, so stay tuned!!).
Ask any knitter that has ever tried to knit something in a very specific size (like sweaters) if gauge is important and you'll get a resounding "YES!". However, most knitters grimace at the very mention of the 'G' word.
Personally I think we have it all wrong! The gauge swatch is like our infantry, the little guys that get no love for their service. They go ahead and scout what it might be like to move ahead. The swatch tells you if you have the ideal conditions to commit and how successful you'll be when you decide to go for the whole shebang. He is our first line of defense against a poorly fitted sweater. When we swatch it is like sending out the scouts to see if that yarn is really the perfect one for your project. Maybe your little swatch is just trying to tell you that you don't like the way the yarn feels when it's knit - but instead getting a big thank you just rip him apart. Perhaps he is trying to tell you that the coast is clear and everything will turn out perfectly. This little guy has got your back.
Or maybe you should think of swatching as going out on a date with your new yarn, getting to know each other a little bit before you commit. I just like to think of swatching as an extra opportunity to play with yarn. Who doesn't love to play with yarn?
Now let's get realistic, there are ways you can "cheat" at knitting gauge swatches by making the process simpler but in general you can't cheat your way out of knitting a swatch entirely (unless you want a poorly knitted sweater). Knitting a gauge swatch is important because it plays a huge role in the size and fit of your sweater and how the fabric itself feels and drapes.
Today we'll look at correcting gauge and predicting if you'll need to go up or down a needle size, using alternate blocking methods to get knitting faster and learn which projects gauge is imperative for (and which projects you can skip the swatch).
For those of you who have never knit a gauge swatch before, check out this tutorial over at New Stitch a Day.
If you are one of those fortunate knitters that get the exact gauge you're looking for at first, congratulations! This almost never happens for me so here is how to adjust your gauge so you do get the perfect gauge.
If you're not getting the correct gauge it doesn't mean you are a bad knitter or even that you are doing anything wrong. It just means that you and the designer of the pattern do not knit at the same tension.
I get a lot of new knitters asking if they should just try knitting tighter or looser to get gauge. Quite simply, you do not need to change your knitting, as long as you are knitting the stitches correctly, you shouldn't worry about knitting tighter or looser. Knit how you are comfortable knitting and how you will be knitting the for rest of your project. Trying to correct your gauge by knitting tighter or looser might work for a while but tends to be very inconsistent over the course of an entire project.
The easiest way to get correct gauge is to switch the needle size you are knitting with. When a pattern suggests a needle size it is just a suggested start. It means that the designer used that size of needle to get the specified gauge for the pattern. But if you knit tighter or looser than the designer you will need a different size of needle to get the same gauge.
If you are not getting enough stitches per inch that means your stitches are too big. Try going down a needle size.
If you are getting too many stitches per inch that means your stitches are too small. Try going up a needle size.
As you work on your next few projects, make a note if you had to go up or down a needle size. If you are consistently going down two needle sizes from what is recommended I suggest you might try swatching with the smaller needles first on your next project. You may be pleasantly surprised to find yourself with spot on gauge first try. I find that I almost always need to go up one or two needle sizes so whenever I check gauge I start with the needles one size larger than recommended and I usually end up with almost perfect gauge.
One step a lot of knitters like to skip is washing and blocking your swatch before you measure your gauge because it takes some time. Luckily there are a couple of ways of blocking that can make this step go a bit quicker. I do recommend fully washing and blocking like you will treat your finished garment but if you are knitting with delicate fiber or a fiber that you will not be getting entirely wet you can try spray blocking or steam blocking. These methods dry faster and you will get on your way quicker than wet blocking.
So you may be asking, "is it ok to not make a gauge swatch?"
Technically you should always swatch. However, for some projects the gauge is less important like scarves and baby blankets since they don't need to be a specific size. Or if you often knit with the same needles and the same yarn, you may not need to check your gauge as it will be the same. However, if you plan on using the "same needles, same yarn" route I would recommend checking gauge every so often as your tension can change over time or even depending what mood you're in.
There you have it, three ways to simplify the swatching process to get knitting quicker! You can use your recent projects to predict which needle size you'll need, use an alternate blocking method to speed up the process or choose a project where gauge isn't imperative.
If you'd like to learn more about making a gauge swatch and the other steps that go into preparing a sweater, download our free Sweater Planning Guide. In this guide we talk about choosing a suitable yarn, how much yarn you to buy and how to plan a sweater that you love! Did we mention that its free?