Pattern Help: Getting Gauge or Knitting a Different Size

We all know (or have at least heard of) the importance of getting the right gauge when making a knitted pattern. But what happens when the gauge called for isn’t working with your yarn? Where does a knitter go from there?

This week, I’ll answer a reader’s question on what to do when your gauge is slightly off.

Q: I just purchased almost 2000 yards of yarn to make my first sweater. I swatched, and while the pattern calls for a gauge of 6 stitches per inch, I’m getting about 6.75 stitches per inch. The next size up in the pattern is 4″ difference, and while that normally would be too big, would it work with my different gauge? Can I just knit a different size?

A: While that little difference in gauge seems small, it could really make a big difference!

Here, we’ll do the math and see what will happen when we substitute your gauge for the one called for:

You want the size 38″ st 6 spi. At this size, let’s see how any stitches would be worked over the body:

38″ x 6 spi (gauge) = 228 stitches

You’re getting 6.75 spi. If you used that gauge in the size you need, you would end up with:

228 / 6.75 spi = 33.75″
You know this won’t fit so you assume making the larger size will work. (Remember, it’s 4″ bigger than the one you want.)

We start by checking the stitch count on the next size up:

42″ x 6 spi (correct gauge) = 252 stitches
And now, check to see what size it would end up if we used our present gauge:

252 / 6.75 spi (your gauge) = 37.25″

Not quite what you were looking for? Before you knit this size let me ask:

  • Have you taken ease of the garment into account?
  • Are you certain the 38″ is the right size?

A little bit of math reaffirms why gauge is so crucial in making well-fitting garments and also shows you that switching sizes isn’t necessarily the quick (or right) answer to your dilemma.

My suggestion is to try going up a needle size and swatching again to get the correct gauge. If your knitted fabric isn’t draping well for the piece at the correct gauge, then I’d say it’s time to face the fleece and find a different yarn. I know that is terribly disappointing, but you want to wear this sweater with pride, not hide it in your closet.

Also, make sure you know exactly what size you want to wear.

A great tip I’ve learned is to measure the bust on one of your best-fitting store-bought sweaters, and use that measurement to get a hand-knit item that will fit as you like.

A great class to check out would be Knit Lab: Fit Your Knits with Stefanie Japel, where you’ll learn to use your measurements to create garments that fit. And to really give your hand knits a custom fit, check out Amy Herzog’s course Knit to Flatter, or Joan McGowan-Michael’s class, Feminine Fit: Bust Shaping Techniques.

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