Knitting Trends: Gauge, gauge, gauge

OK, the title of this post is ridiculous, of course. How can gauge be a trend? The notion of estimating how big a knitted garment will be based on how big your stitches are is not new[1]! How can I say it’s trendy? 

Nonetheless, I feel like quite a few knitting bloggers are writing about gauge these days, it seems [2]Kelbourne Woolens recently ran an experiment where they compared gauge pre- and post-blocking from swatches knitted by several different knitters with the same size needles and yarn (they repeated the experiment with different yarns) and found pretty significant variation. The series is fascinating, I highly recommend reading it (they also include a practical application in each entry: what would happen if a particular pattern were knitted at the swatch gauge instead of the pattern gauge? Frequently very tiny or very large garments). 

Anyway, the series has gotten me thinking more about my own gauge. Like most “lifestyle knitters” I pretty consistently swatch before starting a project where fit matters (I might not bother for a shawl, particularly if I have plenty of yarn). But I’m not sure I swatch properly. I never swatch in the round, although I’m not sure my knit and purl gauge are the same, and I never swatch continental, but sometimes I knit continental if my eczema is bothering me[3] or if my fingers need a bit of a break. I do block my swatches, but I don’t always reswatch when my gauge is off on the first try (I just go up or down a needle size or two, and hope for the best). I also don’t always swatch with the same needles I plan to work with (I might swatch with bamboo DPNs then switch to metal for the actual project). 

Swatches on 3 mm (recommended) and 3.5 mm needles. I got gauge with 3.5 mm.

I’ve been working on a sweater for which I actually did swatch twice, and my second attempt was bang on. Then, after knitting several rows, I became convinced that the sweater was going to be enormous. I’d swatched flat: the sweater was worked in the round. So I transferred the stitches to some scrap yarn, blocked my work, and checked the gauge: again, bang on. So maybe I actually don’t need to worry too much about swatching in the round, at least. 

A seemingly enormous sweater fragment. It’s not, though: it’s just right. The blocking pins are just there to keep things a little flat, not to stretch anything out.

Still, I’d like to run my own swatch experiment. I’d like to compare knit and purl gauges, and continental and English gauges. Watch this space! 


  1. Elizabeth Zimmermann ranted about gauge in Knitting Without Tears (1971). I don’t know if the idea was revolutionary at the time, nor do I know if she was the first knitter to write about the importance of gauge (I move around too much to have the historical knitting library I’d like).
  2.  It’s also possible I’m just reading more knit blogs. 
  3. When I’m knitting English, I wrap the working yarn around my pinkie. This is a spot that sometimes gets scaly when my eczema is bad… So Continental provides a bit of relief.
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