How do I measure the gauge of a knit square?

Last week we started looking at Gauge, and why it is important to the success of your knitting. I gave you a brief overview of how to measure knitting gauge, but in this post, I’m going to go into the process in much greater detail.

In my free beginner knitters e-Course, From Newbie to Know-It-All, I go through all the steps to knitting a stocking stitch square (knit a row, then purl a row) with a garter stitch (knit all rows) border.

I’m going to use the sample I created in that course to show you how to measure your gauge. You will need your chosen yarn, knitting needles in the size the pattern calls for, and a tape measure.

Do you hate knitting tension squares? Did you know, a sweater can take upwards of 150 hours, knitting a tension square takes around 2 hours, and makes all the difference? Click through to find out why YOU should be knitting one.

 

Knitting a tension square is the first step to working out your gauge.

So you have your pattern ready, and it tells you what gauge you need to achieve in order for your knitted thing to come out the right size. It usually states this at the beginning of the pattern under a heading of its own.

This could be written in various ways, so below I’ve given four examples which I’ve taken from actual patterns, and I’ve then deciphered them where necessary.

Example 1

TENSION
18 sts and 24 rows to 10 cm over st st using 5 mm needles.

Translation

A square that is 18 stitches wide, and 24 rows long, knit in stocking stitch needs to measure 10cm x 10cm.

5mm needles have been provided as a guide.

Example 2

Gauge/Tension
(in stocking stitch)
22sts/10cm on 4.0mm needles

Translation

A square that is 22 stitches wide needs to be 10 cm wide.

The length isn’t vital when working out gauge so you sometimes the designer will miss this out.

Again, the designer used 4mm needles to create the item – there’s a good chance it will be different for you.

Example 3

Gauge: On 6.5mm needles, 13 stitches and 20 rows to 4 inches over stocking stitch worked in the round.

Translation

A square that is 13 stitches wide and 20 rows long, knit in stocking stitch needs to measure 4″ x 4″.

6.5mm needles as a guide.

Example 4

Gauge: 15 sts/ 20 rows is 4” in Stockinette stitch

Translation

A square that is 15 stitches wide and 20 rows long, knit in stocking stitch needs to measure 4″ x 4″.

Size 8 US needles are given as a guide further in the pattern.

Here is an example where you may need to use the needle size conversion in my Knitting Needles: A Beginner’s Guide so you can work out which of the needles you have is appropriate for the project.

So, now we have some examples to work with, how do we knit our square?

It may be VERY tempting to cast on just the number of stitches the gauge example gives you, for e.g. in example 3 you may want to cast on just 13 stitches…

Tough!

You need to cast on more. Sorry (not sorry).

In each example, I would cast on AT LEAST 10 additional stitches, so using the same example, I’d cast on 23. (if I’m being honest, I really like numbers that are in multiples of 5… so I’d cast on 25. Is anyone else like that?)

You may ALSO be tempted to just knit stocking stitch – that’s all the pattern asks for, right?

Right! But still wrong.

Knit a garter stitch border all the way around, which should be no problem as you added all those extra stitches in.

But why you ask?

Because, as you will know if you’ve ever knit something all stocking stitch, all of the edges roll up when there isn’t a border to keep it flat. This is something to do with the twist of the yarn (I’m not a scientist) and it makes it really tricky to measure as it stretches the stitches so your measurements end up all squiffy.

With all this in mind, we can start knitting our square. You need to knit at least as many rows as the pattern asks for, not including the garter rows. Don’t cast off your stitches once you’ve done this.

Finally, we measure.

Lay out what you’ve got somewhere nice and flat. I do it on my blocking board so I can stick pins it.

Grab your tape measure, and if you can, put a pin at the point where you’re starting. You want to measure whatever the pattern asks for, so 10 cm, 4″ etc. Put a pin at that point as well.

The left strand of the “v” shape is the beginning of a whole stitch. This is where you need to start measuring.

Do you hate knitting tension squares? Did you know, a sweater can take upwards of 150 hours, knitting a tension square takes around 2 hours, and makes all the difference? Click through to find out why YOU should be knitting one.

 

Count how many stitches fall in between those pins – if there is a half stitch you need to count that as .5 of a stitch.

Do you hate knitting tension squares? Did you know, a sweater can take upwards of 150 hours, knitting a tension square takes around 2 hours, and makes all the difference? Click through to find out why YOU should be knitting one.

Let’s just ignore my terrible measuring and counting ability in this photo, shall we? Tell me when you spot the big boo-boo…

Now, does it match what the pattern is asking for?

If yes, great, you’re pretty much good to go. Yay!

You can either pull the yarn back, to use for your project, or you can cast off and keep the square as a reference for that yarn.

If it doesn’t match, not to worry, that’s the whole point of this exercise. So what now?

If there are too many stitches:

Change to a bigger needle.

If there are far too many stitches, then try moving up a whole needle size. If it’s just half a stitch, move up half a needle size.

If there are too few stitches:

Change to a smaller needle.

If there are far too few stitches, then try moving down a whole needle size. If it’s just half a stitch, move down half a needle size.

You can do this on the same piece, you don’t need to cast on again. Just pick up the next needle size and start knitting with it.

Knit as many rows as you did the first time, then repeat the measuring process as described above.

Keep on repeating this process until your gauge is spot on to that in the pattern. If you don’t your knitted thing will end up completely the wrong size.

In last week’s post I used this example to demonstrate why even half a stitch difference can have a HUGE impact:

Say you’re knitting a sweater, and it has 200 stitches around the body.

The gauge asks for 5 stitches per inch.

200 (total stitches) ÷ 5 (stitches per inch) = 40 (inches around the body)

Your tension square measures 5½ stitches per inch, and you think to yourself, “it’s only half a stitch out, it’s close enough, right?”

You cast on your 200 stitches.

Seeing as 200 (total stitches) ÷ 5.5 (stitches per inch) = 36.3636 (inches around the body)… your jumper now measures just over 36 inches around, instead of 40.

That is approximately two ladies clothes sizes in the UK!

Does this all seem very tedious and boring?

Learning to measure gauge is such a vital step in making sure things turn out how they’re supposed to, even though all you want to do is get knitting the actual thing you want to knit!

A sweater can take upwards of 150 hours to knit, and a gauge swatch takes a
couple of hours. Hopefully, that puts it in a little bit of perspective! 😉

Did you know that when you’ve learnt to measure gauge, you then have the skills to be able to substitute yarns for what you have in your stash?

Say you’ve seen a pattern for a sweater that you reeeally want to knit. It’s knit in DK yarn and you prefer a slightly thicker yarn…

As long as they aren’t polar opposites in terms of weight it should work (i.e. a DK to Aran could work… a lace-weight to a super chunky won’t…)

If you can get the correct gauge with your preferred yarn, you can use it and it will turn out the right size.

I really hope this post has been useful for you, and I hope you are finally a gauge convert… you are, aren’t you?

If you don’t yet know how to knit, but you want to learn, don’t forget to sign up for my FREE e-Course! You will learn all the basics of knitting, step-by-step and get access to the dedicated Facebook group.

Related post: Gauge; What is it, and why does it matter?

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