When you are new to knitting, the terminology can be confusing. Skein, gauge, ply, strand, weight- what does it all mean? One of the most common questions we hear is, "Why don't you post yarn gauge in the yarn product descriptions?"
The simple answer is- gauge is unique to each individual knitter. But, there is a more in depth explanation that may help.
In knitting, gauge refers to the number of stitches per inch horizontally and the number of rows per inch vertically that a knitter creates when stitching with a particular size yarn and knitting needles. Even when two knitters use the same yarn, gauge can vary quite a bit. Even 1/4" difference in gauge can determine whether or not a sweater fits or the length of a finished scarf. This is why test swatches are so important.
Before starting any knitting project, it is important to knit a gauge swatch. The only way to truly know the gauge for a project is to knit a swatch and measure it. Knitters seems to dread knitting swatches, but creating this sample allows you to understand what your end product will look like. With each new knitting project, your needles, yarn, and tension combine in a unique way to create gauge. A swatch is especially crucial when the size of the finished garment must be exact.
Creating a knitting swatch will let you know:
After completing a knitting swatch, you may decide that you don't like the pattern or that you no longer want to dive into the project. It is so much better to make this decision after creating a swatch rather than half way through a project.
Your knitting gauge will determine the size of your completed project. Most knitting patterns will include the recommended gauge and may look like:
Gauge: 21 sts/31 rows = 4 inches in mosaic knitted pattern
From this you know that your target gauge is 21 stitches and 31 rows which will equal four inches squared in mosaic knitted pattern. Matching the stitch and row gauge will yield the exact specifications of the pattern. Knitting a swatch will help you to correct for yarn, needles and tension so that your end result is the correct size.
If your gauge doesn't match up exactly, don't panic. If your gauge is larger than recommended, switch to a smaller set of needles. You may need to switch needles a few times to match the gauge perfectly.
Now that you understand how knitting gauge works, pick a pattern and dive right in. Grab your needles and the perfect yarn- and don't forget to make a swatch first. As always, reach out to us in the comments with any questions.