Knit gauge is arguably the most important tool of the trade in the world of knitwear designers. In essence, knit gauge will let you know what stitches per inch are in a garment – an important measurement to note, since there is no one universal stitch size that can be used. There are several reasons why this number could vary from fabric to fabric, including:
- Needle size
- Stitch pattern
- Individual knitter
It is important that you determine exactly what your knit gauge is before you undergo the process of assembling a garment. Even if your stitch is off by the slightest, it can spell disaster for your finished product.
Types of Knit Gauges Used
Because knit gauge is not a one size fits all type of operation, there are several different gauges that knitwear designers can deploy in order to get the proper stitching, based on both the type of garment being stitched and the knitwear designers’ own style.
Some of the more common gauges that are utilized factor in the thickness or layer of a folded material, otherwise known as ply. This thickness is measured by how many yarns are twisted together in order to make a singular thread. In the United States, these measurements are listed as 2-ply, 3-ply, and 4-ply. In other countries such as the United Kingdom and Australia, you may see 5-ply, 8-ply, 10-ply, or even 12-ply gauges.
There are a host of subcategories that derive from these particular measurements. The thinnest threads in these particular subcategories are known as fingering, whereas the thickest threads are known as bulky. The categories that are found in between this range include sock, sport, light worsted, worsted, and chunky. Not surprisingly, the thicker threads are utilized to make thicker products, up to and including sweaters or rugs.
The Importance of Swatches
As most knitwear designers will tell you, a critical part of the knit gauge process is to create a swatch. A swatch will put the proper knitting metrics into your grasp, giving you a small sample size as to how a fabric will look given the parameters that you decide to utilize while creating a knitted piece. These parameters will thusly eliminate any and all guesswork that you may have before you start putting your piece together.
Creating a swatch is essential if you are going to be putting together something that has exact measurements. If you are designing something that can be viewed as haphazard in nature, such as a baby blanket or a scarf, then creating a swatch is not as critical to the production of such items. However, if you are knitting something that is designed to fit an individual, then creating a swatch is a must. While there is a prevailing thought in some circles that a person can go on feel while putting together a piece of clothing and therefore forego the swatch process, it is inadvisable to do so because a person’s knitting tension has a tendency to change over a period of time based on how they knit or even what their mood may be.
Calculating the Knit Gauge Swatch
Knitting a gauge swatch requires that you use a little math as well as a little knitting skill. The first thing that you need to do is to figure out what will be at least six inches of stitches with whatever yarn or thread you choose to use and cast on that many stitches. That being said, you should be cognizant of the fact that the longer you make the swatch, the more accurate your measurement will end up being. Once you have figured out the length of your swatch, you should then knit a few rows in a garter stitch. As you do this, you should keep about an inch’s worth of stitches at the edge of the garter stitch. If your gauge does not give you a definitive pattern stitch, you should work in a stockinette stitch for a few inches. If you do have a pattern stitch, you must continue knitting your swatch in this particular pattern.
Once you have put together a few rows of knitting, you can then measure your work and approximate how close you are to your desired accuracy. This is where the math comes in, as you should measure four inches worth of your swatch, count the stitches in the swatch – including half-stitches – and then divide the number by four. This is the number of stitches per inch. If you wind up with a fraction, that is perfectly fine.
If you determine that you have more stitches per inch than your pattern needs, you have made a stitch pattern that is too small. In this case, you would need to use a larger needle. Conversely, if you have fewer stitches per inch than your pattern needs, you have made a pattern that is too large. In this case, you would need to use a smaller needle. Typically, if your variance is around an inch per stitch or less, you would just need to worry about swapping out your needle. However, if the variance you create is greater than one inch per stitch or more, you may need to take a look at utilizing a different yarn or thread. Keep in mind that not every thread will work for every design, so don’t try and force a thread to create a piece of clothing that will not work.
Even though you should always make a swatch for a fabric that is going to be worn by someone, most knitwear designers are able to develop a sense of what may or may not work over time before they create the swatch. That being said, the only way to develop this type of sensibility is through the process of trial and error. However, if you wish to strive for perfection in the design of your clothing, then developing this sensibility is worth the time and the effort.