Gauge doesn’t matter*

adventures in gauge – part 1: big

picture of cowl with big gauge
adventures in gauge: big (finished piece)

Now, before the knitting police come to haul me away, gauge doesn’t matter ONLY *for some types of knitting and for some types of knitters.

For example, I wouldn’t suggest knitting a gauge swatch for a pot holder–in this case the finished piece is smaller than most gauge swatches I would knit anyway. I also might radically suggest using the first 10″ of a sleeve as gauge swatch for a sweater, as long as I am (or the knitter is) willing to wash and block it as the final garment will be washed and blocked and makes the promise to rip it out if the knitting isn’t everything our heart desires in the finished piece. That last part is the tough one.

Gauge also plays a smaller part in the overall scheme of things when the knitter has lots of yarn, doesn’t care if the finished size doesn’t resemble the garment in the pattern, doesn’t mind doing a little (or a lot of) knitting math, or has “someone” as in this-will-fit-someone to gift with the finished piece. Some scarves, cowls, shawls, blankets, toys, charity knitting, and dare I say sweaters will fit these criteria. However, if any of those statements is not true, then go ahead and swatch swatch swatch until gauge is met.

SO…let’s look at some extreme differences in gauge. We’ll explore the same pattern on the same number of stitches with the same knitter (me) but will change up the yarn and needles to achieve our goal of different gauge in each finished piece. If you’d like to play along, here are some notes to help you get started.

If you’d like this as a written pattern or just can’t get enough of grist creative, then feel free to join my mailing list or follow me on instagram (add a comment so I know it’s you!) between now and May 15 and I’ll send/post a coupon code for a free pattern download for the first two pieces (big and medium) before the end of May.

The basic pattern. Let’s start with a nice 3×2 ribbing over 105 stitches. We’ll add a slipped stitch to the rib to make it a bit more interesting. This pattern is knit in the round, stitches are slipped knitwise purlwise with yarn in back.

  • Round 1: *K2, yo, k1, p2,* repeat around. (stitch count changes on this round)
  • Round 2: *K1, sl-1, drop yo, k1,* repeat around. (back to regular stitch count)
  • Round 3: *K1, sl-1, k1, p2,* repeat around.
picture of Noro furisode with US9 (5.5mm) needles
Noro furisode with US9 (5.5mm) needles

Go Big. Let’s start with big yarn, big needles, big gauge: Noro Furisode (150m / 100g) and US9 (5.5mm) circular needles but at this size I’m a slightly loose knitter so US8-11 (5-8mm) may work better for you if you’re trying to get the same look. Using our 105 sts, this is likely going to be a cowl in the 3-4 stitches per inch (spi) range.

This yarn has 45% silk and 40% cotton which makes it feel cool to the touch, but with only 15% wool there isn’t much bounce or memory. The minimal stretchiness in the finished garment will heavily rely on the ribbing pattern.

The whole debate around measuring in pattern vs stockinette and unstretched vs lightly stretched vs fully stretched is a topic for another day. For this adventure, I’ll just be giving the measurements in the pattern stitch in unstretched and some kind of stretched state and also concentrating on stitch gauge–row/round gauge is a topic for a different day.

Gauge and size results for Big:

picture of cowl showing 3½ st/inch
Big: 3½ st/inch
  • unstretched: ~21″ circumference with 15 sts / 4″ (10cm) or about 3¾ spi
  • stretched out to 36″ has 11 sts / 4″ (10cm) or about 2¾ spi but this bounces back to a size closer to unstretched, so it’s unlikely that the garment would stay in this shape
  • most likely: the most likely size after wearing this cowl for a while after blocking will be ~30″ or so, which puts our steady state gauge at about 3½ sts / inch (2.5cm)

Next up – part 2: medium, where we will explore the neighborhood of 5 sts per inch