When I owned my store, there wasn’t a week that went by without an issue concerning gauge. I would get comments like:
“I knit loose or tight , so this pattern will probably work out.”
” What needle size should I use to get the gauge?”
“My tension is always right on so this project will work out.”
“I can just do the next size up since I knit tight.”
Customers would find any excuse not to knit a simple four inch square swatch to check if they are obtaining the same gauge as in the pattern instructions. Striving for accuracy is well worth your time, and will avoid disappointments after many hours of knitting.
Firstly, I want to point out what I feel is the difference between the terms gauge and tension. The term gauge is simply the number of stitches and rows per inch of knitted fabric, and determines the measurements of the project. The majority of pattern instructions give the gauge over a 4 inch square. In some pattern instructions, tension is the term used instead of gauge. I define tension as how a person knits; for example, my tension is very even, that is every stitch almost looks the same and there are no obvious gaping areas or areas that are tighter. Also, keep in mind that because knitters are individual in their style, the gauge will often vary when they are using the same yarn and needle size.
To answer the question; “What happens to measurements when gauge is incorrect?”, I’m going to use the pattern measurements for the back of an A-line jacket compared to the measurements for the same piece, when the gauge obtained has less stitches and rows per inch than the gauge required to achieve the measurements obtained in the pattern instructions. The measurements were calculated using the same stitch and row numbers as in the pattern instructions.
Measurements of back – gauge of the original pattern instructions (15 sts and 21 rows= 4″):
Shoulder width: 3.75 inches
Neck: 6.25 inches
Above armholes: 13.75 inches
Bust: 15.75 inches
Armhole: 6.75 inches
Total length: 25.5 inches
Hem width: 17.75 inches
Measurements of back – gauge of knitter is 14 sts and 20 rows = 4″:
Shoulder width: 4 inches
Neck: 6.5 inches
Above armholes: 14.5 inches
Bust: 16.75 inches
Armhole: 7 inches
Total length: 26.75 inches
Hem width: 19 inches
You can see the measurements do change significantly with only a change of one stitch from the gauge obtained in the pattern. I hope this example changes your mind about knitting swatches. Making a gauge swatch is most critical when making garments, because you want them to fit. Check the article Blocking 101 at http://www.urbanknitters.ca for further information about gauge and gauge swatches.