Monday, May 16, 2011

Measure Your Gauge Swatch

Those of you who find this much too basic will forgive me, I know, because I get a lot of questions about measuring the gauge swatch and need to address it.

1.  Make sure your gauge swatch is a good sample - that is, it's the same stitch pattern as you'll use for the sweater, it was blocked the same way you'll block your sweater, and it was laundered the same way you'll wash your sweater.  My acrylic teal thread lace swatch was steamed pretty thoroughly - killed - and washed in the washing machine, then tumbled dry.   I threw it in with a few kitchen towels, not because it would make a difference, but because they were in the hamper.  I obviously don't plan to baby this garment!  The whole idea here is to treat the swatch so that if it loosens or shrinks, that gets considered in the sizing.

2.  Let's use the metric system!  My international readers may be laughing at our USA awkwardness with the metric system.  I have a bunch of reasons for asking My Fellow Americans to use centimeters and millimeters to measure your gauge swatch:

  • The charting device was designed in Asia, and they used centimeters.  The mylar sheet is marked in centimeters.  The controls on the charting device are in centimeters and millimeters, and the gauge strips are in centimeters and millimeters, too.  
  • Measuring in centimeters is easier than measuring in inches, once you get used to it.  Honest.  A centimeter is a little less than a half inch, and there are 10 millimeters in each centimeter - those are the tiny marks.  Therefore, 14.5 centimeters is the same as 145 millimeters.  You move the decimal one place to get from centimeters to millimeters.  Isn't that easier than figuring out eighths of an inch or horrors, counting sixteenths?  (My husband John, the math major, is sitting here saying centipedes and millipedes, just to "bug" me.  It's always helpful to have a peanut gallery.  Thanks, Darling.)
  • Centimeters are small and millimeters are tiny, so you'll be working with a precise measurement.
  • I learned 40 years ago in high school that the US was going to the metric system any day.  We must be getting there very, very gradually.  I am drinking root beer this evening that I poured out of a 2-liter bottle, so maybe there's hope.  
  • Knitters are very intelligent and forward-thinking individuals, not to mention fond of imported yarns, which are marked with grams for weight and centimeters for gauge.  We might as well set a good example for other folks who are less adaptable.
3.  Measure BETWEEN the lines for the vertical measurement.  Get right up next to the line but don't include the line in the measurement.  This is the rows measurement.  You don't need a special ruler, just any decent metric ruler or tape.  Measure straight, along a dent between stitches.

Guess what - the measurement between the lines will vary.  Measure in several places.  More about that, later.

4.  Measure between the dots (stitch marks) for the width, or stitches measurement.  Scoot right up to the contrasting stitch but don't include it.  Bear in mind that with 5 dots on each side, you've got 5 nicely marked spots to measure.  I like to measure in several spots just in case the knitting is distorted in one area or I wasn't paying attention and read the ruler incorrectly.

Do you recall that we had 60 rows between the lines and 40 stitches between the dots?  That's what Brother wants us to measure for the Knit Leader.  This will be fairly accurate because we're not just counting a few stitches and rows but we're measuring a nice, big sample.  I was told many years ago by a wise old gal never to try to count stitches and rows one by one, but to always work from a gauge swatch.  

Your measurement will change by a millimeter or two (those tiny marks) from one location to another.  That's normal because knitting is soft and stretchy.  I tried not to distort or stretch the fabric when I measured, but my measurements in different locations still came out a little differently.  Look what I got in my measurements of the teal swatch:

I'm going to take an average or the number that comes up the most often.  I don't normally bother to calculate an average, but for my width, if I did compute the average (total the five numbers and divide by 5), I get 13.7 with my pocket calculator.  However, I do just as well saying to myself that there were more 13.7 measurements than anything else and the 14 is outside the normal range and so is the 13.5, and just use the 13.7.

On the height, I'll use 10.4 which is in the middle and occurred twice.

Remember when I asserted that one stitch or one row doesn't matter?  Well, look at your measuring tape, and see at how tiny a millimeter is.  One millimeter off in each 40 stitches is not going to matter - over the whole 200 needles, that would only be 5 millimeters difference in width.



  1. The controls and gauge strips for my Studio machine are in inches, although I think the patterns give both.
    As for having 2L pop bottles...the world's largest manufacturer of PET machines is in Canada, LOL. They make pretty much all the machines used in pop and water bottles.
    I will admit to doing my swatches in inches, but when 10cm of snow is forcast, I know exactly how much that is and it really annoys my husband when I can spread my fingers to show him and he doesn't believe me till I get the tape measure out, LOL.
    It took me a few tries to "trust" the gauge swatch ruler, after years of counting individual stitches/rows. But it's definately the easier way to go, esp. with textured yarns or patterns! Can't wait to see what's next in this series!

  2. Although I've got a Knit Radar, it is too different to teach it at the same time as the Knit Tracer (Brother) and the Knit Leader (Toyota). It's just too confusing to switch from metric to English and from full-scale to half scale, etc. at the same time that I'm trying to show the process and bring across the concepts.

    I am hoping to find time to do the Knit Radar separately. Don't know; feeling some anxiety because this will be my third weekend in a row that is heavily committed.

  3. Thank you, Diana. I am from Europe, so metric stuck in my brain since school age. I also think that inches are a bit confusing, but I live here and I try to use them too.
    I always struggle with swatches and taking the correct measurements. Will to be extra careful with measuring.
    Sometimes I read that hard ruler is more accurate than soft tape - could stretch with time. You think it could be true?
    I will get my Brother 116 charting device tomorrow!!!
    ~ Iryna

  4. My measuring tapes aren't very old, but yes, they can stretch with time. I also like a cheap school ruler for measuring.

    When you choose the gauge strip, though, you can lay it right down on the knitting and make sure there is one mark for each stitch. That's a nice way to double-check the accuracy of your measuring.