How to Measure and Adjust Gauge
Updated: Jul 8, 2021
Gauge - the number of stitches and rows per distance unit. AKA the bane of every yarn-based crafter's existence. Nearly every pattern in knit or crochet will include the desired gauge towards the top of the pattern and then tell you to always check your gauge (mine too), and yet many people will say "lol, nope" (also me) and start the pattern using the recommended hook or needle size.
Some of the time, this will work out just fine. Other times...less so. So why is that? When does gauge matter? How is gauge measured? What if my gauge isn't turning out right??
Do not fear, friend! This post is here as your reference guide to all things gauge-related, whether you be a knitter or a crocheter.
How to Measure Gauge
Gauge is simply the number of stitches or rows per some measure of distance, inches or centimeters, depending on which side of pond you live on. To measure your gauge, you will first need to make a gauge swatch.
To make a gauge swatch:
Reference the pattern's listed gauge - it should include the stitch used to determine the gauge used in the pattern. For example: 16 sts & 24 rows = 4 inches in stockinette, 20 sts & 22 rows = 4 inches in sc.
However many stitches wide and rows high the gauge is, ADD SOME. The reasoning is that the edges of the fabric can get a bit...funky for measuring purposes so you want to have a bit of extra that you can ignore all the way around. Then, go ahead and work up a swatch using your yarn of choice, the recommended needed/hook size, and the stitch given in the gauge section of the pattern.
Once your swatch is ready, it's time to measure.
One secret before we look at examples: it doesn't matter how many inches/centimeters you use to measure the stitches - it's all proportional. Use whatever mark divides the stitches well. So if the stitches fit perfectly across 2 inches, use 2 inches. If they fit perfectly across 7 cm, use 7 cm. You can always divide the values to get stitches per in/cm - that's the measure that actually matters.
The examples below all use inches, but the process is identical for working in centimeters.
Measuring crochet swatches:
In this example, I will use a swatch made in single crochet.
First, measure the number of stitches (here abbreviated sts) per inch. In this example, I am measuring to the 4 inch mark. With crochet, look for the double tailed Vs that mark the bottom of each stitch, line up your ruler, and count across. In the example shown, my gauge would be 15 sts = 4 in.
Next, measure the number of rows per inch.
Single crochet can be a bit sneaky because it looks like you should count the big divots. However, that's actually a grouping of two rows.
Again, look for the double tailed Vs and see how they are cut off by the horizontal yarn at the top of each stitch. Use the Vs and horizontal bars to help you find the row lines (true for all crochet stitch types).
In this example, my gauge would by 14 rows = 3 in.
So in total, my gauge here is 15 sts = 4 in and 14 rows = 3 in.
If I wanted the stitch and row measurements to be the same, I could re-measure one of the directions. In the photos above, that would be either 15 sts = 18.5 rows = 4 in OR 11.5 sts = 14 rows = 3 in.
Measuring knit swatches:
In this example, I will use a swatch made in stockinette and show how to measure both the purl side and the knit side.
First, measure the number of stitches across. This example fit well into a 2 inch space so that's the measurement I used.
On the purl side (left, in the photo above), line your ruler up with one row of purl bumps and count the bumps across. It doesn't matter if you use the bumps pointing up or the bumps pointing down, the measurement should be the same
On the knit side, look at the Vs made by each stitch to help line up your ruler. It's easy to get confused with the direction of the Vs, but it actually doesn't matter too much so just pick a direction and stick with it. In the example above, the Vs are pointing downwards (shaped like V not like ^). On both sides, the measurement is 8 sts = 2 in.
Next, measure the number of rows per inch.
On the purl side, decide which column of bumps to look at and line the ruler up with the edge of the column - it doesn't really matter if you choose the ones that are Us or the ones that are ns, the gauge will be the same. In the example above, I'm using the ones shapes like u not like n.
On the knit side, look at the Vs again. Direction does not matter as long as you are consistent. Line up your ruler and count the Vs.
On both sides, the gauge shown is 12 rows = 2 in.
So my gauge for this knit swatch is 8 sts = 12 rows = 2 inches.
Q: What should I do with my gauge swatch after I've taken the measurements?
A: As far as I know, there are two schools of thought: you can either frog it and reclaim the yarn for the actual project (this is what I do), or you can finish the square, weave in the ends, and label it with the yarn and hook/needle size for future reference. If you regularly use the same type of yarns, the second option is not a bad choice. Of course, you could also just write the measurements down in a notebook or digital file and they would serve the same purpose. What you would lose there is the difference in how the fabric feels in that stitch and gauge. Do whatever works for you!
When Does Gauge Matter?
Now that you know your gauge, the question is whether or not to care if it matches what's prescribed in the pattern.
To decide, ask a simple question: will I care if my project ends up a little smaller or bigger than the pattern's example?
If the answer is "no," then off you go! Gauge is typically less important for rectangular things like scarves and baby blankets. It's also typically less important for stuffed items like amigurumi (shown to the left - the Grogu amigurumi were made with just one hook size difference). As long as your gauge is close-ish to the pattern's recommended gauge, you're probably fine.
If the answer is "yes," then it's time to make some adjustments.
Q: When is my gauge is close enough?
A: What constitutes "close enough" is up to you. The easiest way to compare is to reduce your gauge to stitches per 1 inch or per 1 centimeter. To do this, simply divide. For example, if my measured gauge is 15 sts = 3 inches, 15 over 3 = 5 stitches per inch. If my measured gauge was 20 sts = 10 cm, 20 over 10 is 2 stitches per centimeter. If you get a decimal, round to the nearest tenth to get a good comparison.
My rule of thumb for small objects, like amigurumi, is if I'm within about 1 stitch per inch for gauge, it's close enough. For larger objects, like blankets, I prefer to actually do the math (see below) and determine how big the final project will be before saying it's close enough. For clothing, I really want my gauge to be spot-on, otherwise it won't fit and I probably won't wear it. Also, I don't want to put in hours and hours of work to make something I won't be happy with in the end. Better to suck it up and do the gauge work now.
If you're still not sure whether you're really "close enough," see the first part of the worked math example below in Option 1 to figure out how large your project will turn out if you stick with the sizing of your current swatch.
How to Adjust Gauge
There are a few methods to adjust gauge in either direction. The math behind each is the same: everything is proportional.
Option 1: Change your hook/needle size
This is a pretty straightforward concept - to make the item bigger and reduce the number of stitches per in/cm, go up in hook or needle size. To make the item smaller and increase the number of stitches per in/cm, go down in hook or needle size.
If your gauge is pretty close to begin with, you might just guess and check. However, I find that a few minutes of math is better than guessing and checking with what may turn out to be 3 or 4 swatches and 2 hours of time. So. Let's do some math.
First, we'll see how big the project would be if we continued with the hook/needle size used to make the gauge swatch (in the example, the hook/needle was 5mm and the measured gauge is 15 sts = 4 in). Then, we'll figure out what hook/need size we should use based on the size the project is supposed to be.
Using our first proportion, we see that with our current gauge, the project will measure 37.33 inches across - much larger than the pattern's 28 inch width. Now, if I'm making a blanket, I might not care. But if I'm making a sweater....definitely time to adjust. The second proportion works out to say that we should use a 3.75mm hook/needle to get the desired project size of 28 inches.
Note: If you need your project to be a size that's not listed in the pattern, adjusting the hook/needle size using this proportion math is an easy way to re-size the piece.
Note: Keep in mind that adjusting the hook/needle size will not only adjust the size of the project, but will also affect the closeness of the stitches. The example shown here (also the lead photo up top) displays this well.
The swatches here are all made using 20 sts and 22 rows in single crochet. The only difference is the hook size used for each - 3mm, 4mm, 5mm, and 6mm. The 3mm swatch's stitches are very close together, resulting in a stiffer fabric which would work well for amigurumi or something else that will be stuffed. The 6mm swatch's stitches are much farther apart, giving the fabric a nice drape perfect for a baby blanket or breezy sweater. Consider how stitch density could affect your final project.
Option 2: Change the yarn weight
This is only an option if you have not already purchased your final yarn.
The concept is the same as Option1 - the thicker the yarn, the bigger the stitches. The thinner the yarn, the smaller the stitches.
Depending on the size change, you may need to adjust your hook/needle size as well (e.g. moving from a sport weight (3) to a super bulky weight (6)).
In this pumpkin amigurumi example, going from a weight 4 to a weight 6 yarn (and adjusting the hook size accordingly) nearly doubled the size of the pumpkin!
Work your gauge swatch and measure. Need to adjust? The math is exactly the same as for option 1!
Option 3: Change the number of pattern stitches or rows
This third option is probably the trickiest because you will alter the pattern.
Importantly, once you figure out the needed number of pattern stitches, adjust the entire pattern immediately - don't say "oh, I'll do this bit now and figure the rest later." If you're like me at all, by the time you finish the first bit, you'll have forgotten that you need to adjust the rest of the pattern and end up with a hot mess and a lot of frogging.
How do we figure out the new number of stitches based on our gauge swatch? You guessed it, more proportions!
In this example, the gauge swatch measured 13 sts = 15 rows = 3 inches. The pattern, let's say it's a sweater worked hem to shoulders, uses 150 sts = 30 in across the hem and 125 rows = 25 in hem to shoulder. For added fun, let's say the wearer is rather tall and needs the hem to shoulder measurement to be 35 inches.
The proportions show that the pattern needs to be adjusted to be 130 sts wide and 175 rows tall using our current gauge and hook/needle size. Being a sweater, we would then need to repeat this math for the sleeves.
Remember to adjust your pattern at this point, accounting for pattern repeats, cables, etc. While the rows are typically pretty easy, adding stitches to the width can be tricky if the pattern is complex. You may need to add some extra cables, for example, or you might decide to work in moss stitch along the sides for the added stitches. Do what makes you happy, just remember to adjust the entire pattern before you start stitching!
There you have it, friends - everything you need to know about gauge! If you have questions, be sure to drop them in the comments section below or tag me @craftematics on Instagram. Happy stitching!