Monday, 2 May 2011

Gauge and other follies....

Oh dear. Gauge is a funny one isn't it? So many people can't get their head around it and I'll admit it outfoxes me on occasion (making myself sound like some sort of oracle – I'm not...). But let's have a chat and see what we can do ey?
Gauge – aka tension – basically means the amount of stitches or rows to a section in knitting (or indeed crochet but let's leave that to another time, it's a whole 'nother rant...). So, at the top of every pattern there'll be a little bit that says 'tension square' or 'gauge' and they'll tell you how many stitches and rows you should be getting per four inches or ten centimetres. At this point, all you knitters, dutifully pull out the needles and get knitting a tension square to check that you and the designer are at one in tension terms. Right? Yeah – I know how you feel... But here's why it's important:

That's my new jumper (lovely isn't it!?). The first picture is the the arm and the last is of the body (and I've added one of the whole thing so you can see it in context). Ignoring the two row stripes at the top of the body picture, can you see how distorted the arm stripes are?

Now I'll admit, the reason that the arm is so stretched out is less to do with my tension and more to do with the fact that I apparently can't set up a row of 2by2 rib whilst playing a game and had to decrease stitches because the 2by2by3by-whatever-I-fancied etc. wasn't working for me. So, after having counted my gauge, worked out the stitch count, cast on beautifully and knitted the first row I ended up with about six stitches less than I should have had and there is the result. Possibly I should have ripped it out but it's not cutting off circulation and it is a great example of how a few stitches really can make a difference. We'll talk more about the importance of tiny amounts of stitches in tomorrow's blog - really, it's like nano-science only I can understand it...

So, look at this bit of knitting (beautifully crafted by the lovely Jazz). Can you see the individual stitches?


Each 'v' is a stitch. That means that each 'v' represents both a row and a stitch. Have a look at this photo – knowing that each stitch is a 'v' can you count how many stitches and rows there are in an inch?


You get 3.5 stitches and 6 rows per inch?

Just to check we're all up to speed (or I'll come down on you like a tonne of bricks!!!! Oh, how I've love to be a primary school teacher...), here's a couple of photo's with a ruler in place and dots on each row or stitch depending on which photo you're looking at.

ditos dots ditos inchv's plus dots inches

So that's how you count the things but what does it all mean?
Well, roughly, each yarn weight i.e. DK, aran, chunky has it's own stitch count. The fact that we got 3.5 stitches per inch in our example means that we were measuring a chunky weight yarn. Click here to find a little chart giving you the information for the most popular yarn weights. Don't forget that this is only a guide, using a bigger or smaller needle than suggested, or your method of knitting, or whether you're stressed or happy etc will have a major effect.

If then, we can remember all of the different gauges in our heads, when we're looking at patterns in a shop we will know which yarn weights we're looking for and therefore which yarns can be substituted (which is great in a shop like ours where you might be looking for a cheap alternative to a Rowan yarn say...). Don't feel anxious though, to be honest I don't remember the yarn gauges in my head, I tend to check on a yarn that I know to be DK or aran or whatever and see what the ball band says – if you're in a wool shop you should always be able to get some information.

Right, that's enough for today, come back tomorrow and we'll talk some more.
Love Eleanor. :)

1 comment:

  1. Very informative! I must admit when I first started knitting gauges went right over my head & it was a right hallelujah moment when the penny dropped and I realised what they were all about!