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River Colors Journal

Monday, June 13, 2016

Ga-ga for gauge
Wait - don't run away in horror at the mention of gauge!  I promise, I can make this fun!

Gauge is just a way of saying "How big are your stitches supposed to be?"  It shows up in most patterns, right there near the comments about what size yarn to use and which size hook (or needles) you should try.  Not all of us work at the same gauge as the designer, though, so you can't just grab the same hook and yarn and expect it to turn out the same size.  Trust me - making a gauge swatch is important if you want the piece you're about to spend hours making to fit.  I once ended up with a "slouchy hat" that was more the size of a garbage can cozy.  Don't let this happen to you!

Gauge swatches aren't hard to make or interpret.  I found a nice tutorial which gives you all the details about how this works way better than I could describe it.  It's got videos and pictures and everything, and she made it for both knitters and crocheters.  Yay!

Three main things contribute to what gauge you get when you pick up some yarn and start a project: how you tension the yarn, what size yarn you are using, and what size hook or needles you are using.  Changing how you tension the yarn isn't real easy to do, and no, a couple of glasses of wine will NOT loosen up your gauge (but they will probably stain your project).  Most of the time, you're going to adjust the gauge of your project by changing the size of the hook or needles you're using.
  • If your gauge swatch used MORE stitches to make up the 4" than the pattern suggested, it means your stitches are too small, and you'll want to go a size or two BIGGER and try again. 
  • If your gauge swatch used FEWER stitches to make up the 4" than the pattern suggested, your stitches are too big, so grab a size or two SMALLER and make another swatch.
Don't be afraid to go more than one size larger or smaller - I'm a loose knitter and sometimes I have to go down FOUR needle sizes to get anything that approaches the gauge of a tight-knitting designer's pattern.  But be sure to keep an eye on the feel of the fabric you're making - if you vary too much from the sizes recommended in the pattern, the fabric may end up too holey or too stiff for the project.

The interaction between yarn size and tool size is really interesting.  For example, these three samples were all crocheted from the same yarn, but the hook size differs quite a bit. 

Now, these next three samples were crocheted using the same size hook, but the yarn size varies from laceweight to bulky.  

Generally, to get a flexible fabric, you're going to want to use a hook or needles that are larger in diameter than the yarn you're using - the bigger the discrepancy, the lacier and more flexible the fabric.  The only time you want to use a hook or needles smaller than the yarn you're working with is when you want a stiff fabric, such as for a bowl or the brim of a sunhat.  I suspect that many of the haters who say crochet is "stiff and unflattering" have never seen projects that were done at the proper gauge.  Nobody wants an afghan that you can fold in half and stand up in the corner (like the one I made in college - oops!), but with the right combination of hook size and yarn weight, you can whip out lovely lacy things that will have knitters crying in their half-finished projects. Can you say, cashmere cowl in record time?  Because I can.


So, let's talk yarn weights.  Yarns come in seven official weights, but not all yarns fall squarely into one size or another.  What's worse, something that looks like a fingering weight yarn in the store may puff up when washed and end up more like a DK or even worsted weight - which is why washing your swatch before measuring it is important if you want to be CERTAIN that sweater is going to fit when you're done.  You may want to print out the standard yarn size chart put out by the Craft Yarn Council and stick it into your craft bag, just in case you need a reference when you're trying to substitute yarns for a project.  It can come in handy when you're trying to figure out whether a chunky yarn is bigger than a super bulky yarn ... or is it the other way around?  Meh, who can remember?  Let's check the chart: http://www.craftyarncouncil.com/weight.html

At River Colors Studio, one of the best parts of our job is helping you find the perfect combination of pattern, yarn, and tools to make the project you're envisioning.  So don't be afraid to ask for assistance or advice - that's why we're here!

- Gretchen

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