Very early on in my crochet learnings, I realised just how important gauge and tension is when crocheting. This is especially true for making clothes, hats and shoes / socks – things that you want to end up being a specific size when they’re finished. In my case, this realisation occurred when I first started making baby booties…
So what do you need to know about gauge?
Gauge refers to the number of stitches per inch across and the number of rows per inch up-and-down that are made from using a specific sized hook with a specific thickness yarn. Since everyone crochets differently (for example, I know I crochet quite tight, but others will crochet quite loosely, and others will be in-between) the measurements of your work can vary greatly from that of the pattern creator, *even* if you’re using the same sized hook and yarn specified in the instructions.
How do you know if your stitches are the right size and tension for the pattern?
The hook size in the ‘materials list’ in the pattern is the hook size the pattern creator used; but that doesn’t mean it’s the same hook size you should use. Consider it as a guide… You’ll quickly figure out whether you should always go up or down a hook size(s) when following patterns by a particular creator.
The best thing you can do to ensure your work will finish at the same size is to make a 4-inch-square sample swatch to check your gauge against the gauge listed in the pattern. This will seem annoying at first, but you just have to trust me that it will save you soooooo much time in the end when you don’t have to keep undoing and restarting your project because it’s coming out too small or too big…!
IMPORTANT: make your first sample gauge swatch using the same size hook, the same thickness yarn and the same crochet stitches specified in the pattern so that you can more accurately compare your gauge to the pattern creators’ gauge.
These photos show how to measure your gauge swatch:
What do you do if your stitch / row count is different to the gauge?
If you have more stitches per inch across than specified in the gauge, make another swatch using a larger size hook. If you have fewer stitches per inch across than specified, make another swatch using a smaller size hook. It’s completely fine to use a different hook size to achieve the right gauge so that your crochet item ends up at the right size – it doesn’t mean you’re a better or worse crocheter than the pattern creator: it just means you’re different! I almost always go up at least 1-2 hook sizes because I crochet tighter than most (unless I’m following a pattern by Moogly, for example, who seems to crochet at a similar tension as me!)
If you have the correct number of stitches per inch across but the number of rows per inch up-and-down are different, try adjusting the height of your stitches. For example, if you have fewer rows per inch than specified in the gauge, pull through a little more yarn at the beginning of each stitch – this makes the first loop slightly higher and your overall stitch taller.
Or, if you have more rows per inch than specified, try to pull through less yarn…
So you’ve finally achieved the right gauge – great! What now?
To be totally honest, this can be the tricky part…
If you’ve managed to get the required gauge and tension by simply changing your hook size (or even changing the type of yarn, if the patterns allows), then that’s great! It should be easy sailing from here with this pattern.
But if you’ve had to adjust your crochet style to achieve the right height stitches, this can take some practice as you may find that if you’re not super careful you might start reverting back to your normal crochet style without realising, messing up your tension…
Again to be totally honest, if you find yourself having to adjust your stitch height as a beginner I’d *strongly* suggest that you leave that pattern for later and try something that either doesn’t need a strict guage (like a blanket or a toy), or finding a pattern where the guage isn’t so different to your current crochet style and tension. You really don’t want to feel defeated before you’ve even started…!
And you can trust me when I say ‘practice makes perfect’! You’ll pick up tips and tricks along the way, building your crochet experience and knowledge the more you try new things – and your crochet style and tension will most likely change over time too!
What do I do with the gauge swatch I created?
I’d suggest washing it to make sure you know how to take care of your actual crochet item when you’ve finished it. This way you quickly find out what the yarn is likely to do once it’s been washed and has been used: does it shrink or stretch? Does the colour change? etc…
Then, when you’ve finished your crochet project and don’t need the gauge swatch anymore, why not recycle it?! Combine it with other swatches to make pillows, bags, blankets… I just suggest that you try to only use swatches made from similar / the same types of yarn when making these up-cycled projects – this will make caring for your up-cycled project much easier.
That’s all great – but what if your crochet pattern specifies a gauge after so many ’rounds’ instead of rows?
You’ll find this type of gauge mostly in beanie patterns. Beanies are one of my favourite things to make – they’re quick, easy, useful and the options are endless!
The size of a finished beanie will largely depend on what is called the ‘crown diameter’ – that is: the width of the the flat circle created before crocheting the sides (specifically when crocheting a beanie from the top down; you can also crochet beanies from the bottom up! But more on that in another post…) Then the height of the beanie will simply depend on how many rows you add once the crown is created.
If you are creating something like a beanie, the pattern will most likely say that the gauge is a particular width once a specific ’round’ has been completed. For example, in my patterns for a woman’s beanie the gauge measures 7-inches (or approx. 18cm) once round 7 has been completed:
In this case, the only way to know if your gauge is the same as the pattern creators’ is to simply start the project. Once you complete the specified ’rounds’, measure the diameter of the circle and see if they’re the same. If yours is bigger, try again with a smaller hook. If yours is smaller, try again with a bigger hook. *Simples!*
Do you use a gauge when starting a crochet project? What are your tips for making sure your crochet project ends up the size you need it to be? Happy crocheting!