If you are a knitter, you’ve heard about gauge. You may even know you need to “measure” it. But what does that mean, and how do you measure it? This article explains the basics of how to accurately measure gauge in stockinette stitch.
What is Gauge?
Simply stated, gauge is the number of stitches and rows in a certain distance. We usually see gauge stated as X sts and Y rows = 4″ [10 cm]. But gauge doesn’t have to be measured over exactly 4″ [10 cm]. It can be stated over more distance (or less). It might be stated in stitch repeats rather than in individual stitches. It should be given in the stitch pattern used in the project.
The important thing is that there are different components of a complete gauge statement:
- number of stitches (or stitch repeats)
- number of rows or rounds
- distance over which those stitches and rows/rounds are counted
- stitch pattern used
For the purposes of this post, we’ll stick to how to measure gauge in one of the most common knitting stitches, stockinette stitch.
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Recognizing Stitches and Rows
Stockinette stitch is made by knitting right side rows and purling wrong side rows. When working back and forth, you alternate working knit rows and purl rows. When working in the round, knit all rounds, since the right side is facing you at all times.
Take a minute to identify what a stitch looks like in stockinette stitch. There are rows of V’s on the right side of the fabric. Each V is a stitch.
We’ll be counting the right-side up V’s along a horizontal line, highlighted in green in the photo.
There are also columns of V’s, highlighted in purple (and one green!) in the photo. Each V in a column represents one row.
Making a Swatch
Start by making a stockinette stitch swatch that is at least 5-6” [13-15 cm] square. Use the exact same yarn and needles you want to use for the project.
Don’t add any special stitches like garter stitch, seed stitch, or slip stitches around the edges. The entire swatch should be stockinette stitch.
You want to make your swatch at least 5-6″ [13-15 cm], or even larger, for the most accurate measurement. You will be be measuring gauge over about 4″ [10 cm]. The edge stitches will be a bit distorted; you want to have margin of non-distorted stitches on all sides of the stitches you are measuring. A slightly larger swatch will give you even more space over which to measure.
It’s important to use the same needles and the same yarn. Different needle styles and brands can yield different results, even when they are the same size. Same thing with yarn. Not all worsted weight (medium-weight, CYC #4) yarn will give the same gauge. Not even all colors will result in the same gauge. For best results use THE yarn and THE needles you plan to use for the project.
Bonus hint: I often measure my “before blocking” gauge in case blocking makes a difference. If you want to do this, skip the blocking step and make note of your stitch and row gauge as described below. Then come back to this spot, block the swatch, and measure again.
Block the swatch in a manner that is appropriate for your yarn. Read How to Block Knitting and Crochet.
Measure Stitch Gauge
Once you have a nice blocked swatch, you are ready to measure.
Place the swatch on a flat surface, like a table top. Although it’s tempting to use your lap or a sofa cushion, don’t do it! Don’t worry if the edges still curl a bit after blocking. That’s just a feature of stockinette stitch!
Don’t stretch or scrunch the swatch. Just let it sit there and relax in its natural (blocked) state.
Grab a ruler. In my opinion, a ruler is the best and most accurate tool to use for measuring gauge. I can just plop it down on the swatch and hold it with one had while I count with the other hand.
Take a minute to look at the edge of your ruler. If the “counting” mark start at the very edge of the ruler, measure beginning at the 1″ mark and count to the 5″ mark. If there is a tiny bit of space before the ruler marks start, then you can measure from 0″ to 4″.
If you prefer to measure in centimeters, the same rule applies. Don’t start at 0 cm if the ruler starts measuring at the very edge of the ruler.
Place the ruler on the swatch horizontally, so that it is straight across a single row of stitches. Count the number of “V” stitches within 4″.
You may not end up with a full stitch right at the 4″ (or 5″) mark. If the stitch at the 4″ mark is a partial stitch, keep counting. If you have to keep counting to 4 1/4″ or more, that’s fine. The goal is to count until you have a full stitch lining up with a mark on the ruler.
Make a note of the stitch gauge, making sure you note the distance as well as the number of stitches.
Count again on another row and see if you get the same results. If your swatch is wide enough, shift the ruler both vertically and horizontally. Make a note of the stitch gauge in this second location.
Move the ruler again and count one more time. Hopefully, you get the same results each time you measure in a different spot. If you don’t, some troubleshooting will be in order.
Measure Row Gauge
Now rotate the ruler 90 degrees to count the rows. Using the same method as before, count the vertical V’s going up one single column. If there is a partial V at the 4″ (or 5″) mark, keep counting until you get the top of a V lining up with a mark on the ruler.
Make a note of your row gauge and the distance you measured over. Measure in a couple more spots on the swatch to confirm that you are getting the same row gauge throughout.
If two out of the three spots you measure for stitch or row gauge match, you could decide to say that majority rules. It’s safer to re-measure in a fourth spot to see if you can get it to agree with the other two.
If your yarn is thick and thin, you will likely get different gauges at different spots. Take an average of the three measurements and use that as the “average gauge”.
If your knitting is uneven, you may end up with different gauges at different places in your swatch. You have a choice here: either knit a new swatch, taking care to make more evenly spaced stitches and rows, or take an average of the various gauges.
If you measure over only 1-2″ [2.5-5 cm], you are likely to get an inaccurate result, especially if you rounded fractions of stitches. However, if the last stitch or row you are counting ends somewhere near the 3 3/4″ [9.5 cm] mark, that’s probably close enough to be reasonably accurate.
Keep in mind that this gauge is not a universal measurement. Gauge will vary based on several factors. The brand and material of the needles you use, the yarn, sometimes, even the color of the yarn can make a difference. And of course, who is doing the knitting!
Although I think that simple rulers are the easiest and most accurate tool to use for measuring gauge, there are number of other tools on the market for this purpose.
There are so many types of tape measures! This little sheep is my favorite.
But when it comes to measuring gauge, using a tape measure means that you need three hands. You have to hold down two ends of the tape, and a third one to help count! Also, tapes can get stretched out over time.
Needle Gauge Tools
Tools like the Susan Bates Knit Chek have a 2″ window for measuring gauge, and a series of holes for measuring needle gauge. This is a sturdy and popular tool for many knitters, but I have a love/hate relationship with it.
I like that it encourages you to measure your gauge, but I hate that the measurement tool itself is only 2″. If you are using this tool, please use the ruler and not the tiny window.
4″ Window Gauge Tools
Gauge tools that provide a 4″ [10 cm] window will allow for more accurate measuring than the ones with 2″ [2.5 cm] windows.
The Clover Swatch Ruler and Needle Gauge and the Akerworks Slip-Resistent Knitting and Crochet Swatch Gauge are popular choices. However, be sure that you look carefully to make sure that you aren’t missing a fraction of a stitch or row that might be hiding under the edge of the ruler. If you think a stitch is being covered up, go back and measure using a ruler that allows you to see all the stitches.
This article explained how to measure gauge in stockinette stitch, but there’s plenty more to know about gauge. Read How to Measure Gauge in Knitted Garter Stitch.
For tips on making a piece exactly the size you want, read Make Perfectly Sized Warm Up America! Sections.
Check out Knit Resources: Basics & Beyond.