Oh, the dreaded word….GAUGE. I believe measuring and obtaining gauge in crochet is one of the most misunderstood concepts in the crochet world. It can be annoying. Frustrating. So do you really need it? In this post I want to explain you what gauge is and why it’s actually really important if you’re going to be crochet sweaters & garments.
Imagine a scenario for a second…
You’re scrolling on Pinterest. You see a beautiful crochet sweater pattern, and it is even free! You’ve never made a sweater before, but you figure, how hard can it be?
You click over to the website, and it looks easy enough. You see a little section called “gauge” and think “What is that anyway? I’m not sure. Oh well, I’ll just start the sweater because I’m anxious to get started.”
Now imagine this situation from a designer’s perspective. If they were sitting next you and you told them those thoughts, they would say “NOOOO!!! Don’t do it!”
If you’ve been crocheting for any amount of time, you’ve probably heard a designer urge you to “check your gauge.”
Now, maybe you’ve heard that and ignored it because you feel like checking gauge is a waste of time.
OR, maybe you’ve heard that but you’re still confused about what gauge is and WHY you really need it.
If either of those statements describe you, keep reading, because I’m going to get you started with crochet gauge. Hopefully my approach will help!
What is Crochet Gauge Anyway?
Simply defined, crochet gauge is the measurement of your stitches and rows. Since everyone crochets differently – some looser and others tighter, we can’t just expect to follow a crochet pattern and have it turn out perfectly. When you check gauge, you’re checking to make sure the measurement of your stitches and rows matches the designer’s.
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Why is Gauge so Important
I touched on this in the last paragraph – but the reason gauge is so important is because everyone crochetes differently.
To illustrate my point, let me show you a few things that will most likely happen in you don’t check gauge in crochet.
Just to be clear – these are things that are LIKELY to happen. It doesn’t necessarily mean they always will (I suppose you could get lucky) but let’s just say it is awfully risky to take your chances…
If you don’t meet gauge, your project won’t fit.
This is the biggest reason why gauge is important. If you’re making any kind of crochet project that has finished measurements, you’re going to need to meet gauge. If you don’t, there’s a good chance your project will either be way too big or way too small!
You may have to redo your entire project.
It only naturally follows from that last point that if your finished sweater (or other item) doesn’t fit, you will have to redo it, checking gauge, to get the right size.
Either that, or just give up entirely. But that never feels good! So really, the whole point of gauge is to give you confidence that you won’t have to redo an entire project!
Is gauge ALWAYS necessary?
Now at this point you might be thinking, “okay okay, I get the point. But gauge is so tiresome. Do I ALWAYS have to check gauge?”
The answer to that is no…but be careful.
Here’s the deal – I know gauge can be a pain. I don’t care for it much myself. So if you want to cheat and not check gauge, there are some projects you CAN do that with. But if you choose to, you also have to accept the possible consequences of that decision. 😉
I’ve been thinking about this question a lot, and I came up with a few statements that might help you evaluate whether you should suck it up and make the effort to check gauge:
1. Anytime you want your item to fit to the pattern’s measurements, check gauge.
This. Is. Crucial. The most IMPORTANT time for you to check gauge is without a doubt when crocheting garments. If you want your crochet sweater to fit, then please check gauge!
Think about it – everyone’s tension is different. If Susie writes a crochet sweater pattern and the gauge she includes is tight…and then I come along with my loose tension and follow Susie’s pattern (without checking gauge) the results will be detrimental! My sweater size will be drastically different.
So think of gauge like a safeguard against a ruined project that doesn’t fit. If you want to make sure your sweater turns out the right size, then check your gauge before starting!
2. Anytime you want your item to look like the pattern, check gauge.
Now this is something that isn’t talked about as much, but I think it is equally important. Anytime you want your finished project to look like the photos in the pattern, you will also want to check gauge.
Admittedly, there ARE more factors that go into this – like using the same yarn as the designer – but gauge is another one of those factors. If your gauge is correct when you start, your item is much more likely to look like the pattern.
When You Can Cheat
Now, if you decide you don’t care too much about those last 2 points – then yes, there are some circumstances where you can cheat as far as gauge.
Cheat on projects where gauge is easy to adjust
Let’s say you’re making a triangle shawl that has a repeating stitch pattern. (Like the Amore Shawl or Jadestone Wrap!)
Let’s say the pattern includes a gauge, but you know you could simply keep repeating the stitch pattern until you get the shawl to be the size you want.
In this case, it would probably be fine to skip gauge and just start crocheting (SO LONG as you don’t care if your project looks slightly looser or tighter than the designer’s!)
Don’t Cheat on Crochet Sweaters. Just Don’t.
The biggest time where you shouldn’t cheat is when you’re crocheting a garment. I know I already touched on this…but just DON’T. You’ll regret it in the end, trust me! (Yes, I’m speaking from experience).
How to Check Gauge in Crochet
So, now you know what gauge is and why it is so important. Are you ready to get into the nitty gritty of actually MEASURING gauge?
Let’s do this!
When it comes to checking crochet gauge, there’s one main thing you will need to do.
Make a Swatch and Measure it
Making a crocheted swatch is the most important thing to do when you measure your gauge.
With a swatch, you will make a small square of crochet fabric that uses the stitch included in pattern you’re making. Then, you’ll measure your stitches to make sure they match gauge (basically, you’re making sure that your stitches are the RIGHT SIZE).
If you’re interested in knowing a whole lot more about swatching (like how big to make your swatch, what stitch to use, etc.) check out this comprehensive blog post, because it is way more detailed!
But for now, let’s just cover measuring your swatch.
The ‘Types’ of Gauge
If you’ve ever seen the gauge section of a crochet pattern, you’ve probably noticed that there are two “Types” of gauge. Usually, gauge looks something like this:
Gauge: 14 dc and 7 rows = 4″
Let’s break that down into more manageable terms.
Measurement #1: Stitch Gauge
The “14 dc” section refers to what is called STITCH GAUGE. This number will usually appear first in a pattern. Wondering what stitch gauge is? It is basically just the width measurement of your crochet stitches. Not as complicated as you might think 😉
So when you’re trying to meet gauge, the first thing you want to is make a swatch and lay out a measuring tape or ruler across the width. Count how many stitches you have in 4″!
In the example below, I have met the 14 double crochet requirement. (Count for yourself and see!)
Measurement #2: Row Gauge
As you might have guessed, row gauge is just the opposite of stitch gauge. It refers to the LENGTH measurement of your rows.
Here is my double crochet swatch again with the measuring tape laid out. Did I meet the requirement of 7 rows that I listed earlier? Count and find out!
Row gauge will be affected depending on how TALL you make your stitches. It can be a real problem for people sometimes to obtain row gauge. If you usually have trouble with this too, check out this post telling you the secret to changing your row gauge.
Common Questions About Crochet Gauge
Now that you know quite a bit about WHAT gauge is, it’s time to get more into the issues that come with it. If you’re new to gauge, there are a variety of frustrating things that might happen that you don’t expect. That’s what I want to prepare you for now!
How do you match a crochet gauge?
Of course, one of the most frustrating part of gauge is if you make a swatch and it doesn’t match the first time. This means you have to rip it out and make adjustments, which just takes time.
I know it’s annoying. I know you want to get to your project. But hang in there. This process, though annoying, is worth it. Without it, you would waste a WHOLE LOT more time, because you’d be taking out your project every time it doesn’t fit, rather than just a small swatch!
Here’s a few tips that should help you match a crochet gauge as quickly as possible:
- Change hook sizes. I’m guessing that you started with hook size the pattern recommends. If that doesn’t get you the right measurement, you’ll need to either go up or down a hook size (depending on if your measurement was too big or too small). Usually, this simple change will do the trick and set your gauge matching perfect!
- Change yarns. Not all yarns that are listed as a certain weight are created equal. For example, if your pattern calls for worsted weight yarn and you’re using a DIFFERENT worsted weight than the designer, that could be the issue. Try the yarn listed, or if you don’t have access to it, just try a different worsted weight altogether.
So again, if you’re wondering why your crochet gauge is off, those 2 points above could be contributing. Switch up your hook or yarn to try to get better results!
What if my row gauge is off?
I think the MOST frustrating thing about gauge when I was first starting out was that I could never get both the stitch gauge and the row gauge to match with the same hook.
If you can relate to this, make sure to check out this post about the golden loop method. This can help you learn the anatomy of a stitch so you can perfect your row gauge!
What is Round Gauge?
Round gauge is basically the same measurement as row gauge…except the swatch you’re measuring should be made in the round.
That’s right – anytime you make a crochet pattern that is made in the round (like a top-down sweater for example) your swatch will also need to be made in the round.
Why? I talk a lot about that in my blog post about swatching. If you want the details, click here. But basically, what I’m trying to say is that “round gauge” is still the length measurement of your rounds, just as “row gauge” is the length measurement of your rows.
Where to go from here
By now, hopefully you have a clearer picture in your head of what gauge is and why it is so important in your crocheting.
If you want to remember these concepts and even print them out to keep them somewhere you can see them, I would invite you to download the Crochet Gauge Checklist & Workflows! I created this printable so you can have a quick-reference guide to gauge near you at all times! Sign up below to download 🙂