The Ultimate Gauge Guide for Crocheters & Knitters 
If you’ve ever been surprised by the size of your finished project, you’ve probably had a tussle with gauge and didn’t know it. Like handwriting, we all have a unique stitching style. That uniqueness means knitting or crocheting a project the same as someone else can be difficult without some form of reference. How much does it really matter? And do you even need to care about gauge?
This gauge guide for crocheters and knitters was designed to help you understand, and master gauge so you never have a failed project again. We’ll look at things like how to measure gauge, how to adjust if you need to, and what to do if you can’t seem to match the pattern gauge. We’ll help you answer your biggest gauge questions like, “what is gauge”, “why does gauge matter”, and “what happens if my gauge is off anyways?”. Basically, we’ll help you understand how gauge can be your best friend, and not something you dread or ignore.
- What is Gauge Anyways?
- Why is Gauge Important?
- Do You Have to Measure Gauge?
- Where to Find Gauge and How to Read It
- How to Measure Gauge
- Gauge Is Made Up Of Two Measurements
- Counting Stitch Gauge
- Counting Row Gauge
- How to Adjust Gauge to Match the Pattern
- What Does Tension Have to Do With It?
What is Gauge for Crochet & Knitting?
No two people crochet or knit alike. We hold the yarn differently, hold the hook or needle differently, and work the stitches with our own unique twist. Sometimes even we ourselves work the stitches different from day to day or hour to hour. These subtle differences make it nearly impossible for two people to make the same project, the exact same size. Gauge exists to solve this problem.
Gauge is a measurement of stitches and rows within a pattern so it can be replicated in the size expected with the expected amount of yarn.
It’s how one person can design a pattern, and thousands follow it with no unexpected surprises. It’s the number of stitches and rows per 4 inches (usually, but sometimes 2″) that the designer took from their own sample when creating and grading the pattern. Matching it is the only way you can be certain your version will be the size described in the pattern.
Why Is Gauge Important?
We eluded to this a little already but gauge is important for two main reasons:
- The project’s finished size
- The required amount of yarn
It may sound a little dramatic, but gauge can be the difference between your project’s success or failure. If gauge is ignored, the size may or may not turn out as described, plus you may or may not have enough yarn to finish it (even though you bought the amount the pattern told you). When you’re about to invest hours and hours in a project, these are important things to know before you dive in.
The importance of gauge, however, isn’t evenly spread from project to project. Gauge is much more critical to get right for projects like a sweater, where you need it to turn out a predictable size. That differs for a project like a scarf or amigurumi. Sure, it’s great to know exactly how big it’ll be when it’s finished, but if it’s a little bigger or smaller than expected, you can still use and enjoy it.
That being said, it’s best to prioritize gauge for projects you need to be a specific size; clothing, hats, mittens, socks all fit into this category. But you can be a little more relaxed with projects where sizing is a little flexible; scarves, blankets, bags, and amigurumi to name a few.
Hopefully now you have a sense of how important gauge is as it relates to your project, but it still begs the question…
Do You Have to Measure Gauge?
If you’re doing your own thing and making up a pattern as you go then no, there’s really no need to measure gauge at all. It’s only important if you plan on sharing that pattern for someone else to replicate or you plan to grade it for different sizes.
However, if you’re following a pattern (no matter where it came from) then yes, it’s always a great idea to check gauge. That way you’ll have the peace of mind that you have enough yarn to finish, and it’ll turn out the size you expect. Measuring gauge will almost always eliminate future frustration, but as you get more comfortable following patterns, you’ll learn when you can be a little more relaxed about it.
Ask yourself, “does this need to fit a specific way?” and “do I have just enough yarn to finish?”. If you answer yes to either of these questions, you should probably check gauge.
Where to Find It, And How to Read It
Although a common gauge can be found on many yarn labels, you don’t want to follow this when you start a new project. Each pattern has its own gauge, and that’s what you should follow for your measurements.
Think of gauge as the end goal; that’s how many stitches and rows you should have in the same measurement. You just need to find the hook/needle combo to make that happen with your stitching style.
All patterns should have gauge somewhere within, and the recommended hook or needle size. That’s your starting point. Sometimes it’ll be under its own heading, or you may have to read through the pattern notes to find it. Either way, it’s best to make this your first step. If a pattern doesn’t have a gauge measurement provided (especially for the important projects we listed before), it’s best to move on and find another pattern. There’s no way of guaranteeing yours will turn out the same because you likely stitch a little different than the designer.
Gauge will look something like this: 16 sts x 8 rows = 4″ worked in double crochet
Any time you see “sts”, know that this is the abbreviation for the word “stitches”. So the long form of this gauge is: 16 double crochet stitches and 8 double crochet rows each measure 4 inches.
In many cases, four inches will be the standard measurement. However, sometimes you’ll come across a pattern which uses two inches instead. Either way, measure according to what the gauge specifies.
How to Measure Gauge
Like anything else, you’ll get better and better at measuring gauge the more you do it. So if this is a brand new concept for you, start with a project like a scarf that uses basic stitches (they’re easier to read measurements from). The measuring accuracy of a scarf is a little more flexible, so this is a great place to start.
That being said, there are two approaches to measuring gauge:
- Making and measuring a gauge swatch, or
- Starting the project and measuring
There are pros and cons to each option. Making and measuring a swatch takes extra time and yarn, but it gives you a little snippet of the project to block, wash and learn to care for. Starting the project and measuring gauge will save you time and yarn, but if it’s not right you’ll be faced with the decision to frog your progress and start over.
Although you can go either route you want, a good rule of thumb is to make a gauge swatch for projects where sizing is crucial, and measure a section of the project when sizing isn’t as important. Remember our list from before?
Clothing, hats, mittens, and socks are a few examples of projects you’d want to swatch for because they need to fit you a certain way. Alternatively, scarves, blankets, bags, and amigurumi are examples of projects that are a little more flexible, and you can get away with measuring a section of the project if you want.
Speaking of amigurumi, gauge will look a little different for these types of projects because they’re 3D. You’ll often be instructed to crochet a certain number of rounds and measure the diameter of the circle. These types of patterns should tell you exactly how to replicate and measure gauge.
Gauge is made up of two measurements:
Stitches and rows, and to take these measurements you need to have the right tool. Since the fate of your project relies partially on this measurement, you need a ruler that won’t flex or bend because that can lead to inaccurate readings.
The best tool to measure gauge is something that’s rigid, like a plastic or a wooden ruler. In fact, our favorite gauge measuring tool is a clear plastic ruler found in the school supply section at the grocery store. This is by far one of the cheapest options, and they work just as well as a gauge tool.
However, if you want to go a step further, gauge measuring tools are usually available at the craft store as well as on Amazon. There are different varieties, but they all have the same goal of helping you focus on the area to count. Here are a few good options from Amazon if you like to shop there.
The bottom line is to avoid tape measures, and get something rigid and compact enough to carry with your other supplies.
Counting Stitch Gauge
With your swatch or project laid flat in front of you, place the zero tick mark of the ruler or gauge tool on the beginning of a stitch (this will be the left-most edge of the stitch). Then simply count the stitches within the specified measurement (4″ in most cases). Sounds easy, right?
In a perfect world you’d count an exact number of stitches in that measurement, but the reality is that almost never happens. The tick mark may land in the middle of a stitch, almost to the end of a stitch or maybe even the space between two stitches. How you handle this is as important as doing a gauge check in the first place.
Let’s say you’re swatching and measuring gauge for a sweater. The stitch gauge is 15 stitches in four inches, and the sweater has a back panel that needs to measure 16″ wide to fit. This means the gauge measurement, four inches, is 1/4 of the total width of that panel. Now let’s say you measure 15.5 stitches in four inches. Close enough, right? The math will tell the real story here.
Project Gauge Reality: 15 sts x 4 = 60 stitches in the width of that panel
“Close Enough” Gauge Reality: 15.5 sts x 4 = 62 stitches in the width of that panel
That “half a stitch extra that doesn’t seem like a big deal” ends up meaning two more stitches every single row over the width of that panel. In other words, it’ll be bigger and use more yarn.
This means you need to be as accurate as possible when counting the number of stitches in the gauge measurement. If the gauge says 15 stitches in 4″, make sure it’s 15 stitches.
The space between stitches counts too.
In a lot of cases, especially for crochet, there will be tiny gaps between stitches. This space is part of the stitch and should be factored in. So the end of the last stitch is actually at the other side of that gap.
Counting Row Gauge
While stitch gauge effects all horizontal aspects of a pattern, row gauge effects all vertical components. Despite this difference, however, it’s measured in a similar way. With your swatch or project laid flat in front of you, align the zero tick mark of your ruler at the top-most edge of a row. Then simply count the number of rows in your specified gauge measurement.
As with stitch gauge, you need to be as accurate as possible when counting. Remember, a half a stitch or row can add up to sizing problems later. However, if there’s one area to feel a little more relaxed, it’s here. If your stitch gauge matches but row gauge doesn’t, in some cases it’s easier to add or subtract rows to get the overall size you need (as long as that measurement is provided to you in the pattern).
Believe it or not, swatching and counting is the easy part. Making adjustments if it doesn’t match is where most people struggle.
How to Adjust Gauge to Match the Pattern
To master this part of the gauge process, there are three relationships you need to understand:
- Stitch gauge is directly related to hook/needle size
- Row gauge is directly related to your stitching style, and
- Tension is involved in both
Focus your attention on stitch gauge first, since that’s arguably the more important of the two to get exactly right.
If your stitch gauge is off, you need to change to a different hook or needle size. Here’s the golden rule:
If you count more stitches, go up a hook size and measure again.
If you count fewer stitches, go down a hook size and measure again.
More stitches mean the project will be too small and you’ll likely have yarn left over. Fewer stitches mean the project will be too big and you may run out of yarn before you finish. Generally speaking, adjusting by one hook size will adjust by half a stitch. So in that earlier example where 15.5 stitches were counted instead of 15, dropping down a stitch size would be the best next step.
If your row gauge is off, your stitching style doesn’t match the designer’s of that pattern. More rows per inch mean you make your stitches tighter and shorter. Fewer rows per inch mean you probably pull up a little higher and make taller rows. This goes back to the purpose of gauge in the first place. We all stitch a little differently, so don’t worry if you have to make adjustments. That’s the whole purpose!
Since row gauge is tied to your stitching style, this is admittedly more difficult to correct in the swatching process. As you learned earlier it’s possible to fix this by adding or subtracting rows in the project, but it’s best not to rely on this.
Fixing a row gauge difference might be as easy as switching to a different hook material. If you normally crochet with metal hooks, try wood or plastic. The extra drag these materials have on the yarn might just be enough to help you change how you stitch more naturally.
If this doesn’t work, and you know you can’t adjust by adding or subtracting rows, you’ll need to concentrate on how high you pull up a loop in your stitches (for crocheters) or how loose you stitch (for knitters). Too few rows means your stitches are too tall, and you need to focus on making them more condensed. Too many rows means your stitches are too short, and you need to focus on making them taller.
Remember, even a little difference can add up to a big deal.
What Does Tension Have to Do With It?
How you pull the yarn from the skein, and how you hold the yarn while stitching, collectively make up your tension. It’s your ability to hold the yarn consistently to make each stitch look the same as the last. This is part of what makes everyones stitching style unique. But did you know your tension can change from day to day based on your mood, position, and stress levels?
Recognizing that our tension can change makes maintaining gauge throughout big projects just as important as checking it in the first place. It’s always a good idea to re-check gauge periodically throughout the project to make sure you don’t end up with surprises later. Avoid changing hooks or needles in the middle of the project too as this can also lead to changes in your tension.
If you’re feeing a little unsure about the whole thing, don’t worry. Gauge is one of the most complex topics you’ll encounter as you knit and crochet more and more projects. If you’re having any self doubt at all, ease in to it. Grab a spare skein of yarn, find a few free patterns that use that yarn, and practice making swatches and measuring gauge. If you need to adjust, follow the recommendations in this guide. Don’t rush and don’t put added pressure on yourself to finish the project. It’s just practice.
Although this guide is all you would ever need to fully grasp the concept of gauge, we have a few more resources to help it all sink in.