It's a Wrap
Making It Visible

Mind Games: A Gauge Story

I'm knitting a sweater.
A colorwork extravaganza of a sweater.
That's been taking up a lot of my brain's "bandwidth" for awhile now.

Because gauge.


(And what do you do with gauge swatches? I use mine as "coasters". . . )

So. I'm knitting this sweater in this yarn. I ordered a kit from Susan B. Anderson because I loved the colors so much. Plus I'd always wanted to knit with some of her worsted weight yarn. (Lovely stuff, by the way -- nice, "sticky" wool perfect for more rustic sweaters; light and lofty and a delight to knit with.) 

I started by knitting some swatches. First, let me say that I always knit gauge swatches when I knit a sweater. Always. I can't think of a time when I haven't. Usually, I find my gauge pretty easily. But sometimes? Not so much. And this was one of those times!

The gauge for this pattern is . . . 19 stitches per 4 inches with a size 7 needle. My gauge (before even trying it with colorwork but after blocking the swatch) was 17 stitches per 4 inches. Hmmmmm. That would indicate going down in needle size. But I already wasn't sold on the tension here -- it all just seemed . . . too dense from the get-go. And knitting a whole colorwork sweater on size 5 needles with this yarn just didn't seem . . . fun or comfortable.

So I went UP a needle to size 8. I know. Counterintuitive. But I wanted to see what the fabric would look like. And . . . guess what? My gauge was still . . . 17 stitches per 4 inches! But I did like the fabric better. I decided to go up another another needle size (9), y'know. Just to see. And. . . my gauge remained at a stubborn 17 stitches per 4 inches! Now, my row gauge was changing, but not drastically. And the fabric was much nicer with the bigger needles.

But . . . mind games.

And this is before even trying a colorwork swatch. (Which you know is a drag, but vital. Because . . . gauge gets even trickier once you start managing floats.) I'll save you the details about my swatching in the round with some colorwork. We'll just make a long story short and say . . . the gauge remained at 17 stitches per 4 inches. But I knew that once I had hundreds of stitches on a crowded needle for the yoke, that was apt to . . . change.

Given that gauge was completely eluding me, I knew I was going to have to turn to Math. So I got out my trusty pencil and paper - and a calculator - to figure out which size to make to get the size I wanted. (Complicated further - of course - because I actually wanted to build in more ease than the pattern calls for.) In the end, I cast on for the size I would normally knit for myself (with a size 8 needle) . . . hoping to get the next size larger in the end (to build in the ease I want).

A crap shoot? YES.
But I plunged in anyway.
Fingers crossed.
Deciding to use the yoke as my "real" gauge swatch.


Once I got to the point where it was time to divide the stitches for the sleeves, I decided my "real" swatch was ready. I stuck the whole thing onto 2 needles, and blocked it (needles and all). And was completely flummoxed because that yoke swatch? The gauge is All Over The Place! Sometimes what I want. Sometimes what the pattern calls for. All. Over. The. Place.

Fu@&ing. Mind. Games.
(I tell you.)

Decision tree moment: Just let it go? OR . . . Decide to knit a little further and see how it fits after the sleeve separation?
I went with the latter. And got to the try-on point yesterday.


(Workout hair in it's shining glory!)

I think it's going to work?
There seems to be the ease I want.
And my gauge settled down once I separated for the sleeves -- back to 17 stitches per 4 inches, and is remaining consistent as I plow ahead.


But, oh my. This is just way more thinking and angsting about a sweater than I've gone through in a long time!

(Does this happen to anyone else????)
(Please tell me it does.)

As of this morning, I'm nearing the end of the colorwork on the body. 


My next decision: Should I go ahead and do the colorwork on the sleeves before finishing the body? 


So. What are YOU making?
(And I hope there are no mind games involved.)


Be sure to check out other Unraveled posts today over at Kat's.




Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.


Oh, are such a good girl knitter...doing all those swatches, and then doing some more. When I had a shop, I was affectionately (I hope) known as the swatch-Nazi and insisted on dedication to the swatch from all my 'followers' (I didn't love the 'name' then, and am horrified now with that designation, even though it was made in jest and had only to do with getting a garment to FIT!). In reality, I usually just 'wing it'. I do measure my garment as I work and have no hesitation to rip out the whole thing if it isn't looking right...but gauge swatch....eep!! NO. And, of course, I've gotten into trouble occasionally for my cavalier attitude towards the swatch!!!

Your sweater is magnificent...and it appears to be tack on. And all those swatches obviously paid off...I'd be on my third or fourth version of the sweater! and probably would have put that lovely thing into time-out by now!!! Good continuing luck.


THIS is why I don't knit sweaters! I did knit one back in high school, got gauge and everything and then couldn't even get the damn thing over my head. But your looks great so far and I hope it all comes right in the end. I think it's the Yarn harlot that says swatches lie? Mind games, indeed!


I am not good at swatching and I have had that same issue - changing needles didn’t seem to help my gauge. I often jump in and knit because I am impatient. And it usually works because I don’t knit fitted sweaters. But recently, I had a sweater body where the gauge got more and more off the further I went on the body. I have unknit and have restarted after doing some math (ugh) and I am back on track. I love that color work.


Yep. I've been knitting for 60 years and still must knit, and block, multiple gauge swatches for sweaters.
That yarn looks yummy!


My sincerest sympathies. Nice to know that even excellent knitters like you run up on challenges. I have only ever made three simple tops (but a ton of accessories) and spent a lot of time getting the “fabric” I wanted, then kinda winged it. All those times it mostly worked out, except once when I enormously over-estimated how large I was and had to cut out a lot from the sides of the body (4 inches overall) and using my sewing skills I just machine-sewed up the sides. And am not at all apologetic about it. Love that sweater now! All that to say a combination of swatching, trying on as I went and McGyver-ing in a pinch seems to give me the results I want. But that’s just me. And I’ve never done stranded which is a whole different ballgame.. I think your tremendous skills and experience and instincts will win out. Can’t wait to see the finished product!


Been there, done that! Gauge is so fickle and changeable, even with the same yarn and same needles. Clearly 17 sts/4 in. is the gauge this yarn wants to be worked at for you, and from what I can tell, it appears to be working okay. It's not weirdly huge or small, and the fabric density looks good to me. You might try working on one sleeve and checking the fit on that before carrying on with the body, just in case. And keep in mind that you can fudge things a bit when you block!


I love the way the light through the stained glass window changes the colors.

I'm getting all-the-things off the needles to start swatching for sweater knitting for the family. The Weekender (inspired from you post) is in the queue, as is the Affiknity pullover by Patty Lyons, and Northridge from the KnitPicks catalog. I'm going to try swatching with three different yarns on a long circular and change needle sizes as I go along. Wish me luck!


Yes, yes, yes!! I am knitting Humulus (a yoked two color sweater) and I played the same games with my gauge swatch. I settled on a fabric I love and I'm off to the races. Swatches are FICKLE! That's the rule. I'm not as far along as you are, but the yoke looks good and should be done by Friday. I can't wait to try it on and see if I am as successful as you! Knitting, in general, is a crapshoot, eh?


That sweater is totally going to be worth ALL.THE.MIND.GAMES! It is gorgeous and such a good color mix for you.

Good luck and Godspeed as you make your way through the sleeves.


OH, Kym, this sweater is going to be gorgeous when it's done! I have terrible gauge swatch skills. I sometimes think I'm counting wrong or . . . I don't even know. Anyway, I can't help with that BUT I will say that if I were you I would knit the colorwork sleeves now while the pattern is more fresh in your mind and then it will be smooth sailing. I am finishing up The Shift cowl and then it will be all wedding socks, all the time, at least for a little while.

Susanne Scheurwater

Oh, gauge, what a fiend!!!! I.o.v.e. you colour choices, the navy with the rusty colours...ooooh! my kinda colours.
you go girl...that sweater will be wonderful and a bit on the sleeve would be fantastic.
I will live vicariously through you for the pullover. I will not knit/wear those anymore as my friends/family would need therapy as I try to take it off....tooooooo hot!!!!


I'm on the start the sleeve train as well! And it really is just gorgeous Kym! I'm also considering a Weekender right now based on your post and need to swatch. I can't wait to see you modeling this beauty!


True confessions here. I do not swatch. Sometimes it works (mostly) sometimes it doesn't ($$$ down the toilet). But Kym, OMG - that is going to be one gorgeous sweater!!! Love the colors and it looks greaat on you. I would get the slogging body over with and save the colorwork on the sleeves for later (I do love colorwork). BTW, your workout hair looks great! My hair is so freakin' long now, that post workout (or walk) it is just a sweaty mess on my head. But hey! No one sees me, right? (except Fletch and he is, thankfully, forgiving).

kathy b

Kym, not knitting anything as fantastic as that sweater wow. You are amazing


Oy, yes... I have had this issue more than once. (and your gauge in the sleeves will likely change again, darn it, lol) But YES... do the colorwork in the sleeves! Absolutely!! (this is the exact reason MATH exists... because gauge is a fickle thing, but math? She is not fickle at all!) I am pretty sure this is what EZ was referring to when she talked about knitting on in confidence in all crises!


happily chiming in late - love Sarah's and Kat's replies. I would for sure do A sleeve at least before tackling the body. I think the "fit" shots you've shown look like the sweater will be a success ... as long as the sleeves fit :-)


That is a beautiful looking yoke. Sometimes I think there is such a thing as a "knitter's universal gauge." Mine seems to be 20 stitches to 4 inches with finger, sport, and dk on a variety of needles. Once I heard a discussion that yarn - no matter which size needles - takes up a certain space on the needle and that influences gauge? I'm not sure if that is true or not but - mind games indeed. Knitting a sleeve seems like a good idea. The other thing you probably know but I have learned the hard way - several times - is that row gauge affects the quantity of yarn needed for a project. Keep us posted.

The comments to this entry are closed.