The word gauge (or tension) refers to how many stitches (or rows) there are in an inch of knitting using a specific yarn and needle size. The resulting numbers are used to determine how many stitches and rows it will take to achieve a desired size. Remember, the needle size listed in the pattern is the size the designer used to obtain the listed gauge. Two knitters using the same materials may end up with different gauges. A difference of only half a stitch per inch could make a discrepancy of several inches in the size of the finished project. Take time to make a gauge swatch before starting your project -- you'll be glad you did. It may be necessary to make several attempts before you achieve the correct gauge.
How to Knit a Gauge Swatch
Use the main needle size listed in the pattern. Cast on about 6 inches worth of stitches, using the stitch gauge given in the pattern to determine the number to cast on. Work the main pattern until the swatch measures 4 inches in length; bind off all stitches. Lay the swatch on a flat, hard surface. Measure, then count 4 inches worth of stitches across the swatch (fig. 13a).
Divide this number by 4 to get the number of stitches per inch. Repeat the process a few times in different areas to confirm the count. To measure the rows, center a measuring tape or ruler lengthwise on the swatch, and count the number of rows over 2 inches (fig. 13b), or 4 inches if the pattern is very large vertically. Divide the total by 2 (or 4, if using that number) to determine the number of rows per inch. Note: Knit stitches are wider than they are tall. However, in stitch patterns such as stockinette stitch, you'll normally have more rows per inch than stitches per inch.
Compare your gauge with the pattern gauge. If your gauge swatch has more stitches per inch than the pattern gauge, this means your stitches are smaller than the pattern gauge, and you'll need to try larger size needles until your swatch stitches are the same size as the required gauge. If your swatch has fewer stitches per inch than the pattern gauge, your stitches are larger than the pattern gauge, and you'll need to try smaller size needles to obtain the pattern gauge. Be exact in your measurements, and knit as many swatches as you need to, changing needle sizes until you find the size that allows you to obtain the correct gauge.
Find out how quick and easy knitting in the round can be with the helpful tips on the next page.