What is Knitting Gauge?
If you're going to spend weeks hand knitting something, then you want it to fit. Gauge ensures that your final knitted garment will be the size you expect it to be. It's a huge key to your success and I know that you just want to start knitting, but don't be tempted to skip past this.
Gauge is all about knitting a preliminary swatch or test square using the recommended needle size and yarn weight, then you count the stitches and rows on that square. Because everyone has different knitting techniques, we need to make sure your measurements are right. Otherwise the maths just isn't going to work and you'll potentially have a garment that's too big or small.
The gauge in a knitting pattern will often read something like:
16 sts x 20 rows in a 10cm x 10cm/4"x4" square in stockinette st.
This tells you that if you knit a test square in stockinette stitch (stockinette = knit one row of stitches, turn your work and then purl a row of stitches. Repeat these two rows as many times as needed) and then measure a 10cm square, you should end up with a count of 16 stitches across and 20 rows down within that space.
Here's how you check your knitting gauge
Cast on more stitches than that first number. You need a little buffer so because the stitch number above is 16, I'd cast on at least 20 stitches.
Knit all the stitches in one row, then turn your work and purl all the stitches in the next row. Repeat these two rows over and over again until it's at least 10cm long.
Some people also knit the outside edges differently to help it all lay flat, as shown in the video above. It's not essential, but you can do this by knitting the first three rows. No purls. Then starting knitting the first AND last 3 stitches of every row, regardless of whether or not you're up to a knit or purl row. Finish up by knitting the last three rows like you did at the beginning. No purls. Bind off if you want to.
When you're ready, measure 10cm/4" across your work and count each V in that space. One V = 1 stitch. You should have the same number of stitches that the pattern recommends. If you have too many stitches in a 10cm space, you need to go up one needle size. If you have less stitches than needed, you need to go down one needle size.
It's completely normal for knitters to get different gauges with the same yarn and needles as the pattern, so don't worry if yours is different. Beginner knitters also tend to knit quite tightly and it's normal to find you need to size up.
Now for the row count. If this number is out, it's a little more tricky to fix and involves diverting from the pattern a little to adjust the number of rows you knit. But unless your garment is designed to be quite fitted, I wouldn't worry about it too much. Beginners can mostly focus on just the stitch count and leave the rows for another day.
Once you've got the same stitch count as the pattern gauge, you're ready to start knitting your project!
Knitting a swatch isn't as exciting as actually starting your knitting project, but future-you will sure be grateful you took the time to do it.