One of the biggest questions I get from every level of knitter is “I swatched at the beginning, so why doesn’t my piece fit as it should?” It only takes a little prodding to discover that the answer is nearly always the same. Working gauge vs Finished Gauge. Our intrepid knitter chose the wrong gauge.
That’s right, I said it. There are TWO kinds of gauge swatches and the numbers in your pattern are based on only ONE of them.
I remember being shocked by this myself.
It was very early in my knitting life when I came across this stunning Ann Budd cardigan in a magazine (I think it was Interweave). This project took me to my first yarn store, to purchasing my first luxury yarn and brand new needles. Ah…. my naïve self didn’t notice the “after blocking” note tucked into the gauge to meet. I cast on a few stitches, worked a few rows, and miracles of miracles, my gauge matched the pattern! This one-piece cardi came together in a breeze and when finished, I was in heaven. It fit like a dream.
until I washed it the first time.
See, the thing about luxury yarn is that it helps to know how the different fibres behave. Here, my wool + angora yarn bloomed.
The magic of moisture and drying changed it. The stitches straightened and learned to hold hands in perfect alignment. The fiber fluffed and filled in all the spaces. And … it grew…
Nearly two times bigger than originally intended.
My cardigan was a circus tent.
I got caught in the battle between Working Gauge and Finished Gauge.
So, in the hopes I can save you from this future embarrassment, let me explain the difference.
This is the in-progress, hot-off-the-needles knitting. The number of stitches and rows that equal an inch BEFORE touching the fabric with any water, steam, or heat. These stitch + row counts are NOT accurate in determining the size or fit of the piece because the fabric hasn’t been treated yet. In short, it is not an essential gauge measurement, but it IS handy to know for two reasons:
- It can help keep you on track while you are knitting. If you notice a massive change, then you’ll get the alert before it’s too late.
- It’ll be handy should you need to calculate length measurements, especially if you need to change something.
So, always record these measurements before blocking.
Rule No. 1: ALL patterns are based on the finished gauge. This is the number of stitches and rows that equal an inch AFTER treating the fabric with water (and/or heat or steam) and drying. If you want your knitted garment to fit, do not skip the steps of a blocked, finished gauge swatch. In fact, the finished gauge is critical in determining other things, too, including drape, fabric characteristics (will the yarn pill, bleed, or warp?), and stitch pattern texture. Always, always, always treat your swatch exactly as you intend to treat the finished garment. Plan on hand washing and line drying? Do that. Prefer to machine wash on gentle and tumble dry low? Do that. Without these washing steps, every single piece you make will be a complete shot in the dark.
Whether you are making socks, hats, or aiming for your first sweater (such as our Flannery sweater!), the difference between Working Gauge vs Finished Gauge is the first step to knitting mastery. The next steps are learning how to gauge swatch, how to measure correctly, how to treat your fibers, and then, maybe, how to calculate those row length measurements. When you’re ready to learn all the secrets and tricks to gauge, ready for your projects to turn out perfect every time, then you’ll find our Mastering Gauge workshop to be super helpful. Baby steps, my friend.