Spring Lace-Along Week Three: Gauge Thoughts

Picture of lace knitting on top of a planner

Happy Spring Lace-Along Week Three! Sadly, my lace project has had to be put on hold for some required work-knitting deadlines. While those projects have a bit of lace, they must remain a “mystery” to the public for now (wink). However, just because I don’t have a ton of progress to show off, I DO have some thoughts on lace gauge I want to share.

I’ve received a couple of great questions about lace gauge via email and the School’s Community Forums this week and I’m pretty sure there are more than a few of you out there who have had the same questions.

Measuring a lace swatch for gauge

How do you count your stitches in a gauge swatch with lace?

I … uh… cheat a little. Haha! Well, it’s technically not cheating. We’ll call it a lace swatch hack. I learned this from Maggie Righetti’s book, Knitting in Plain English, years ago, and it has yet to fail me. In fact, if you’re one of those knitters who insists their swatches lie because the stitch count between those 0-4-inch ruler lines changes, this hack might be just the thing you need to build swatch trust again.

I don’t count my stitches in the swatch with a ruler. I count once at the beginning of the swatch when I’m casting on. To make a lace gauge swatch, I take the stitch pattern and cast on several repeats-worth to make what I think will be around 5 inches plus 2 stitches. So, if the pattern is a 10 stitch multiple + 3, I’ll cast on 30 stitches + 3 stitches + 2 edge stitches for 35 stitches. And then I’ll work the pattern for however many rows I think for 5 inches work. Be sure to make the number of rows you work + the cast on as 1 row and the bind off as 1 row. Let’s say I work it for 50 rows + the cast on and bind off for 52 rows. Those are the only 2 numbers I need to remember.

After I have washed and blocked my swatch (and let it dry really well), all I’m going to do is measure the full width of the swatch and the full length of the swatch.

  • Divide your total stitch count by the swatch width. i.e.: 35 / 5 = 7 stitches per inch.
    Divide your total row count by the swatch length. i.e.: 52 / 6 = 9.04 stitches per inch (I would just call this 9 sts).

And that’s all you need to do to figure out your gauge in lace patterns.

Measuring a lace swatch for gauge

When I go to block my lace swatch, I never know if I’m supposed to stretch it or not. If so, how much? And if so, do I stretch lengthwise or widthwise? How does that get me closer to gauge?

Ahhh. Here’s the part where swatches seem to lie to us. What makes it especially tough is that it is so subjective. But, here’s the short answer: you block your lace until it looks the way YOU like it. You stretch until you like the way the lace looks based on the gauge you’re trying to get.

Let’s say I’m making a lace swatch using US 5 needles and the gauge needed is 7 stitches per inch. I’ll cast on 35 stitches, work the 50 rows, and then soak/wash my swatch. Now it’s time to pin it out to the finished measurements and let it dry. Now here’s where things get personal.

Whether our swatch matches the needed gauge, I want to take a good, hard look. Do I LIKE it? Did I have to stretch it too much to meet the measurements, causing my eyelets to warp? Do the stitches appear to be smooth and cohesive, or gappy and shapeless? Even if it matches gauge, if I had to overstretch it to get it, then it means my needles were too small; I’ll have to swatch again with larger needles and less stretch. If you’ve hit gauge, but there isn’t enough stretch to show off the stitches the way you want, then you need to move to smaller needles.

two samples of lace swatches

The finished gauge is what we need to achieve the desired measurements, but that gauge goes hand in hand with a loved fabric.

Ok, I’m getting back to the knitting (until my arms fall off, I think). Do you have any other lace questions or gauge questions driving you crazy? Let me know!

PS–don’t forget to tag us on Instagram with shots of your beautiful lace for a chance at one of the amaaaazing prizes! #sweetgeorgialacealong


About Tabetha Hedrick

Tabetha Hedrick is a knitwear designer and writer raising a family just outside the Great Smoky Mountains in Eastern Tennessee. As the Design Director for SweetGeorgia Yarns, her days (and heart) are filled to the brim with knitting, art, writing, editing, planning, and finding ways to put it all together. In the midst of that fibre-filled life, you'll find her living simply in the sweet spot where creativity, discovery, parenthood, and life intertwine.

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2 thoughts on “Spring Lace-Along Week Three: Gauge Thoughts

  1. Nancy says:

    Thank you for that information, approximately how many grams are used to make that swatch, before I used to use yarn that is similar but now I know it’s better to use the actual yarn,of the project. This will affect what I need to order. On average how many grams do you “budget” for samples? Thanks for your help. Best regards Nancy

    1. Great question and, unfortunately, it varies depending on the yarn and how much you end up swatching. But, I generally budget about 15-30 grams for a single swatch (because I like to test a lot of elements). Hope that helps, Nancy!

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