So You Want Your Garment to Fit? 3 Steps to Perfectly Fitting Sweaters
Good swatching, accurate measuring, and a little number-crunching can go a long way toward achieving your goal of perfectly fitting sweaters, every time.
1. FIRST, THE SWATCH
We make swatches for a lot of reasons: to see if we like the hand (or tactile feel) of the fabric, if we like knitting the stitch pattern, if the dye is going to run, if the fabric will pill, and, of course, if our gauge matches the pattern’s gauge.
When making a gauge swatch, make sure that it’s large enough to get some reasonable information from it. You will not get accurate gauge measurements or a good feel for the hand of the fabric (its drapiness or stiffness) from a small swatch. I generally make my garment swatches at least 6″ x 6″.
One of the interesting bits of information that you can get from your swatch is how much your garment will grow or shrink after you wash it. Some yarns tend to stretch out after washing; others tend to shrink. You won’t know what your yarn is going to do until you wash and dry your swatch the same way you’re going to wash and dry your garment.
2. THEN, THE MEASURING
Before you wash your swatch, take its measurements. I like to measure the stitch gauge in several different places and average the measurements. I do the same with the row gauge. I also measure the full length and width of the swatch. I record all this information and carefully label it as “unwashed.” After washing, I take all of the measurements again, carefully labeling them as “washed.”
I’ve found it difficult to accurately estimate partial stitches when I’m checking my gauge (am I looking at a quarter of a stitch, or a third, or an eighth?), but being off by even an eighth of a stitch per inch can make a noticeable difference in the circumference of a garment. For example, if you want to make a 40″ sweater and you’re supposed to be getting 5 stitches per inch but you are actually getting 5 1∕8 stitches per inch (and you say, “Oh, that’s close enough!”), your sweater will only measure 39″. That eighth of a stitch per inch matters.
So when I measure, I don’t try to estimate partial stitches at all. I measure for almost the full width of the swatch, only omitting a few edge stitches on each side (I don’t want any misshapen stitches included in my gauge). I start at the edge of one stitch and end at the edge of another, because it’s easy to find the spot right in between two stitches; this means I’m only
counting whole stitches. I use a ruler marked to sixteenths of an inch and measure as accurately as I can.
To get my stitch gauge, I divide the total number of stitches by the number of inches to arrive at my stitches per inch. For example, if I counted 22 stitches over 4 3∕16″, my gauge would be 5.25 stitches per inch, or 21 stitches per 4″. I usually measure in three places on my swatch and average the gauges.
I do the same for row gauge: measure only whole rows, measure to the nearest 1∕16″, and take the average of three measurements.
3. HOW TO APPLY IT ALL
Gauges shown on patterns are washed gauges. That’s because the final, washed measurements reflect your garment in its final state: after it’s been finished and washed. The unwashed gauge is irrelevant. (A felted piece is an exception, but garments generally aren’t felted.)
Why should you take the measurements both before and after washing? The first set of measurements tells you about the fabric as you’re knitting it. The second set tells you about what it will be like after you wash it—these are the measurements that should match the pattern’s. Having both sets can keep you from panicking while you’re knitting.
For example, let’s say that your unwashed swatch had a row gauge of 7 rows per inch (28 rows per 4″) and your washed swatch had a row gauge of 8 rows per inch (32 rows per 4″). (This means that your swatch shrank a bit when you washed it—more rows are fitting into one inch, so each row must be smaller.) Your pattern says to work until your piece measures 13″ from the cast-on edge before starting the armhole shaping. If you just put your tape measure on the piece and work until it actually measures 13″, you will have worked about 91 rows (13″ x 7 rows per inch). But you know from your swatch that your piece is going to shrink when you wash it, so it’s not going to end up being 13″. How long will it be?
If you work 91 rows and then wash your piece, it will measure just under 11.” (91 rows ÷ 8 rows per inch). Now your piece is much shorter than you expected! What to do?
If you want your finished piece to be 13″ long, then you need to figure out how many rows that is according to your washed gauge. You know that 13″ x 8 rows per inch = 104 rows. So, you need to work 104 rows (not 91 rows) to end up with a finished piece that is 13″ to the underarm.
And now for the panicking part. When you work 104 rows, you will, of course, be working at your unwashed gauge. So those 104 rows aren’t going to measure 13″. How long will your piece be? The math shows 104 rows ÷ 7 rows per inch = 14 ¾”— much longer than the 13″ that you’re supposed to be working! But you learned from your swatch that your piece will shrink when you wash it, and in the end it will be the right size.
Sometimes patterns have you work a specific number of rows rather than working to a measurement. If your row gauge is different from the pattern’s, how many rows should you work?
Using a ratio is helpful. The ratio is: your gauge ÷ pattern gauge. (Remember to use your washed gauge!) Whenever you see a number of rows in the pattern, multiply it by your ratio to come up with the number of rows that you should work.
For example, if your gauge is 8 rows per inch and the pattern’s gauge is 6 rows per inch, your ratio is 1.33 (8 rows per inch ÷ 6 rows per inch). The pattern says to work 90 rows to the underarm. Multiply the number of rows by your ratio (90 x 1.33) to see that you should work 120 rows to get to the same length. You can even check yourself:
At the pattern’s gauge, 90 rows ÷ 6 rows per inch = 15″.
At your gauge, 120 rows ÷ 8 rows per inch = 15″.
I hope this helps you to knit a garment that fits!
• inches x (stitches per inch) = stitches
inches x (rows per inch) = rows
• (garment stitches) ÷ (blocked stitch gauge) = width of finished garment
• (garment rows) ÷ (blocked row gauge) = length of finished garment
• (garment stitches) ÷ (unblocked stitch gauge) = width of garment in progress
• (garment rows) ÷ (unblocked row gauge) = length of garment in progress
• (your stitch gauge) ÷ (pattern stitch gauge) = your stitch ratio (round to 2 decimal points)
• (your row gauge) ÷ (pattern row gauge) = your row ratio (round to 2 decimal points)
• (your stitch ratio) x (pattern stitches) = your stitches
(your row ratio) x (pattern rows) = your rows
Karen Frisa works as a technical editor for many Interweave publications. She always checks her gauge. This item was originally published in knitscene Fall 2017.