Gauge is important because everyone crochets with different tension.
Everyone (yes, EVERYONE) has slightly different tension when they work. Some crochet more loosely and some more tightly. This is not bad and you should not assume that you are doing something wrong of you crochet looser and tighter than your friends or even designers.
So, knowing this, imagine being a designer. You make this lovely sweater that you know everyone will adore. Each piece is made to measure a certain size so it will fit. The sleeves need to be 20 inches longs, the body needs to be 20 inches long — all so the sweater will fit the person it is meant for.
Tina crochets tightly. If she follows the designer’s pattern exactly, Tina’s sweater will turn out much too small because her stitches will be slightly closer together than the designer’s.
Lucy crochets loosely. If she follows the designer’s pattern exactly, Lucy’s sweater will turn out much too big because her stitches will be slightly further apart than the designer’s.
So how does a designer ever write a pattern for something and make sure that both Lucy and Tina can make it the same size? No designer can ever assume that everyone crochets just like her. How can she make her pattern accessible to all crocheters?
Gauge (or “Tension” in UK terms) is just a crafty word for “stitch size.”
Gauge is the designer’s way of telling you how big THE DESIGNER’S stitches are. This way, you can adjust your hook so that you end up with the same measurements as the designer in the end.
How To Check Your Gauge
So now that we know why it’s there, what do we do with it?
Gauge in a pattern will look something like this:
Gauge: 10 stitches x 10 rows in sc = 2” x 2”
This gauge measurement is telling us that when the designer created this sweater, she laid out the item on a table and measured a 2-inch by 2-inch square. When she did so, that square was 10 sc stitches wide and 10 sc rows tall.
Put differently, every 10 single crochet stitches she worked was 2 inches wide and every 10 rows of single crochet was 2 inches tall.
So how do Lucy and Tina check their stitch size to make sure it is close to that of the designer?
Tina and Lucy will need to create a gauge swatch.
A gauge swatch is just a square made in the same stitch as the pattern and with the recommended hook size for the pattern. You can make the swatch any length or width because you can just measure the middle. Just make sure your square is as many stitches and rows as (or more than) the designer’s square.
Then you measure. When you made your swatch, was 10 stitches longer or shorter than 2 inches? When you measured 10 rows, was it taller or shorter than 2 inches?
Tina’s, the designer’s, and Lucy’s gauge swatches look like this:
Each swatch is made with an H (5.00 mm) hook. They each have 10 stitches and 10 rows, but each swatch is a different size because they each crochet with a different tension.
Adjusting Your Gauge
In order to get their swatches as close as possible to the size of the designer’s swatch, Tina and Lucy need to change their hook sizes.
Tina needs to make her swatch bigger. She needs to go up a hook size and use a I (5.5 mm) hook.
Lucy needs to make her swatch smaller. She needs to go down a hook size and use a G (4.00 mm) hook.
Had they made the sweater without first testing their gauge, Lucy would have a HUGE sweater and Tina would have a tiny one. And that would be after following the pattern to the letter!
Now they can both follow the pattern exactly as the designer wrote it. They will get a sweater with the same measurements simply by adjusting their hooks up or down to fit the gauge.
When to Gauge Swatch
Gauge swatches are one of those things are that often skipped. They take extra time and they are rather boring. I mean, everyone really wants to get started on that awesome project right away. Who wouldn’t?
And there are always patterns that do not need a gauge swatch at all.
Things like blankets, amigurumi, or pot holders probably don’t need a gauge swatch. Their exact measurements will not matter in the end. A blanket that is too small can always get a border, right?
The most important things to gauge swatch are wearable — sweaters, hats, slippers — anything that will not fit if the gauge is wrong.
For wearable projects, I wouldn’t even consider starting until you have checked your gauge. There is really nothing worse than being halfway done with a sweater before realizing it will be the wrong size.
If you don’t make a gauge swatch, you risk having to rip out half a sweater and wasting hours of work. In the case of wearables, it’s not worth risking it.
As my dad would say “Prior planning prevents poor performance.”
Take the time to gauge swatch and you will be happy you did.
Kati is the designer behind Hooked by Kati. With thousands of patterns sold around the world, Kati prides herself in creating innovative, easy-to-follow amigurumi patterns. She has designed for several publications, including Crochet!, Crochet World, Simply Crochet, and I Like Crochet. Kati finds her inspiration in science fiction, video games, and numerous visits to the zoo — all passions she shares with her husband and two boys.