What is the Correct Knitting Gauge?
The actual knitting is what tells the true story
by Jackie E-S
Gauge and "feel" of the knitted fabric is a factor of more than just the thickness of the yarn, although that is a primary one – and that is why the method I discussed in Choosing Needle Size is a guideline to find a starting needle size for your swatching, especially if you are using an unlabeled or handspun yarn where suggested needle size is not available. However, there are also other factors that influence optimum knitting gauge for the project you have in mind.
Have you noticed how different fibers have different characteristics – strength, resiliency and bounce, etc.? For example, if you are spinning worsted or semi-worsted, the fibers are (somewhat) parallel to the length of the yarn. When yarn is knitted, the fibers want to straighten out – how much depends on how strong and resilient the fibers are.
There is also consideration for the intended use. For example, socks require a firmer gauge for good wear. You may need a needle two to three sizes smaller to achieve an optimum gauge for socks. On the other hand, lace typically requires a looser gauge to let the pattern open up and show the lacy effect.
Even the brand or composition of the needles you use can make a difference. Really! For example, I need to use a size smaller needle when using bamboo or wood, than I would in a comparable metal needle.
Finally, the "correct" gauge is a matter of personal taste. Whether that "correct" gauge now matches your project's planned gauge is vital, or else adjustments in pattern need to be made (sometimes easy to do, other times not so easy), or another yarn selected.
Remember to sample to confirm your project's gauge. The actual knitting is what tells the true story! If you don't like to do gauge swatches (who me?), choose projects that start on a few stitches and just take your best guess using the knitting gauge guideline plus previous experience as a starting place. Observe what is happening in the first few inches. If it's not working out, select another needle size and start over (or proceed on if a slight difference in feel and gauge won't matter to you). For some yarns or pattern stitches, it is absolutely necessary to wash and block to determine the ultimate gauge and feel.
Also see Blocking in Progress.
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