Up in arms about Gauge

Not Milarrochy Tweed, in case you were wondering

Such a seemingly innocuous topic can apparently generate very strong feelings.  I just read Kate Davies’ recent post, in which she discusses gauge, in relation to designing and pattern publishing, and specifically in relation to her new book, Milarrochy Heids, which is a compilation of hat designs all using the same yarn but featuring different designers.

Different designers obviously will produce different gauges, so there was much discussion about whether to recommend a needle size or not, and much emphasis in the final product on swatching for gauge and using your own gauge-size needle, i.e., the needle required to achieve the gauge intended by the designer.  This makes sense, particularly in a situation in which there are multiple designers and techniques, working to achieve potentially different quality of fabrics despite the uniform yarn choice.

But the big question is, do you indicate a suggested needle size, or not?

The feedback was that knitters wanted a needle size indicated.  The danger is that people then did not swatch, and then have had problems achieving the appropriate fit.  However, there have been fewer problems with fit since indicating that swatching is essential, and that the needle size is only a recommendation.

I admit, generally speaking I am that knitter that wants a recommended needle size, and will cast on willy-nilly not paying attention to gauge, particularly on something like a hat.  I typically am able to achieve the gauge recommended by the designer, leading to further laziness in this regard.  I am not alone in this tendency: apparently many of us are willing to throw caution to the wind and not swatch, particularly for accessories.

But here is the main issue, in my opinion: as knitters, even if we consider ourselves technically proficient, many of us do not actually know what our gauge ranges are, given certain needle sizes and types of yarn.  If we had a matrix of some sort that we’d already worked out, perfect: at least we would know where to begin.  Although I can tell you what weight + needle size I would use to knit a [fill in garment here] off the top of my head, or I’d be able to estimate how many stitches to cast on if you simply handed me a ball of yarn and needles, I haven’t internalized a series of gauges in my mind.  So when someone tells me, you want 30 stitches and 36 rows per 10 centimeters, sure, I know that I am not going to start with a size 5 or 7 US needle, but beyond that, I haven’t quite nailed it down.  I don’t necessarily want to have to guess between a 1 and a 3 or any of the half-sizes in between.

I will say that I appreciate the compromise that the team producing Milarrochy Heids came to, and yes, I will begin with the recommended needle size, and yes, I will swatch!  The post has definitely influenced me in this regard, particularly with the observation that across their designers, they identified a seven-stitch difference in a four-inch swatch using the same needle size and clearly the same yarn.

What are your feelings about gauge and recommended needle size?

One thought on “Up in arms about Gauge

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