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Stitch Patterns: It's All About The Gauge

Oct 10, 2007

William Street Socks

Many of you have mentioned your frustrations in trying to incorporate stitch patterns into your knitting, only to run up against the issue of gauge. If you are "painting" with stitches against a stockinette stitch "canvas," for example, adding a few eyelets can also add to the size of your finished piece; inserting a cable can draw in your fabric more than you might imagine. So once again, gauge rears its difficult, persnickety little head, and demands that we pay attention to it, when all we really want to do is blissfully knit away in peace. (How rude!)

How do you account for the changes a stitch pattern will cause in your knitting?

Sing it along with me, 'cuz you know this tune as well as I do: Swatch it, baby.

I feel like a broken record on the whole swatch thing, but really, there is no magic formula, no other reliable way to tell how a stitch pattern is going to affect your favorite basic sock pattern. (It's kind of ironic how much I have to say "Swatch it!" considering that I personally hate, detest, and despise swatching. Hello, I am Sandi the Reluctant Swatch Pusher: I know it is sensible, good, and right to swatch, but I still do not enjoy doing it myself!)

One thing that will help you decide what to swatch is to think about how you want to use the stitch pattern in your basic "recipe." Do you want to work just a little stitch spice into your piece, or do you want to go whole-hog and go for an all-over effect? If you want an all-over effect, then things are a bit easier: swatch the pattern, measure the gauge, and adjust the total stitch count accordingly. But what if you want to mix it up a little?


Using just a repeat (or a few repeats) in the midst of a field of plain knitting is called an insertion. If you look at Lisa Shroyer's William Street Socks, you can see that she did not work the cables all the way around the cuff of her socks—she did just a few repeats of the pattern at the front of the leg, where it will show the most, and kept the back of the cuff in stockinette. This clever design has several happy results: The cuff is more stretchy than if it were all-cables; the cuff can be easily sized up or down for a custom fit; the smoother back makes the sock more flattering to thicker ankles...oh, and the knitting goes faster!

To use an insertion successfully, you need to know the stockinette gauge and the pattern stitch gauge, as well as how one affects the other (this last is actually the most important!). In other words: You have to swatch both. It helps to work both in the same swatch: knit a few inches of stockinette, then work the repeats of the pattern insertion (either horizontal or vertical), then finish up with a few more inches of plain knitting. Compare the gauge of the pattern section with the gauge of the plain section to see if the pattern expands or contracts your knitting. Consider decreasing or increasing a stitch or two on either side of the insertion—in the patterned section only, of course!—to compensate.

Remember: There is no shame in ripping out.

There is, of course, frustration in ripping out; but that's a different thing entirely! Ripping out and starting over is part of every designer's process—those lovely designs you see in the pages of Interweave Knits are often the result of hours of experimentation and swatching.

Give yourself encouragement if you find yourself reluctant to rip. I tell myself that ripping out just means I get to do more knitting!

Sandi Wiseheart is the editor of Knitting Daily.

What's on Sandi's needles? The yarn for Nicholas' cabled pullover has been delivered, and swatching is done. Now for the knitting!

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reginaknits wrote
on Nov 4, 2010 6:09 PM

Why does this happen? The pattern specifies the gauge so I will check the gauge against the number to "Cast ON" in order to arrive at a certain length and the cast on number seems to be wrong. For example: Gauge is 4.5 sts/and the length is 11.5 inches. The pattern states to cast on 56 stitches. When I do the math, I get 51.75 or 52 stitches. Why the difference?

Halfpint wrote
on Oct 17, 2007 4:58 PM
perhaps the answer is to add both cables and eyelets, that way they will cancel each other out?
PatA wrote
on Oct 16, 2007 1:29 AM
This post is in response to Elizabeth who asked if using needles of two different sizes would solve her gauge problem. I always thought that only the righthand needle determined the gauge, it being the one around which the yarn is wrapped and that the lefthand one merely holds the stitches to be knit. However, I have never tried knitting with two different sizes so perhaps my logic is faulty. If someone can explain this to me, I would be most grateful, as I have had similar problems with gauge "falling in the cracks" especially with bulky yarn where gauge is soooooooooo important.
JaynaM wrote
on Oct 14, 2007 9:24 PM
As a rule of thumb, I usually add 10% to the number of stitches when I add a few cables, and decrease the number of stitches when I add some lace. Granted that not a hard-and-fast rule, but a good starting point; and it usually works for me.
mljan wrote
on Oct 12, 2007 7:16 PM
I've subscribed to Knitting Daily since the beginning, and I'm finding it better written, more thoughtful, enjoyable and helpful than I expected for a free newsletter. And there's the bonus of the free patterns and now a sampling of stitches from the newly released Harmony Guides. Interweave is a company that has to make a profit on the output of its staff, so a little sales pitch on other books, a little crochet to promote a new magazine is to be expected and could even be welcome. I've seen more knit patterns containing crochet lately, and not just as an edging.
on Oct 12, 2007 1:16 PM
Has any one knitted the William Street Socks?? I am, and after sizing down needles 4 times, finally got 12 spi, and these socks are for a toddler!! The pattern says it is written for a large woman's foot (size 9.5-10.5); *not so if you are knitting to the gauge specified*.
TaraR wrote
on Oct 12, 2007 9:41 AM
Yikes - people are too testy on here. Although I'm not currently a crocheter (beyond the occasional single- or double-crocheted edging on a piece of knitting), and didn't really think I liked crocheted designs, I am getting more interested because of seeing more up-to-date-looking projects and patterns. Also, people - Knitting Daily is fun and it's FREE. What are you complaining about???

I think you're doing a fantastic job, Sandy - keep it up. ;-)
MarenM wrote
on Oct 12, 2007 1:32 AM
Dear Elaine, "fadig" is German (just like Regia)! And as a yarn related term it's not very common dictionary material. You're right, though: "4-fadig" means "4-ply".
ElaineS wrote
on Oct 12, 2007 12:55 AM
sorry, i found the yarn by hunting for regia tweed, but it is not exactly the 55/25/20 shown in the pattern. but still puzzled on term fadig
ElaineS wrote
on Oct 12, 2007 12:54 AM
what does the term 'fadig' mean? I cannot find it on the internet.. is it ply? some yarns are 4-fadig or 6-fadig...
ElaineS wrote
on Oct 12, 2007 12:23 AM
the Sock yarn is a web site in non English. HELP? Where do I purchase the yarn with the William Street socks?
JoannH wrote
on Oct 11, 2007 11:24 PM
Came home tired and worn from hard shift at work, brought up my KNITTING page and found CROCHET...never mind...going to bed....
Eharper wrote
on Oct 11, 2007 10:26 PM
I just got the "Holiday Gifts" magazine. So fun! I must have the recycled silk yarn. I'm off to look it up...
SusieE wrote
on Oct 11, 2007 8:23 PM
I've been signed up to receive emails fo about 2 weeks and it seems to me that knitting daily is mostly about crochet. What's up with that?
Elizabeth wrote
on Oct 11, 2007 4:57 PM
I read this last night, and thought it might clarify swatch problems. It's taken from KNITTING IN PLAIN ENGLISH by Maggie Righetti:
"A gauge swatch must be made on the needles and the yarn that you will be using for the project. A gauge swatch must be in the pattern stitch specified. A gauge swatch must be made when the knitter is comfortable and at ease. A gauge swatch must be at least 4 inches wide. Don't try to count the stiches within the swatch. Divide the total number of stitches in the swatch by the width of the piece....
Don't just make a swatch once and think that forever after your gauge will be fine and remain the same throughout the garment...Rather, stop and check your work for a total width as you go along. After you have knitted on your piece for about 2 inches in pattern stitch, spread it out and measure the total width...(you may have to) slip a portion onto an extra-smaller-size cirucular needle so that the article can lay flat....Please worry about the gauge before worrying about anything else."

She also mentions that changing the type of needle from bamboo to metal can change the gauge if you having problems getting the same gauge as the designer.

Hope this helps.
Elizabeth wrote
on Oct 11, 2007 4:41 PM
Catherine O--You have to log in to the email from Sandi each day and click on the square that says Stitch of the Day. Then, for that day only, a pattern is shown.
BruceC wrote
on Oct 11, 2007 4:32 PM
Please spare us from crochet articles. This forum is called "Knitting Daily". Let's keep it that way. Those who want information on crochet can go to crochet forums. Thank you.
on Oct 11, 2007 4:14 PM
Are there pattern instructions for the Papyrus lace? Did I miss something?
CarolG wrote
on Oct 11, 2007 3:11 PM
Interesting. All these years I've thought an "insertion" was a pattern used horizontally and a vertical stitch pattern used alone would be called a "panel."
AlbaB wrote
on Oct 11, 2007 2:02 PM
Thanks for forwarding the "crochet" info. I love both knit and crochet. This is very helpful.
DianeD@2 wrote
on Oct 11, 2007 11:25 AM
Just wanted to say thanks for the Stitch of the Day! I am loving them. I print out the ones I think I will use, but I'm REALLY hoping to get a stitch dictionary for Christmas this year!
PattiO wrote
on Oct 11, 2007 10:52 AM
When I have to rip something back and start over, I just recall what my husband the woodworker always says to me... at least I can reuse my yarn, whereas if he cuts a piece of wood the wrong length, it usually winds up in the scrap pile. And I just tell myself I'm getting more (knitting) fun for the money!
JoyH wrote
on Oct 11, 2007 10:35 AM
I appreciate the 'persnickity'detail info of your posts re stitch patterns and how to do the needed swatching for gauge. I'm printing out most of them to keep on file for future referencing. Thanks, Joy
Meeb wrote
on Oct 11, 2007 9:55 AM
reprinting the stitch guides is "wrong" and "bad for knitting"? huh? go to the library, or get online and find what you need from a used bookseller, or down load the FREE patterns one at a time. some of us like clean, matched covers, pretty pictures, and the pure pleasure of owning a good reference library out in the middle of nowhere. and are willing to pay for it. if the companies and designers that provide us with quality materials, tools and information don't make a profit, they go away. and then we're all the poorer. what's "good for knitting" is when the market meets both your needs and mine....and in this case, i think does.

sock tip: knit both socks at the same time. alternate sections, and then when you're done, you're not one sock done, and they match better. leastways, mine do. granted, you'll have to shell out for more needles. or take them out of a UFO, maybe.
M.W wrote
on Oct 11, 2007 9:26 AM
I usually just swatch a few rows, a few inches wide, unless it's a yarn and pattern I've used before or something where gauge doesn't matter. Works well enough for me, but then I'm not a perfectionist anymore!

But, what's the deal with people thinking only toe-up socks can be tried on? I try on cuff-down socks on the dpns all the time. And, no, I don't usually swatch at all for socks; the sock is the swatch.

Mary Ann
ValerieP wrote
on Oct 11, 2007 9:16 AM
Speaking of gauge, are those William Street socks really 12 spi? If so they must be child-sized... I'm thinking it was supposed to be 12 stitches per 2 inches, maybe?
ClaudiaC wrote
on Oct 11, 2007 8:46 AM
Natasha: I, too, have made Embossed Leaves socks. I used Trekking sock yarn and size 1 needles. However, I did not use the pattern's suggested cast on method...I used the long-tail cast on. The teacher of the class I was taking also suggested just working the rib pattern for a few rows on straight needles, then dividing them and joining. I just had sew up a small opening after I was done. It was my first pair of patterned socks (other than ribbing on the foot) and I really enjoyed it. Maybe you should start over and cast on differently. Good luck.
BethB wrote
on Oct 11, 2007 8:22 AM
Oh, sorry. I see you were talking about a link to the site in an email. I think there is one?
BethB wrote
on Oct 11, 2007 8:21 AM
To the comment about sending "Stitch of the Day" to email...I think the whole idea for "Stitch of the Day" is to get you to go to the web site, the more times the better. Sites are about advertising and selling, duh.
LindaS@5 wrote
on Oct 11, 2007 7:39 AM
Sandi, I am with you on the swatching chore but I seem to find that every time I don't swatch, I have to frog the first several inches of the project and swatching seems to take the place of early ripout. Swatch on!!
knittingbox wrote
on Oct 11, 2007 2:35 AM
The problem as every knitter knows is that swatches often don't tell you what the gauge of the actual and/or finished product will be.
Eharper wrote
on Oct 10, 2007 10:55 PM
Joetta - are you twisting your stitches? I twisted mine unknowingly for an entire year before I finally took a sweater back that was all outta wack to my lys and basically cried "help!" in the middle of the store.

Look really closely at your stitches. Twisting can look nearly perfect, but instead of the yarn making a perfect "V" one of the strands crosses over at the bottom. It actually makes a swatch lean to one side. Fixing is easy, you just have to get used to the change. Let me know if I can help!
Erin - AZ
Mary BE wrote
on Oct 10, 2007 10:39 PM
I will be teaching a beginners'knitting class (for the third year) at a knitting/quilting retreat in January and both Interweave Knits and Knitting Daily are providing much useful info for me to share with the "campers." Many thanks Mary B
KathleenB wrote
on Oct 10, 2007 9:45 PM
I like knitting socks from the toe up, then you don't have to do a swatch. You can try on the sock as you go and keep adding stitches until it fits. By the time you do a swatch for a sock, the sock could be have way done.
KathleenB wrote
on Oct 10, 2007 9:45 PM
I like knitting socks from the toe up, then you don't have to do a swatch. You can try on the sock as you go and keep adding stitches until it fits. By the time you do a swatch for a sock, the sock could be have way done.
HurriedHwfe wrote
on Oct 10, 2007 9:12 PM
I have never been able to get my stitches right even if I swatch. I either knit too loose or too tight and changing needles never lets me get to the right gauge. I always have to adjust the pattern to my gauge! On another note, I am having problems getting your free patterns to download. Is there a secret. My Adobe Reader does not want to read them. Thank you. Jo B
ChristinH wrote
on Oct 10, 2007 8:56 PM
Another swatch hater here...Although, I don't mind putting the time into a swatch. I just consistently find that no matter how perfect my gauge is in the final swatch, the guage of the actual knitted garmet turns out completely different.

I try not to worry about it too much. The truth is that the vast majority of my garments have turned out just fine. And, if they don't, it's probably because I selected a pattern that wasn't suitable for my body type.
JennieP wrote
on Oct 10, 2007 8:37 PM
Ellen, to measure stitches in a stitch other than stockinette, work a complete section of the pattern (eg a cable or a couple of repeats of the lace), noting how many stitches there are in the patterned section. Next, measure the patterned section as precisely as you can and divide the stitches by the measurement to get the number of stitches per inch or cm. eg, it's 32 sts wide and measures 3& 3/8" (3.325"), divide 32 by 3.325 and you end up with 9.6 sts per inch or 38.4 sts in 4". You can round up to a whole number when you've worked out how wide your patterned section will be.
Ellen W wrote
on Oct 10, 2007 7:45 PM
I also hate swatching, but do try to do at least a minimal swatch, as I often substitute yarn. Here's a question: what is the best way to measure gauge in a stitch other than stockinette? I am particularly confused when trying to measure gauge in a cable or lace stitch. All the instructions I've seen for measuring gauge talk only about stockinette. Thanks!
LeslieB@2 wrote
on Oct 10, 2007 6:35 PM
I made the Embossed Leaves Socks from Interweave (my favorite socks to date!) Like you, I used the recommended yarn and dpn needle size. I did not have to make any adjustments to the pattern as written and the socks finished out beautifully. I'm sorry that I cannot give you any answer to your troubles!
Kabira wrote
on Oct 10, 2007 6:30 PM
As a 'preliminary' swatch I make something 'useful' - a washcloth or hat - combining the stitches I'm interested in. This doesn't give the final answer in the yarn I am working with but it gives me a quick first pass at seeing what may happen - with a new stich or a new combo. As the Yarn Harlot (and others) have said, a hat will always fit someone, and the washcloths are stocking stuffers, gift-decorators, etc.

BTW - can there be a link to the stitch of the day on the newsletter sent by e-mail? Rather than having to go to the website. thanks!
Elizabeth wrote
on Oct 10, 2007 6:14 PM
A knitting instructor taught me to make a "quick and dirty" swatch of enough stitches for an inch or two. Try needles until you get the one you think will work. Then put the time into making a real swatch 4X4 inches. But if the row count isn't crucial, (if you are measuring, not doing colorwork or patterns that you need to know the row count for, I often make a 4X3 inch swatch. It saves a lot of time.

Another teacher told me that when you're using small needles such as 0, 1 or 2 for socks often the gauge doesn't change that much between the different needles. Is that true?

Sandi, I am trying to make a sweater that calls for 4.5 stitches per inch. When I swatched, size 5 needles gave me 4.75 st/inch and size 6 gave me 4.25 st/inch. So I used one of each size and got 4.5st/inch. Can I knit the sweater with one size 5 and one size 6?

JaynaM wrote
on Oct 10, 2007 5:31 PM
I agree that swatching is the ultimate answer to gauge questions, but a sock is small enough that you can just about knit a sock in the time it takes to do the gauge swatch.
TaraR wrote
on Oct 10, 2007 5:23 PM
TFoz, I can't help you solve your problem, but I can say that I've experienced the same thing! Another thing I thought contributed to the loosening up of the gauge was the weight of the knitting already on the needles. Blocking helped but didn't completely fix the problem (wearable, cute, but not perfect).
TaraR wrote
on Oct 10, 2007 5:23 PM
TFoz, I can't help you solve your problem, but I can say that I've experienced the same thing! Another thing I thought contributed to the loosening up of the gauge was the weight of the knitting already on the needles. Blocking helped but didn't completely fix the problem (wearable, cute, but not perfect).
NatashaH wrote
on Oct 10, 2007 4:47 PM
Hi! I actually have a question, regarding guage but a little different topic; I'm working on the Embossed Leaves socks in the Interweave Favourite Socks. I'm using the suggested needles, and the suggested guaged yarn, but after casting on the said 64 stitches and knitting 5 rounds I can barely get three fingers in the "tube" let alone hoping to get a foot in! Am I missing something? Is there an error in the pattern perhaps? I've never had this happen before and I'm baffled.
TFoz wrote
on Oct 10, 2007 4:36 PM
Hi everyone :)
My problem with swatching is that my tension gets looser, the longer I knit, or the more comfortable I get with a yarn in a work-in-progress. Therefore, the gauge I get with a swatch isn't necessarily the gauge I get halfway through a piece! I know, I'm supposed to take care of that problem myself, but just wondered if anyone else has this issue.
knittingbox wrote
on Oct 10, 2007 4:32 PM
I bought a Harmony Stitch book last year. I really like it. And, I LOVED THAT IT WAS REASONABLY PRICED!! THAT'S WHY I WAS ABLE TO BUY IT!!
I don't understand why you needed to jack up the price on these books, since you've now put very affordable books into a much less affordable price range.

And, given that the Harmony Guides, while showing nice color photos of the stitches, give no other info, no background about the stitch or other kinds of info the more expensive stitch books seem to have.

Does this mean that you've simply changed the cover BUT ADDED NO NEW CONTENT TO THE STITCH PAGES and then JACKED UP THE PRICE??

By the way, I think what' you've done is wrong, and frankly, BAD FOR KNITTING!
knittingbox wrote
on Oct 10, 2007 4:27 PM
I've been wondering what kind of shoes people wear with their beautiful handknit socks. I know for most of my shoes I need to wear "trouser socks" because that's all that will fit in my shoe!
And there are definitely no shoes that I could wear to work that would accomodate the handknit socks I've seen --- altho I am a very new sock knitter (1 finally completed after a few froggings. That's 1 sock, not 1 pair.)

Also, I was wondering if there are any lace weight yarns that would make good socks. By good, I mean comfortable and would last more than one wearing.

Thanks in advance!
SuzanneS wrote
on Oct 10, 2007 4:01 PM
I enjoy the Knitting Daily very much and find the information very good and helpful. My only comment is that I wish the knitted samples (like the William Street Socks) were knit in a lighter color so the details would show up better.
Thank you
MistyY wrote
on Oct 10, 2007 3:43 PM
Personally I really enjoy swatching. In part I think this is due to the fact that I usually design my own patterns or adapt comercial ones to my own yarn/gauge/etc, so I swatch to find out what sort of fabric my yarn wants to be and what stitches it looks best with, and then after that I figure out what gauge I came up with. I then design or adjust my pattern to fit my discoveries, rather than try to make my knitting match someone else's gauge.
Cfbandit wrote
on Oct 10, 2007 3:32 PM

I do swatch and I still have problems. What I'm wondering is how to do I go from a swatch and apply that data to my product.


Moons1295 wrote
on Oct 10, 2007 3:23 PM
I can easily get the correct gauge for STITCHES but I'm always too tight on ROWS. I've asked experts about this problem and the best response I can get is "block it". That doesn't do it for me. How can I loosen up my row gauge without affecting my stitch gauge?
JennieP wrote
on Oct 10, 2007 2:44 PM
Sandi, Great advice. I am a 'beginning' designer and I have actually learned to love swatching as part of the design process. It's great to see how an idea translates into a new yarn - I am just beginning a project in a bamboo yarn and can't wait to see if what I had in my head will translate into what's on the needles. I think of it as a way of getting to know the yarn and a wonderful part of the creative process. I like what happened when I decided to embrace something that I always thought of as a boring necessity before I got started.

Another bonus - I recently made a MAJOR boo boo on a sweater I knitted for my husband - it was worked in the round with a steeked v-neck & I noticed near the top of the shoulder that I had 15 plain sts on one side of the cable panel and 17 plain sts on the other - having the swatch gave me the opportunity to not panic and I worked out how to do a reverse steek to take out the extra stitches.

Similarly, if there's a washing disaster (or you suspect one may happen!) you can work out what to do on your expendable swatch.

Keeping the swatch is also great for a knitting record book. I love keeping track of my projects and making notes about it so I can look back on my achievements and learning process.
PamS wrote
on Oct 10, 2007 2:42 PM
It's all about gauge - so true. Did a cardi in solid seed stitch. Way too big. Ripped and made smaller size. Cardi grew every time I wore it. The swatch I made did not account for the stretch factor of the finished garment.
BTW, seed stitch is aprox 30% shorter and 18 percent wider than stockinette! Happy swatching, Pam
MarieD wrote
on Oct 10, 2007 2:22 PM
I never swatch for socks - ever- and I have yet to have a problem. Also, how does a sock with so many thick cables fit into a shoe? I'd also like to see it on an actual foot. If I were to make this sock I would reduce the amount of ribbing, run the cables around the leg, and skip them on the foot.
LynnH wrote
on Oct 10, 2007 2:15 PM
Mary, I am so with you. If I'm going to swatch, I at least want a head start on whatever I'm working on. With socks, I'll take the chance that the gauge is wrong, because I'll be ripping out one way or the other: the sock, if it is wrong, or the swatch, because I need the yarn for the other sock.

As for sweaters, if they happen to be knitted flat, I'll often start with a sleeve, for the same reasons as above, except on a slightly bigger scale.
FiberFriend wrote
on Oct 10, 2007 1:35 PM
I bought a ball of Tofutsies while on vacation at the beach (a suitable souvenier because of the chitin!) and I am diligently swatching with my size zero needles to measure my gauge. But, this is taking way too long. I was adviced in "No Sheep for You" to make a swatch of 8 inches square. Does it not occur to anyone that the swatch will take as much time and yarn as an actual sock? At what point is it smarter to actually forgo the swatch and just make the item? This must certainly be true for baby socks! Turns out the wrong size? Change needles sizes and just try again!

PamK wrote
on Oct 10, 2007 1:07 PM
These last 2 posts have answered some of my questions i've been looking for answers to! It never ceases to amaze me how KD knows just what I want to read! I'm getting ready to make socks for my husband, and I wanted him to pick out a suitable design he likes. Now I'll know what to do with it. Thanks again!
PamK wrote
on Oct 10, 2007 12:58 PM
These last 2 posts have answered some of my questions i've been looking for answers to! It never ceases to amaze me how KD knows just what I want to read! I'm getting ready to make socks for my husband, and I wanted him to pick out a suitable design he likes. Now I'll know what to do with it. Thanks again!
PamK wrote
on Oct 10, 2007 12:58 PM
I admit it. I never swatch. If it fits, it fits. If not, I donate it. Now most of these items have been children's sweaters, so I'm not out huge amounts of dollars in yarn. But after reading some of the good ideas for using Swatches, I might just have to start! I would love a knitted patchwork blanket!
AnneB wrote
on Oct 10, 2007 10:46 AM
don't like knitting swatches - try Elizabeth Zimmermann's method from Knitting Without Tears, make a hat. Especially good for trying out adapting stich patterns to knit in the round. You can always donate the hats to charity if you don't want them youself.