by Cameron Hildreth

Gauge: an Icelandic tale

The most frequent question we get from customers is: do I have to k...
Gauge: an Icelandic tale
The most frequent question we get from customers is:
do I have to knit a gauge swatch?
My new answer is: do you want this sweater to fit you?

I don’t mean this answer to be snarky. I just want people to understand that, yes gauge is important. Why? You may ask…Let me explain.

When a designer creates a pattern, they use a specified yarn and needle on a certain day in a particular mood. They create fabric using those four variables. Their pattern is written up with two of these variables listed at the beginning of the written pattern. If any of the four variables change, the fabric that is created may (or may not) change. That’s it in a nutshell (or notions bag). 

In order to create a fabric that mirrors that same designers' fabric, you may have to alter one of the four variables. Often you will choose a different yarn than the designer specified. When you make that choice, you are automatically taking the gauge into your own hands. 

But let’s just say, for the sake of this post, you have chosen the exact yarn that the designer knit their pattern with. For example, Lopi. Many of the traditional Icelandic patterns use one of the Lopi yarns and Stix just happens to sell those. So you have chosen the pattern and you have chosen to use the exact yarn that the sweater is designed for. And here’s where the question gets asked, “Do I have to do a gauge swatch?”.

Yes! Yes, you do. Your needle preference and the mechanics of the way you knit are different from the way the designer knits. I can almost guarantee that. Admittedly, I haven’t done a scientific study on this but I would bet that for every 10 knitters who walk in the door, maybe 2 of them will “get gauge” on the first try using the size needles that are specified in the pattern. In other words, it’s rare.  If you'd like to read a little more about checking your gauge, you can check out this journal post.

We recently began an Icelandic yoke sweater KAL, and for the first meeting gauge was the question on everyone's lips. We spent most of that first session helping folks measure a gauge swatch and then get started on the correct size sweater, once we had determined if the needles they had used to swatch were the correct choice. The sense of relief in the room once those questions had been answered and decisions made was palpable! Everyone was excited to cast on and get started, including Tracy and I.

Today, we can share a classic "Do what we say, not what we do" moment with you. This is the sweater Tracy is making using Plotulopi.

Winterwoods by the Petite Knitter. 

She "sort of" checked her gauge, and got what she decided was "close enough". However, once she got going with the knitting, she became more relaxed and also discovered that the Plotulopi is fragile to knit with. It makes lovely, durable fabric once knit, but breaks easily while knitting it. It does spit-splice like a dream, so it's not really an issue. In an effort to avoid breakage, she apparently was knitting much more loosely than her usual uptight norm. This sweater will fit both of us at the same time!

Moral of the story: truly check your gauge before beginning, and it wouldn't hurt to check it periodically once you have begun your project either.

We recommend lots of tricks for “getting gauge.” We suggest changing from bamboo to metal if the yarn is sticky, or going down a needle size or going up a needle size as needed. Sometimes you have to knit more than one swatch, maybe 4! You do that to see what you need to change to get the numbers that are specified. We are suggesting you change the tools that you use because you can’t really change the mechanics of the way you knit for an entire project. (Yes, you can switch techniques, change from continental to English or Portuguese. But we don’t recommend that for a particular project.) We strongly suggest that you achieve the numbers specified in the pattern so you can accurately predict what the piece is going to measure when you finish knitting it. 

Here are a few photos of some of the beautiful KAL sweaters in progress. We are so proud of the amazing job these knitters are doing!


One goal of this hobby that we love so much is to create a sweater that will fit you when you finish it. If you want the sweater to fit you, you must knit a gauge swatch!   
- Cameron
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1 comment

Awesome post! The sweaters are beautiful.


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