Crochet Tension: How to Get Gauge for your Garments

What is Crochet Gauge?

First off I want to tell you that the concept of gauge (or tension) is actually pretty easy. It is most important for handmade garments but it is super useful to have a basic understanding for any crochet or knitting that you do. So, what is it?

Basically, gauge is measuring how many stitches and rows you have within a specific area of crochet or knit fabric. Most commonly, 10×10 cm (4×4 inches) is used. Making a small swatch of at least 15cm (6 inches) square will mean you can use a tape measure against that swatch to count how many stitches and rows you have over 10cm. Making the swatch slightly bigger means it’s more accurate. Those stitches in the middle of your swatch will be a better representation of the stitches in a garment, as opposed to the ones around the edge.

If you want the garments you make to work out as a designer intended, then I’m very sorry, you really must make time to work up a lovely swatch! Ignoring this important step before you start on the project itself, and you are at risk of messing it up!

Meeting gauge is matching the measurements given in a pattern. To do this more successfully, start with the same yarn weight that is suggested in the pattern and use the recommended hook size. You can’t use any yarn you want. It just doesn’t work that way!

How to Measure Gauge

OK, so you know what gauge is now (I hope!) but how do you measure it? It can sometimes be difficult to find precisely where a stitch begins and ends (fluffy yarns are my foe here). For the longest time I didn’t really think this was an issue and just kinda guessed at it. However, since I’ve started designing and grading crochet garments I have come to rely heavily on accuracy. You need to as well.

Below is a paragraph on blocking. Before you get out your tape measure, do you need to block your swatch first? Yarn changes after wearing and washing. I block everything apart from 100% acrylic. I will tell you more in a sec.

To measure stitches, lay out your measuring device (ruler, tape measure, whatever) then count how many stitches you have in a 10cm / 4 inch length. Do the same for rows. Put the first end between two stitches rather than at the beginning of one. The spaces between stitches count towards the measurement. This is more relevant with lace patterns and heavier yarn weights because the spaces between stitches will most likely be bigger.

Not Meeting Gauge

As I suggested above, you are basically going to mess up your project if your rows and stitches don’t match those in the pattern you’re following. It is literally the most important step in crocheting handmade garments. Yeah, I know it’s not exciting but come on, suck it up. You can do it!

If you meet gauge and have the same as the pattern then Bingo, get crocheting asap! If not then, sorry, you are mostly likely going to have to swatch again. How many stitches did you get? If you have fewer stitches than you need per 10cm, try going down a hook size. If you have more stitches, then go up a hook size.

If it’s a drastic difference then perhaps the yarn isn’t suitable for the project and you need to have a rethink. For example, it is not recommended to use a 4ply for a DK pattern. Don’t buy Chunky/Bulky when the pattern says to use Worsted! I’ve been there, I understand, but we are in an age where there are loads of yarns to choose from, loads of patterns. Please match the yarn weight and yardage/metreage to the pattern.

Crochet’s Golden Loop

I did not know this had a name until recently! I was aware that, depending on the person, the working loop on the hook has a different tension, and I had heard the names for each, but apparently, the trio of Yanker, Rider and Lifter are known as the Golden Loops. They will determine the height of your stitches. If you’re not meeting gauge on your row height, this is probably why. None of them are right or wrong but if you’re aware of your crochet style you can make adjustments to the change gauge, and therefore, row height.

Are You a bit of a Yanker?

You’re a Yanker if the loop on your hook is tight from drawing the hook down and close to the work.

Enjoy being a Rider?

Your hook is held level with the fabric as you pull through. Neither too tight or too loose. Arguably the most balanced.

Maybe you’re a Lifter?

This is me. I lift my hook upwards as I work each stitch, especially when crocheting quickly. It’s the reason I get quite tall stitches.

Blocking your Swatch

I briefly mentioned blocking a moment ago, this comes into play for swatching too. If using natural fibres a pattern will probably suggest gently washing and pinning a swatch out to dry. Or, if it doesn’t but it says to block the final thing, please assume that you’re blocking the swatch too. Yep, it does mean things take longer. Once again: sorry!

Once it’s dry you then take gauge measurements from that. Natural fibres act differently to acrylic and will stretch and drape differently once washed and dried. I don’t block acrylic because it doesn’t behave the same way. It keeps its shape quite well for the most part. I have killed acrylic swatches in the past by aggressively steam blocking. I don’t want to melt 20+ hours of work, thanks very much. If it’s acrylic blended with natural fibres then I will risk a gentle steam blocking. Just be very very careful!

Top Tips for Great Gauge

  1. Replace your tape measure on a regular basis. The cheaper, plasticky ones will stretch with lots of use and therefore lead to incorrect numbers.
  2. Make your swatch at least 15cm square. I have heard of people only measuring 5cm and doubling it. For a garment, NO! Don’t do that, it allows more room for error. Big bad No!
  3. Wash and block it (unless 100% acrylic).
  4. Set your tape measure to start evenly between two stitches. That seemingly inconsequential space adds up when multiplied.
  5. Swap to a bigger or smaller hook size if you aren’t meeting gauge.
  6. Watch how you crochet. Are you a Yanker, Rider, or Lifter? This will affect row height.
  7. Burn it into your brain that swatching is always part of the garment making process.
  8. Use the recommended yarn weight. Look at the yardage/metreage per hundred grams for matchy matchy figures.

Dodgy Gauge

There are a few consequences of ignoring gauge. The biggie: hours and hours have been potentially wasted because you’ve made a garment that doesn’t fit. You might also run out of yarn, which means you have to buy more. But what if the shop doesn’t have the same dye lot anymore? You end up with half the left sleeve is a different shade of grey. Plus, you ordered even more yarn to get free postage and now you have loads of leftovers that will sit in the cupboard for three years.

Then you have to start all over again!