Tuesday Tips: Gauge Swatches Crochet

The knitting part of Tuesday tips will be going live this evening, because the post, by the time I finished both explanations, was huge.

Okay, so RavenM asked me to talk about how crochet designers figure out how many chain stitches you need to create when starting a new pattern. The quick answer is the gauge swatch.

**If you are an international reader, you may want to replace ‘tension’ for ‘gauge’ and ‘centimeters’ for ‘inches’.

From what I have see, gauge swatches are spoken about more in knitting than crochet, and I have not yet seen a crochet gauge tool, only the knitting variety. However, in my opinion, gauge is just as important in crochet as it is in knitting.

My guess on why gauge isn’t pushed so much with crochet and why they have cute little knitting gauge tools, but none (that I can find) for crochet is that  a lot of the time with crochet you are making accessories or non-wearables, whereas with knitting you usually are making wearables.

gauge-tool-300x225 Knitting gauge tool (Rulers and tape measures work just as well ;))

A gauge swatch is simply a small sample of whatever you are planning to do. The best plan is always to work the same stitch/pattern you will be doing in the project. Please, please, please do not work a swatch of double crochet when you are planning on working a v-stitch or some other patterned stitch.

To go back to the original question, if you are planning to make something, lets say for the sake of argument, a sweater, and you know the general measurements you want it to be, and you know what you want it to look like, your next stop is to make a swatch.

This is important because not only does it give you a good idea of what the measurement of each stitch will be, but it will tell you what your chosen stitch pattern will look like.

I tend to make generously large gauge swatches (about 6″ or bigger- just guesstimate) without breaking the yarn, and measure them all out, then rip them and rescue the yarn. Most will tell you to make the swatch, break the yarn, then block the swatch to see how it works. If  you’re making something very structured or fitted where an inch or 2 will make a big difference, then please follow those steps.

If, however you are making a looser garment, where an inch either way won’t be a huge deal, or you are working with acrylic (which doesn’t change size much when blocked), I wouldn’t worry about following all the steps. Normally with crochet I get a feel for what the fabric will do by, well, terrorizing it.

I squeeze it, pull it as far as it can go, swing it about and look at it from a million different angles. Now to measure. The basic formula is stitches and rows per inch.  So, simply place your ruler or tape measure perpendicular (across) the stitches and count how many per inch, if you find yourself with a fraction, see if it’s any better art 2, 3, or 4 inches.  Then do the same with rows. Now you have a basic formula for figuring out how many chains you will need to do.

A quick example: you want to make a cardigan for someone with a 32″ waist and 36″ hip circumference. Your stitches are 5 st/ in and 2 rows/inch. You will want to chain at least 180 for the circumference then about an extra 10 for the button band; and don’t forget your turning chain.  Then you can use the row height to figure out that you have to decrease about 20 stitches in 16 rows (if the person is 8″ from waist to hip.)

**Quick disclaimer- I don’t recommend starting any cardigan at the widest part of the hip, it makes a person look bigger, I suggest moving the hem up just an inch and it really helps.

It’s a lot of math, and even with the best gauge swatch, sometimes things don’t work out according to plan, and I’m sure that more experienced, professional designers out there do things differently, but this is how I figure things out.

Thanks for the question RavenM!

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