Knitting Math – How Much Difference Can 1 Stitch Per Inch in Gauge Make?

If you fear math, even knitting math, you probably have the unwearable sweaters to prove it. But if you’re a new knitter, and you can’t quite get gauge when you knit your swatch, you may think “close” is good enough. Let’s just see, shall we, how much difference one stitch per inch in gauge makes.

Let’s say your sweater pattern wants a gauge of 4 stitches per inch.

Perhaps the size you want is a sweater that’s 40 inches around the chest. If the finished chest measures 40 inches, with no extra for ease, the pattern will have you knit 160 stitches around the chest.

What happens if you knit those 160 stitches at 5 stitches per inch?

Divide 160 stitches by 5 stitches per inch and you get 32. What does that mean? Your sweater will measure 32 inches around the chest. EIGHT inches smaller than the 40 you need! If you could somehow struggle your way into the sweater, it’ll squash you like a girdle.

Now what happens if you knit those 160 stitches at 3 stitches per inch?

Divide 160 stitches by 3 stitches per inch and you get 53 1/3. What does that mean? Your sweater will measure a bit over 53 inches around the chest. That’s enough elbow room for both you and a hefty pet cat.

Perhaps you think you can block these sweaters to the right size.

That’s not too likely. If you could manage to block out the girdle sweater without popping a stitch, you’d be able to see between the stitches. Make sure you wear an undershirt or very pretty underwear.

If you could manage to shrink down the tent sweater, maybe by felting the thing, it would be stiffer and thicker fabric, perhaps even bulletproof. Is that the look you wanted when you bought the pattern? No way.

For best knitting results, getting gauge is crucial.

Even a half or quarter stitch off can mess you up. If you can’t get gauge no matter what size needle you try, swap out for a different yarn or a different pattern. Some knitters think they’ll just knit a different size, but when you join your pieces, they maybe won’t match up.

Don’t fight a losing battle.

You spent money on your yarn and pattern, you’ll spend time and effort creating your sweater. You can relax and have fun, assured of great results, if your knitting math and the magic of correct gauge work for you instead of against you.


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