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Why Gauge Matters and Needle Size Doesn’t

Blog » Gauge » Gauge vs. Needle Size

Why Gauge Matters and Needle Size Doesn’t

Liat Gat - Founder

December 17, 2010

In knitting as in so many other pursuits, results matter. Whether you use a pattern's suggested needle size or not, if your gauge is off, your garment won't fit. The reason for this is because different people knit differently given the same needles.
Yarn and Needles
It is up to you to understand gauge

For your continuing education in becoming a master at understanding knitting patterns, let’s clear up any confusion about the “needle size” section of your pattern.

In order for your garment to come out the right size, your knitting must match the designer’s knitting.

To this end, he or she will specify how many stitches to the inch you will need to achieve in a certain pattern, most often Stockinette Stitch (abbreviated St st).

This measurement is called the gauge, and it is very important for every garment whose size and fit is important.

Scarves, dishcloths, and teddy bears do not need to conform to any exact gauge.

The designer will also suggest a certain needle size that you might use to achieve this gauge, often giving the US needle size (a whole number from 000 to 35, with the most common falling between 1 and 17) as well as a metric size (like 4.5 mm).

Do not confuse these sizes: a 7mm needle is not a SIZE 7 needle – it is a US size 10 and it will be too big for your project.

Why You Should Ignore The Recommended Needle Size In Your Pattern

Swatches knitted by different people
Different people + same needles = different gauges

In knitting as in so many other pursuits, results matter.

Whether you use the suggested needle size or not, if your gauge is off, your garment won’t fit.

The reason for this is because different people knit differently given the same needles.

If we both used size 7 needles and made a swatch (a small square of knitting designed to be used to measure our gauge), odds are that I would knit looser than you, that is, my gauge would be bigger.

In order to make our gauges match (so that your sock comes out the same size as mine did when I designed the pattern you’re going to use), you would adjust your needle size until you got the correct gauge.

Video: How to Check Your Gauge in Knitting

Watch the video below to learn how to make a swatch and to measure your gauge, in which I tell you a scary fact that will make you always want to check your gauge.

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Oh, and one more thing: if you are more than halfway through your project and discover your gauge is a little too small, it’s okay.

Knitting will stretch, and I show you how to take advantage of this in my video on blocking your work.

If you liked this article on why gauge matters and needle size doesn’t, please add a comment.

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43 thoughts on “Why Gauge Matters and Needle Size Doesn’t”

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  1. Hi. first time posting…yes, gauge matters…whatever needle size you need to use to achieve it
    matters to YOU, not the ball band…

  2. You didn’t show if your your gauge is wrong vertically. I have had the problem when my vertical gauge was more or less than the required gauge. Changing needle size only seems to make the problem worse.

  3. I’ve learned this the hard way as a self taught knitter. I knit a beautiful sweater and it’s too small. I need your hint on blocking it to make it bigger.

  4. You videos are so instructive. Thank you for posting. Is it possible to knit swatches with the same weight, say size 4, with different size needles and keep them as reference for later use? Instead of knitting one each time a new project is started. Just label the needle size on the swatch

    1. Yes, absolutely! You can tie the yarn tail with little knots to note the needle size you used, as I show in this post:

      But you’ll have to do this with every yarn you buy, they are all different. So you may find you only do it as-needed. Also if you use different needle materials (e.g. nickel vs. bamboo) you may get a different gauge, as is discussed here:

  5. Where might I find a ruler like the one you use? I have a couple but that one looks a lot better than any of mine in that one can see all the stitches so clearly. Many thanks.and all the best.

  6. I always do a gauge swatch to make sure I’m using the right size needles…I’m always down a size to size and a bit. The only problem I have is which way do I go….up a size or down a size. But a gauge is so important. It avoides that garment that after all that knitting being too big or too small. So who cares what size needles you end up using it’s the gauge and size of the garment that matters.

  7. Historically, I have not been successful in knitting anything the requires a gauge. Your video was very clear, and even though I have a gage tool and have counted the stitches, I realize perhaps I was confused as to where a stitch starts. I am inspired to give it another try. Thanks, as always, for your support and expertise!

    1. Amazing! I’m so glad this video helped you! I am excited to see what you will knit now that you can get gauge. Please always let me know if you gauge trips you up again. Don’t let it stop you!


      Liat Gat

    1. Hi Vanessa,

      Oh my gosh, I have no idea! I watched the video and didn’t see any mention of a scary fact! I was so disappointed. I think I probably meant to say something like if your gauge is too big by half a stitch your sweater could easily end up being 5 or more inches too big around. 😂😝

  8. Thank you for the information I am one who never knit gauze but am starting to learn how to knit sweaters and you are right there are so so many tutorials on knitting it would be nice to have just one place that I could go and learn new techniques will be looking forward to your emails

  9. This is really helpful. I knitted about a third of the back of a long tunic when it just seemed like it would be too big. Had I checked my gauge first, it would have taken a lot less time to find that I needed to drop from the size 8 the pattern recommended to a 4. It is probably more important to check when the yarn selected is not the one used in the pattern. Thanks for this!

    1. Exactly! Barbara you’ve got the idea exactly right. I like to check gauge anytime the fit of the item is important to me. You can always start the garment if you don’t want to make a swatch, but check gauge once you’ve knitted a little bit so that you can make sure you’re on the right track. :)

    1. Hi Diane,
      That is so sweet! Thank you! That is so motivating to continue creating more clear tutorials for you. If there’s ever anything you don’t understand about knitting, send me an email and I can write a blog post about it.

  10. Ah! And here I was counting gauge as the number of sts vertically (columns) rather than the sts in the horizontal (rows). Your article was a timely synchronicity that dispersed that little cloud of confusion. *8:>)

    1. Aha indeed! I’m so glad my email came to you just at the right time. This is an important distinction and one that will help you immensely in your knitting as you create garments to size.

      Happy knitting!

  11. Thank you for all the information you give us about knitting. Your explanations are simple and clear as are your helpful videos. They have given me the courage to take on projects I would never have attempted. You seem to know all the pitfalls that we less accomplished knitters grapple with. The video on gage was perfect. Bless you for sharing your talent with us!

    1. Hi Jane,
      Thank you so much! I’m delighted these posts are helping you improve and understand your knitting. You make me feel so happy knowing you have the courage to take on new projects!! That’s all a teacher could wish for. Thank you very much.

  12. Hello
    I’ve just started knitting. The pattern asks for a size 7 needle. Is this the same as a 7mm needle? If not, please could you tell me know many mm a size 7 needle is as many needles just have the mm at the top of the needles. Many thanks,


  13. Michaelina Samargo

    My swatch is made and my gauge is smaller than called for (on the needles. I have not put it in water, etc.) What do I do now? How do you adjust with needles?

  14. Just wanted to say that there was a lot of publicity a few years back in the UK when a young baby died as a result of strangulation from a sweater it was sleeping in. It was found that the gauge was too small and the neck did not have enough ‘give’. I would say that gauge is really important when knitting the necks of tops/sweaters for babies and young children.

  15. I love your free videos and instructions. But I have a hard time finding things, help on stitches or a pattern, without searching everywhere. I wish you had an index so a person could get around alot faster, and not spending a lot of time searching. When I look for help it is usually a question about stitch and how to do it or pattern and I want to get started right away. But it seems to me a can’t find what I am looking for. For instance, don’t you have a stitch explanation page, without have to download it? It takes too long. Thanks again.

    1. Johna, you are right, there are definitely difficulties with the current set up of the site. I know it can be frustrating to find things, but we are working on a major upgrade right now that is going to make everything so much easier to navigate and find.

      I really appreciate your comments and am definitely taking them into consideration as we develop the new site. Thank you!

  16. Many thanks Liat for another gem of information.

    In the film you are shown using a gauge/ruler. Can these be bought? I have tried many ways of searching for one without success, so any help will be great. (PS – I know I can use a normal ruler, but I am a ‘gadget’ person, and I just love the one you are using)

    1. I know, I love that ruler! Stix has tried to make more like that, but the company that made them just doesn’t produce them anymore. The closest thing you can find is a regular metal Susan Bates gauge checker, which you can get at any knitting store or craft store.

      1. Thanks for the reply Liat. What a shame about the ruler is no longer produced. I have looked at the Susan Bates gauge checker and this one looks quite good as well – so many thanks for that.

  17. I am on my second pair of legwarmers and have gotten lots of compliments so far. I did figure out that the free pattern I downloaded was a little big for my knitting style so made changes and will start a 3rd pair soon. Thanks so much
    Warmer in Chicago now.

  18. I had trouble seeing where on the knitting you began and ended the counting of V stitches. Part of it was not shown on the video and the picture was bumpy.

    1. Hi Linda!

      I’ve fixed the video and also added a graphic illustrating the stitches for you! I hope this one is much clearer.

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