I get a lot of questions about which type of yarn do I use for my patterns or which kind of yarn I would recommend for the particular design. No matter how hard do I try to simplify the answer. It’s a tough one.
The easiest way would be sharing a Ravelry link or link to the official website of that yarn specific and say “That’s the yarn I use, and if you want the same results, you should use it too!”.
Yes, that is one way of finding the right yarn for your project. But what if you use the correct hook sizes and the yarn recommended in the pattern, and when you are done with your beautiful crochet sweater, the measurements still don’t match the ones given in the pattern? What went wrong?
The answer to your question my friend is gauge.
What are GAUGE and TENSION and why are they so important?
The gauge is how many stitches and rows you produce per inch when crocheting or knitting. It determines the size of your finished project.
The tension is how loose or tight the yarn moves through your hand you hold yarn and over your crochet hook when you are crocheting.
Accidently, missing any of those two can give you unwanted results when wrapping up your crochet project. Your sweater can go from small to medium or even large. Or if your stitches get way too tight, that beautiful sweater you’ve made for yourself can now fit your toddler.
In other words, check your gauge!
How do I check the GAUGE and TENSION?
- Get the yarn and crochet hook you want to use for the project.
- Get the measuring tape or gauge ruler.
- Get the pattern. Find the gauge section.
- Make a foundation chain longer than the gauge given in the crochet pattern.
- Use the stitch given in the gauge section. Add additional chains to your foundation chains needed to lift the row to a proper hight.
- Start crocheting.
- Crochet in rows. Create a fabric a row or two higher than the gauge.
- Place the piece on a flat surface.
- Take a measuring tape or ruler and measure it.
- Measure how many stitches fit in the gauge.
- Measure how many rows fir in the gauge.
If the numbers of stitches and rows match the numbers given in the pattern, perfect! If not, you will net to obtain the gauge.
TIP: If you are working on a pair of crochet baby booties, skip the swatch step and crochet one sole first. Compare the length of the sole with the measurements given in the pattern, if the numbers match, great – continue with the pattern. If not, use the right hook and yarn weight to get those measurements right.
How big should be my gauge swatch?
The gauge is usually given in centimeters and inches: 2×2 inches (5×5 cm) or 4×4 inches (10×10 cm). And ideally, your gauge should be at least a half of an inch bigger than that. And I mean both, stitch and row lengthwise.
That said, the thicker the yarn you work with, the bigger the swatch you need.
In short, if you work with a very thin yarn, the smaller gauge should work just fine. But if you work with a very thick yarn, make sure you include enough stitches. And for that reason, 4×4 inches sometimes just might not be enough.
Also, a larger swatch with more stitches and rows included will give you a more accurate representation of the entire gauge and tension of the project you are making.
What should I do if my gauge doesn’t match the gauge given in the pattern?
Don’t worry if you didn’t get the gauge you wanted on the first try. It happens more often than we are willing to admit.
But this time, use a different size of your hook. Use a smaller hook if you get too many stitches/rows and use a larger crochet hook if you need more of them.
Continue repeating swatching until you get the gauge you need.
In case you gauge is right, but the fabric is too stiff or too airy, use a yarn that is a different yarn weight than the one you have been using so far.
If you would like to get more dense fabric, use a thicker yarn. And if your stitches need more space and air between them, use a thinner one. Changing the yarn weight might ask for a different crochet hook size even dough the gauge was correct before the yarn was changed.
Same yarn, different hook size
Here are three examples of swatches made with the same yarn, but using different hook sizes.
The yarn that was used was 100% cotton DK weight yarn. The first swatch was made with a 6.0 mm crochet hook, the second one with and 4.0 mm crochet hook and the third one with a 3.0 mm crochet hook.
We can see that the swatch on the top (the first one) has a lot of space between the stitches. The one in the middle a little bit less and the one at the bottom not that much.
Same hook size, different yarn weight
This is an example of three swatches made with the same hook size (6.0 mm) and three different yarn weights: Bulky weight yarn, Worsted weight yarn, and DK weight yarn.
Now you can see how can a different yarn weight or size of your crochet hook affects the finished size of your project.
Now you know why gauge really matters and it can affect your project.
When changing the gauge might actually benefit you?
Believe it or not, but changing the gauge can be very helpful sometimes. And that is when you get just a few sizes in the pattern, but you need more.
This method might take you a while to get it right, but believe me, it gives results once you get it right. The idea is, increasing the size of the project by going up in a size of your crochet hook and eventually if the jump in sizes is big in yarn weight too.
The rules for making the item smaller are the same. Use a smaller crochet hook and eventually, if needed, one yarn weight thinner yarn to smaller your gauge and make the whole item smaller.
I recommend making a swatch in the correct sizes, the size given in the pattern, and a bunch of swatches made using different hooks sizes and yarn weights. When you have that compare the swatches with the original one and find the one that you like most.