questions of gauge

I just read The Yarn Harlot's latest entry about swatching and gauge and it brought to mind a general concern of mine that's been plaguing me for some time: when knitting a whole sweater, should you shoot for a slightly tighter gauge than you get when you swatch, knowing that a whole sweater is heavier than a 4x4" square and will probably stretch?

You see, I've managed to avoid this issue by knitting lots of baby things, socks and accessories, all of which allow for some flexibility in gauge. I've also done a few men's sweaters over the last several years, and those tend to be roomy enough that some stretch doesn't matter. But making a sweater in a small woman's size - now that's tricky! And that's why I've been afraid to knit for myself in a while. Because I'm not very naturally curvy and oversized sweaters hang on me with all the attractiveness of a paper sack, I tend to prefer fitted or somewhat fitted styles, and I think that accurate gauge is especially important. And I don't know about you, but whenever I do a swatch, I have a hard time measuring it. The slightest tug one way or another can make your supposed gauge vary by a stitch or two per 4", and that's a lot. If I had the time and inclination I suppose I could make a little hat as a gauge swatch because it's easier to check on a larger item...but that takes more time and inclination than I have (plus extra yarn).

In a way, I feel kind of silly asking about this because I have been knitting since I was 8 and I have made lots and lots of things, including a couple sweaters for myself that turned out just FINE thank you, but sometimes I think about gauge and stretchy yarn and I sort of panic a little.

Next sweater I start (which will be soon, I hope) I'll do a swatch and dive in and hope for the best, but I'm still curious to know what y'all think.


Deborah said…
Thanks you for putting my vague questions into words. I'm about to start my first sweater, and I'm agonizing over the gauge issue.
Dee said…
I just knit a swatch (almost never a full 4 inches, shhh) wash it and block it how I would the finished garment. I give it a couple gentle tugs in either direction (I don't mean to stretch it out, more to even out my knitting) Then I pin it down, which makes measuring a bit easier. I do sometimes measure the swatch in a couple different places and take an average.

Also key is to continue checking your gauge throughout the project. If things go horribly awry at least you know before you are finished.
Steph said…
Because I have the same small-boned issues as you and also prefer a snug fit, I rarely sweat it if my gauge is 1/4-1/2 inch too tight. Maybe this is insane. but it usually works out fine. Don't tell anyone. Listen to Dee instead. She makes much more sense. (She is also a math nerd. Math nerds know how to handle gauge.)

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