How Does Knitting Needle Size Impact Gauge?

How does knitting needle size impact gauge? Using the stitch/row ratio to find a yarn that will create the required gaugeI have been knitting for many years and for me, one of the most dreaded aspects to creating any knit project is making a gauge swatch. Yes, I know that if I want my knitting to turn out exactly like the pattern I am following, it's really important to check my gauge before I start working. But I'll be very honest here, if I am making something that is not terribly size sensitive (i.e. blanket, scarf, shawl...) I frequently skip the gauge swatch.

Knowing that almost every person who has ever cast on a single stitch hates the task of swatching as much as I do, I decided to do a little experiment to see how needle size actually effects gauge (number of stitches or rows per inch, or more frequently per 4 in/10 cm).

I started with a skein of Lion Brand Baby Soft yarn in pastel print. This is a Light-3 yarn and the recommended gauge using US size 6 (4 mm) knitting needles is 22 sts or 30 rows = 4 inches or 10 cm.

How does knitting needle size impact gauge? Using the stitch/row ratio to find a yarn that will create the required gauge

Procedure

I knit one square with the recommended needle size, four swatches with larger needles and four swatches with smaller needles.

All my swatches are 22 sts wide by 30 rows high with a narrow seed stitch border around each swatch. I added the border just to make it easier to measure the finished pieces without having to worry about rolled up edges. The border is not included in my measurements.

Results

How does knitting needle size impact gauge? Using the stitch/row ratio to find a yarn that will create the required gauge

Conclusion

It's no surprise that using smaller knitting needles yielded smaller swatches and larger needles yielded larger swatches. For this weight of yarn (Light-3), every 0.25 mm change in needle diameter, changes the swatch size by between 1/8 - 1/4 inch. Meaning that for each 0.25 mm change in needle diameter, you'll need to increase or decrease 0-1 sts and 1-2 rows to knit a 4 inch swatch.

However, my biggest takeaway from this experiment is that no matter what needle size was used, every swatch remained mostly square. (Maybe this should have been pretty obvious, but I was a little surprised.)

But what does that mean in the real world the yarn shop?

In a perfect world, if you want to knit an item with a different yarn than stated in a pattern, you would be able to find one in the perfect color and the same weight (lace-0, super fine-1, fine-2, light-3, medium-4, bulky-5, super bulky-6) with the exact same recommended gauge, but we all know that NEVER happens.

So, when you are looking for a substitute yarn, begin by calculating the necessary stitch/row ratio. For example, the yarn I used recommended 22 sts and 30 rows = 4 inches so the stitch/row ratio would be 22/30 or 0.73.

If you can't find a similar weight yarn that has the required gauge or stitch/row ratio, look for a yarn one weight higher or lower that has a similar stitch/row ratio.

The good news is, you should be able to get the gauge you need by using slightly smaller or larger needles than recommended on the yarn label. The bad news is you'll need to knit a gauge swatch before you start your project to make sure everything is sized perfectly. Sorry :(

One final note, if you are following a pattern, I wouldn't recommend substituting a yarn that is more than one weight class higher or lower, especially for items like sweaters where there is a lot of shaping and size really does matter. Even if the stitch/row ratio is similar to what is called for in the gauge, and you can use a larger or smaller needle to obtain the right gauge, the fabric you knit may be too firm or too relaxed to hang properly.

Happy knitting!


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The Chilly Dog: How Does Knitting Needle Size Impact Gauge?
How Does Knitting Needle Size Impact Gauge?
Using the stitch/row ratio to find a yarn that will create the required gauge.
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