Saturday, June 14, 2008

How to read Crochet patterns, Part 2

In Part 1, I stopped when we got to "What is gauge?" You can also ask - "Is gauge important?" And what about "Why does my gauge change when I'm in the middle of a project?" And "Does yarn of the same weight have the same gauge?"

I know I'll think of other questions to answer, so let's just get going.

What is Gauge?
Gauge is not some mysterious number that the yarn companies come up with. No - gauge is the number of stitches per inch, and the number of rows per inch. So how do the yarn companies determine the gauge for their yarns? Probably, someone knits or crochets with them, and counts how many stitches and rows per inch. Then, that's the gauge of that yarn, using the hook or needle that was used to determine the gauge. However, it may not be the gauge that the designer gets when she/he uses that yarn to design a project. The designer may use the same size hook or needle, or a different size - depending upon the look that she/he wants to achieve with the fabric. So the designer determines the gauge for the project. Is that important? Well, depends upon the project. If you're making a sweater, or garment that is to be worn, the answer is YES! Gauge is important! If you're making a scarf, dishcloth, purse, tote, shawl, etc., where size doesn't really matter, then gauge doesn't really matter. EXCEPT you will maybe need more yarn if your gauge is not the same as the given gauge. So, gauge is what someone gets when they crochet or knit, and counts the stitches in an inch. Although, gauge is usually written as over 4". For example, 16 sc = 4", and 12 rows = 4".

Does yarn of the same weight have the same gauge? Not always.

This picture shows 3 examples of "kitchen" cotton yarns. Labels on the yarns say they are worsted weight. To make the samples, I used the same hooks (more on that later), and the same number of stitches and rows (I did run out of yarn on the middle swatch before the rows were complete.) On each swatch, I started with a G hook, and went to an H, an I, and a J, so you could see the gradual change in stitch gauge as I used different size hooks. You can also see that the row gauge changes. You could successfully use any of the 4 hook sizes, or even other sizes, with these yarns, depending upon the look you want. If you want a tight fabric, use a smaller hook. For a looser fabric, use a larger hook. And if the pattern is written for one yarn, and you use another equivalent yarn, and the same size hook, you may not get the same gauge or fabric.

One thing that I see more and more now. On the ball bands for the yarns, many companies are noting the hook size to use to get a certain gauge, along with the knitting needle size. That is really a positive move! But beware. Often, the given hook size is the same as the given needle size, and even though your gauge may be right on the mark, remember that the size of the hook (and the size of the needle) is just a recommendation. You don't have to use that size with the yarn! Also remember, knitting stitches are different than crochet stitches. Knit stitches are more like weaving. Crochet stitches are more like knotting. So the crochet fabric made with the same size hook as recommended for knitted fabric will be thicker! Knots are thick!

Whew! That's a lot to remember! But there is one other important thing about gauge you need to know! Hook sizes are not always standard. One N hook from one manufacturer may not be the same size as an N hook from another manufacturer. So if the directions call for an N (or any other "lettered" size), you need to know the millimeter (mm) size before proceeding.

Sometimes, two different hooks from the same manufacturer, with the same letter designation and the same mm size, will also be different. I found this out recently! I picked up a bag with a sweater that I had started about 6 months ago. I wanted to finish it this past weekend. I always leave the crochet hook that I've used with the project in the bag with the project, because I know that sometimes, crochet hooks can be different. When I first started the sweater, I was using a regular Susan Bates Silvalume hook. But I've recently changed to the Susan Bates Silvalumes with the bamboo handles. So, I took from my hook case the same size bamboo handle hook. And then I looked at both hooks. They really looked different - in the head and throat and finger rest. Here is a picture:

The hook on the left is the one with the bamboo handle. They are both marked with the same letter size and the same mm size. But you can see a definite difference between them. I'm not complaining about this, I'm just noting it here. I do know that as much as I love my regular Susan Bates Silvalume hooks, I absolutely ADORE the new ones with the bamboo handles. And whenever I recommend them to my students, whether they have been using the regular Bates Silvalume, or another brand, they fall in love with these new ones, also. So I think that the subtle change in shape and size is a plus! A definite improvement !

So, to make a long story short, changing your crochet hook can also affect gauge. Even if you use the same brand. That's why I keep the hook with the project!

There are a few more things that can affect gauge, and I'll talk about them in the next installment!
Stay tuned!


Pam said...

which bamboo hooks do you like?

Marty Miller said...

Hi Pam,
My favorite all - around hooks are the Susan Bates Silvalume brand with the bamboo handles. I've tried others, even all-bamboo hooks with the same shape as the Susan Bates hooks, and I just can't get used to them. I also like working with wooden hooks that are hand crafted. But, when I'm working on a design project, I use a commercially available "standard" hook, like the Susan Bates Silvalumes with the bamboo handles.

Lisa said...

Your observation about the difference in the two kinds of Susan Bates hooks bears out my experience. I have difficulty using the all aluminum Bates hooks, but the ones with the Bamboo handles I can use with ease. I even prefer them over my old favorite, Boye.

I expressed on a crochet list my experience and someone told me that I shouldn't notice any difference between the two types of Bates hooks. I'm so glad to be vindicated!!

Fran said...

I am confused about how gauge is written. In one project for a shirt it's written as 13 sc = 4" and 15 sc rows = 4". does that mean 13 stitches make 4"? Example, I have been making coasters. I use 35 stitches in a row. That amounts to about 5.5" wide. It's about 40 rows tall. Would I write that as

5 sc = 5.5"
7 sc rows = 5.5"

7 as is 40 divided by the five in each inch?

I use the boyle hooks but I understand to change hook size to match gauge in a project.

Marty Miller said...

If you get 35 stitches to 5.5", then you would write either 35sc = 5.5", or you would figure out how many stitches to an inch, and then multiply by 4 to get the gauge for 4" (which is "standard"). So, 35 divided by 5.5 would give you approx. 6.4 stitches to an inch. Multiply that by 4, you get approx 25.6 stitches to 4 inches. So you would write your gauge 25.6 sc = approx 4". Or you could round your numbers to the nearest whole number - 26sc = approx 4".
The same for the rows.
Oh, also, when you make your gauge swatch, you should make it larger than 4"x4", because gauge at the end of the rows is not always the same as the gauge on the rest of the rows. So make your swatch about 6"x6" to be safe.

Fran said...


THANKS! I never see large numbers for gauge in projects so that confused me. I re-measured, it's 5" for both.

What about big projects like afghans? One reads 14 dc = 4" 7 dc rows = 4". That doesn't sounds that big! How would I know how many stitches to do in each row? 14 dc might be 4" but how many inches do I need?

Marty Miller said...

How big do you want your afghan? Say 36" wide. Divide 4 into 36, you get 9. So there are 9 "groups" of 14 dcs in 36" (remember, 14 stitches in 4"). 14 x 9 = 126. So you need 126 stitches per row for a 36" wide afghan. (That's assuming you are getting the gauge you need.)
(I bet you never thought you would need your high school algebra, once you got out of high school. )

Fran said...
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