Gauge is one of those things we talk a lot about as knitters but don’t always take the time to explore. For this week’s yarn post, I’m excited to talk about knitting gauge, specifically with regards to Berroco Indigo™, our great 100% recycled fibers yarn.
Before I get into the swatches, let’s talk a bit about what we mean when we say 100% recycled yarn. In the case of Indigo, vintage denim is sorted by color and blended with other recycled cotton fibers to create the color palette in our collection (currently made up of 16 colors). The collected fabrics are then cut into many pieces, removing the zippers and buttons. Because these pieces are pre-dyed, there is no need to dye them again, which saves water and prevents pollution. The fibers are then spun into yarn.
The resulting yarn is a lot like your favorite pair of jeans—sturdy but soft, cozy and comfortable, that item of clothing you gravitate to when casual and comfy is the goal.
The recommended needle size for Indigo is a US size 7 (4.5 mm) needle, and for the purposes of these swatches, I like to use the recommended needle size. As I was knitting this swatch, however, the fabric felt too loose and too floppy. That doesn’t mean that the recommended needle size is “wrong”—someone did get that gauge with those needles when we were swatching the yarns in the office. Mostly it’s a matter of preference—the fabric I got on size 7s is still nice, but wouldn’t give as much stitch definition as I’d like. Additionally, I only got 16 sts to 4″ with the size 7s, when the recommended gauge is 20 sts to 4”.
So what does that mean? It means that if I were to knit a pattern in Indigo that called for 20 sts to 4″, my fabric would end up way too big. That seems weird and confuses me frequently—if I have fewer stitches, how can the fabric end up bigger?! Explaining this involves a little bit of math. If you have a piece in which you cast on 60 stitches, and your gauge is 20 stitches to 4 inches (or 5 stitches to 1 inch—just divide 20 by 4), your piece will end up measuring 12″. I divided 60 by 5 to get to 12″. With my gauge, I would divide 16 stitches by 4″ and get 4 stitches to 1 inch. Then I divide 60 by 4 and I get 15″. The fewer stitches in a gauge, the wider the fabric. It’s crazy.
How do I fix this? Well, if I liked the fabric that I got on the size 7 needles, I could do some math to determine if I can work with a smaller size to get the size I need, but I’m not in love with the fabric of that swatch. Plus, I know from experience that I tend to knit on the loose side, so I knit a second swatch on US size 6 (4 mm) needles, and love the fabric that I got with those needles. My gauge with that swatch was 18.5 stitches over 4 inches, which means that over 60 stitches, my piece would end up just shy of 13″—so still a bit bigger than the original gauge, but much closer and easier to work with.
For me, this is the fabric I would want to wear. I’d have to compare my gauge to the gauge of whatever pattern I was intending to make—for example, if I was swatching to knit Bly, a free cardigan pattern from Amy Christoffers, my gauge is still slightly off (18.5 sts in 4″ versus the pattern’s 20 sts in 4″), so I’d either have to go down another needle size, make a smaller size, or do some math to make adjustments. Or, if I wanted to knit Doli, I’d have to swatch all over again in garter stitch to see if I could get the 18 sts in 4″. Working to get knitting gauge is an important part of the garment knitting process, and taking the time to knit a few swatches to make sure you get as close to an accurate gauge as possible means you save time having to rip and re-knit a garment after it’s too big or too small.
Do you always swatch for garments? Let us know if you have any tips or tricks for swatching in the comments!