One of the most important things to creating an item that is both wearable and exactly what you expect is something called “gauge.” This basically means “stitches per inch,” both width-wise and height-wise. Because everyone has a unique stitch when they knit, it’s important to measure your stitches so that when you follow someone else’s pattern, you can still end up with the final measurements that the pattern promises. Every good pattern will have a set gauge that you must meet; oftentimes they will have a recommended needle size, but it is imperative that you use whatever sized needles you need to in order to get the gauge. For instance, some will say “Size 8 needles with worsted weight yarn, OR 19 stitches and 34 rows = 4″ square”. So. This means if you take the yarn you want to use, knit a swatch to the recommend 19 stitches x 34 rows; use whatever sized needles you need to in order for that swatch to be 4″ by 4″. Make sense?
For items such as scarves, shawls, cowls, blankets, and afghans, gauge is not as important. For items of clothing such as sweaters, gloves, and hats, it is imperative. It takes some patience and discipline to take the extra 10-20 minutes to knit a swatch that you will just tear out anyway, but if you think of it as saving the time you would have used to tear out an entire sweater because it’s too small, it’s definitely worth it.
Since we are talking about gauge, another important concept to understand is the weight of yarn. This is not the entire weight of a skein or ball, but rather the thickness of the strand. There are varying sizes, and they are listed from smallest to largest below. The larger the strand, the fewer stitches per inch.
|Name:||Stitches Per Inch:||Rec. US Needle Size:|
|Lace||8||000 – 1|
|Fingering||7 – 8||1 – 2|
|Sock||6.5 – 7||1 – 3|
|Sport||6 – 6.5||3 – 5|
|DK||5.5 – 6||5 – 7|
|Worsted||4 – 5||7 – 9|
|Chunky||2.5 – 3.5||9 – 11|
|Super Chunky||1 – 2.5||11 +|
As you might have guessed, the thicker the yarn, the bigger your stitches will be and the faster your knitting will go.
When looking to purchase yarn for a specific pattern, the best way to buy enough is to calculate it by yardage. Every good yarn should be labeled with how many meters or yards it is, and every good pattern should have a total yardage required. If the pattern only has a recommended yarn and the number of balls or skeins, I usually google the exact type of yarn, find what the yardage is, and multiply it by the number of skeins it requires. So for instance, if a pattern called for 6 skeins of the yarn pictured above (which is a worsted weight yarn), I could simply find the worsted yarn I want, and purchase 1482 yards of that (since 247 x 6 = 1482…you get the idea).
Hope this helps; please leave a comment if anything was confusing, or if you have any questions!