Gauge

Once again, I get in on the last day of my promise to myself to post ‘some time over the weekend’, which includes Friday for me. I’m feeling a bit poorly ATM, so am posting for the first time using the iPad app after being sent to bed when I came in from sweeping the garage and nearly fainted. That’s just my hypopituiarism (that’s quite an uncommon word, so would be great for crosswords. It basically means that my main gland goes on strike) acting up. Between that and my oedema, things have been tricky of late.
But I haven’t let them ruin things, I’ve just had to be more selective what I do and when. Like I was having a manic day Wednesday and couldn’t really focus, so when my lymph started up, I knew I couldn’t stay in town for my class. And I’d planned to use the glass cutting mat I bought on a trip to make two cards yesterday, but when I had used an hour and a half of the allotted two hours on just one and was feeling pretty lousy, I packed away and went on a WoW dungeon run with friends.

Anyway, I’m here now and want to tell you a bit about tension and how to adjust it. I’ve been wrestling with that one lately, as I’ve been trying to make some tunisian crochet slippers, and experimented on how to match the pattern’s gauge. I am now trying with a 10mm instead of a 9mm hook, and will have to give it up if it’s still not right, as that’s the largest I own.

Getting Good Gauge

Gauge or tension is essentially how firmly you need to work your stitches to make your work come out the right size. On the printed paper sleeve of any yarn you buy, you will see a square with a number of stsXrows per 10cm/4inches using a certain needle/hook size. This is the standard gauge for that yarn, and is a good guideline for knowing how firm your own work is. When a pattern doesn’t show a gauge, roughly follow the sleeve’s gauge.
Some gauge guides will show different tool sizes for knitting or crochet or will tell you which stitch to use. If it doesn’t say, assume that you’re working stocking or double crochet stitch with the same size tool for both.
Everyone’s gauge is different, and can alter as you become more comfortable with the craft. Different materials also have more give, so don’t assume that because you achieve a certain gauge in flexible wool that you will have the same gauge in stiff cotton. I have worked a pattern in premium acrylic that was intended for a mercerised one, and found that I needed smaller needles and more rows, and my work is also slower and less stretchy (and rougher, ick!) when using basic-buy acrylic, so do a gauge swatch not only when using a different material and thickness combination for the first time, but also when trying yarn with a different finish. Also, don’t assume that because you work loosely in one method, you will work similarly in another. My crochet needs a hook 2mm larger than recommended to achieve standard gauge, my knitting 1mm smaller, and it looks like my tunisian crochet will need 1mm larger (but I’m still working that out)
If you are a loose looper or use tighter tension and want to get closer to a pattern’s gauge without swapping tool, here are some tips

First of all, look at which fingers you’re holding your yarn between. I naturally have mine between fore and middle fingers, and found that my work would be that bit tighter if I held it between thumb and fore and substantially looser if draped around the pinky.If you can change where you hold it, try that. It will take a while to successfully make the change (you will unconsciously switch back to how you usually hold the yarn, as that has become ingrained), but once you do it will become natural.
Next, look at where and how hard you draw your yarn. The harder you yarn the yarn and the closer to your work it is, the tighter it will tough your work, but unwinding the yarn gently from the ball will loosen things up.
How you hold your tool has a great impact, the closer to the tip you hold it and the smaller motions you make, the tighter your stitches will be. If you hold your tool by the base and use more of a stirring motion, the easier and looser your work will be.
Which direction you wrap the yarn from also makes a difference to tension, and I was interested to discover that this is different in knitting and crochet; wrapping from the left creates tighter knitting and looser crochet, provided that it’s done throughout, and the opposite when done from the right. So your crochet will be lefty loosy, tighty righty, just like undoing a screw, but try that with knitting and you’ll be screwed.
Once you get good enough at adjusting your tension with these methods, you’ll find that you can work rows of firmer stitches and then loosen up WITHOUT HAVING TO CHANGE SIZES. This is especially wonderful when a pattern calls for a loose cast-on, but requires the rest of the pattern to be worked tightly, as most knitted sock patterns do.

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