You know what I mean

I am just going to say it. I think it’s a problem to be loose, and I mostly mean that to do with knitting (although I sort of think the other kind of loose is wrong too, but really, who am I to tell you how your ethics should run.)

Let’s lay it out.  This is the fabulous Blackwater Abbey yarn. This is the fabulous book A Fine Fleece.  You should get it, it’s got lots of awesome stuff in it – I’ll be using it a whole lot.  That said, it appears that the super-clever and creative author (Lisa Lloyd) and I have a difference of opinion in terms of gauge. 

I have some preferences about gauge. I have some facts about gauge too, and those two things together have formed a concrete set of ideas about how I think things should be knit up.  I like things to be knit firmly and solidly.  I think that sock yarn should be knit up at least 32sts/10cm.  I like to see a worsted weight yarn at at least 20sts/10cm.  At least.

Garments with a loose gauge:

Knit up with lots of drape and feel softer than they might if it were tight. Knitting loosely is a good way to make garments really flowy. (That might not be a word.)
Take less yarn to knit an item – stitches tightly packed together mean more yarn per inch than stitches spread out.
Knit up more quickly- bigger needles mean the work goes faster. The fewer stitches per inch you are knitting, the fewer stitches you have to knit to accomplish your inches.

Garments with a firm gauge:

Hold their shape better. Fabric with less room to move, moves less.  Garments are less likely to "grow" with age, or to bag or sag.
Having less "room" in stitches, means that the stitches tend to look more uniform and tidy.
Last longer. Tightly knit, fibers can’t move against each other to cause friction, and are more durable. They pill and show wear less too.

All of these things are true, and can be positive or negative, depending on what you want, but as a general rule, I want more of the things in the firm category than the loose category, and I knit that way.  The big sell for me is that if I’m going to put all of that work into a garment, then I want it to last and look great as long as it can.  It’s not bad if you want other things, that’s what personal taste is all about, and there are times when I might choose to knit something loosely, when the fabric it makes suits me and what I want, and conversely, knitting to too firm a gauge can go too far.  While I’m yet to find socks I think are too tightly knit,  the kevlar-vest gauge of some traditional arans (coughalicestarmorecough) designed to turn wind and rain are a bit much for me and my modern wear.  I once swatched for a sweater that was so firm at the called for gauge that I thought for sure the best way to store the resulting sweater would be to simply take it off and stand it in a corner.

When I first looked at A Fine Fleece, I was delighted to see that it was a great match for the yarn that I’ve got- in fact, Blackwater Abbey worsted is the suggested yarn for two out of the three sweaters I was thinking about – but I was surprised at the suggested gauge.  16 stitches to 10cm/4" for this light worsted yarn? (If you haven’t met this yarn, for reference, it’s lighter than Cascade 220 or Paton’s Classic.) I’m not the sort to decide I don’t like something without trying though, so I swatched.

(A quick note about the purl stitches that appear random there: On a swatch I purl stitches to remind me what needles I was using. 5 purls means 5mm needles. That way I don’t end up forgetting which is which.  It’s something I started doing after the 48th time I told myself I would absolutely remember and didn’t.)

I did the bottom part of the swatch with 5mm needles (as suggested) and got the suggested gauge. 16sts/10cm. Then I did the top part of the swatch with 4.5mm needles and got something I like better, but is still too loose for my taste.  That’s 19sts to 10cm. Then I washed the swatch to make sure that the yarn didn’t bloom tremendously and change.. but it didn’t.

It’s hard to tell in the picture how loose these gauges are, so I took this one.

That’s a lot of daylight. That’s loose.  Really loose.  The swatch is drapey and soft, but it also moves all over the place, is really stretchy, and I can see that the loose gauge makes my stitches less uniform.  I can also tell that the resulting sweater is going to be a lot like that too, and right or wrong, my personal taste says that I’m going to find it less tailored and stable than I like.  (The irony that I’m talking about how I like things to be tailored and stable while wearing elastic waist jammie pants and a baggy tee shirt is not lost on me, but there you have me.)  Throughout the book, most projects are knit more loosely than I would like them, to varying degrees – There’s socks (knit in standard sock weight yarn) at 26sts to 10cm for example, which I know from experience I’m going to walk through pretty fast.  None of this is a deal breaker -Lisa has written what is otherwise a perfect book for me, with just about every project being something I’d love to wear…  Our tastes only depart in this one area- so I think the thing to do at this point is math.  Lots of math.  Maybe one of the bigger sizes could be knit at a tighter gauge to suit me? I’ll be looking for my calculator to re-jig.

To sum up- I believe Lisa Lloyd may be loose.  In the knitting way, you understand.  (I hope she takes that the right way.)

209 thoughts on “You know what I mean

  1. wonderful thoughts on looseness – thanks again for thinking all this out loud for the rest of us

  2. I’ve also been experimenting with gauge and such, recently having knit Whisper on 4 mm needles with 1 strand of laceweight. If I do it again, I’ll either double the yarn or try sock weight to see how it differs, and which I like better.

  3. The more I knit, the more I’m finding that I like a tighter gauge, too. It helps that I knit tightly, so much so that I never get gauge on the recommended needles. And math and I don’t get along, so I’m loathe to change the pattern to fit the gauge. But recently I’ve become enamored of the idea of EPS, and might actually take a leap into designing my own sweater. That kind of flies in the face of math and I don’t get along, but there you have it. If I’m going to leap, I might as well leap big.
    Good luck in finding the perfect gauge for the sweater.

  4. I’m a “loose” woman knitter, to my great regret. My knitting gauge has improved with time, but I almost always have to use smaller needles than a pattern calls from. Thanks for your reflective diatribe.

  5. As I design, I find that I often end up with the wrong gauge, both tight and loose. If I knit a little tighter, it ends up being too hot or too stiff (except socks); and if I go a little loose, the garment doesn’t stand up. I don’t know how I always choose the wrong one, but I keep hoping I’ll get better at it.

  6. Could you use a heavier yarn and smaller needles? I feel the love you have for the cited yarn, but this option could save you the trouble of “math, lots of math”. Personally,I like math, but trying a heavier yarn on smaller needles means more knitting; not more math.
    Isn’t the sunshine wonderful?

  7. I’m with you Steph on the gauge/knit tightly thing. While I haven’t tried coughalicecough I like to know the sweater/cardigan/shawl is going to actually provide some function in terms of warmth. So loose and see-through are not for me!

  8. Yep I’m not loose (in any way) and I’m pretty happy like that, I nearly always have to knit a bigger size to allow for my “tightness”. So what if I have to knit on 3.25mm needles to get 32st/4inches, at least my stitches are neat and as you said they won’t wear out as fast!

  9. I’ve been reading the ball bands here in NZ and I’ve come to the conclusion that they like all sorts of looseness in their knitting. The needle sizes are almost always larger than I would expect. It’s almost driving me to swatch…almost. I remain, not a loose knitter, but, as the friend who taught me likes to put it, an adventurous one. I hope your maths go smoothly.

  10. I’m a loose knitter and I like the more drapey sweater. It makes my sweaters more wearable in the overheated office. I don’t knit socks so it isn’t a problem for me-to each his own.

  11. It’s amazing what knitting can do to alleviate math anxiety. I *hated* math all the way through school and the intervening years. But last week I realized that the only way I’d ever be able to make the Short Vest (from Ravelry) was to do the math to bring it up to my bust size and/or change the gauge for a lighter yarn. This may sound sick or twisted (to many) but it was actually fun! Next thing is to knit it and see if I did it right.

  12. I absolutely agree! Recently finished a vest that’s too “loose” and am disappointed. It’s stretching all over the place. I’m making Fylingdales from “A Fine Fleece with Berocco Ultra Alpaca and the gauge is 19 or 20 to 4 cm. It seems about right so I’m moving up a sweater size instead of needle size and keeping my “firm fabric” But what a great book, I’m going to make more, too.

  13. Did you wash your swatch? Is it possible that when washed, this yarn at this gauge will bloom into a thicker fabric? IIRC, you had that result with your sunrise circle jacket.

  14. Thank-you for explaining loose and quality of knitting. I try to impress the importance of gauge and yet cosistantly some knitters prefer the larger needle loose version, then wonder why garments don’t fit or last.
    I prefer the firmer knitter…does that make me ‘up tight’?

  15. I actually have knit both the October Frost and Fylingdales out of Black Water Abbey (even I think in the same color – pippin) and also like a firmer fit. Usually with seams too rather than in the round – for stability. I knit fylingdales in in a size larger but with 22 st/in. gauge and some math moderations mostly in the sleeve cap area. Her sweaters are sized looser anyway. I used size 3 needles. I knit continental so am slightly looser and usually do smaller needles – regular knitters would be a 4. The fit is closer to the body a bit but still flexible, not regimental. I threw a cable section up the center of the sleeve into the saddle too.

  16. I LOVE the idea of sts to tell you what needles you use, like you I tell myself I will remember and don’t

  17. I’m with you. I ALWAYS have to change an otherwise perfect pattern to fit my specific preferences. Sometimes it’s as simple as changing the length of the ribbing or altering a pullover into a cardigan. Other times it’s something like this where every calculation must be made anew. Patterns are just guidelines anyway. No harm, no foul.

  18. I am a tight knitter who rarely can get gauge with any yarn. Recently I finished Fylingdales (I love that pattern) and it killed me to knit it at that gauge (in Lion brand fisherman’s wool-have you seen the recommended needles to get gauge on that?) but I did. In the end I have a sweater I like but I’m disappointed with the looseness of it. I say take the time and do the maths.

  19. I also prefer a bit more structure to the clothing I wear. A tiny person with no chest to speak of (like the models they hire?) can possibly get away with wearing “sloppy” fitting clothes, but most of us look like slobs when we wear such loose fabric. While I’m working up a good head of steam, how about the lack of underwear under these clothes? Not nice looking and certainly not appropriate for a work environment.

  20. How interesting! I am a fairly new knitter and have arthritis in my hands so started out on purpose knitting loosely. I do often go down on needle size to get the recommended gauge but I have never really thought much about how the firmness of the fabric affects it longevity. I am hoping, after reading this post, that using smaller needles will allow me to knit firm fabric when needed!

  21. Great idea about the purl sts to remember needle size! When knitting a swatch that can’t have that – like swatches for TKGA’s Master Knitting classes I tie knots in the purposely long tail to remind me of needle size.

  22. Love it! As a supertight knitter (I’ve had friends tell me that it hurts their hands to watch me knit) I am often told to “loosen up”. I simply can’t and have found many ways around my tight knitting (usually by using bigger needles to get gauge). It’s nice to finally read/see something that proves that sometimes looser isn’t always automatically better 😀

  23. Hmmmmmm, I’ve been contemplating this very problem with my soft Blue Moon Fibers Blue-Faced Leicester. The yarn that reached out and grabbed me; it really did have my name on it.

  24. I never even try to match the gauge given in a pattern. I swatch until I have a fabric I like, figure out how many stitches I would need to get a size that’s good for me, and then use the directions for whatever size that have the number closest to that. Right now I’m making a sweater where the size L is the right one for me in dimensions, and I’m using the instructions for the XL. Whatever works.

  25. Whoa!! thanks for the swatch tip – purl stitches to code in the needle size. Brilliant! one of those really obvious things once someone tells you, but not something I’ve come up with in 40 years.
    Besides the garment wearability, I’ve found I dislike working loosely. Just finished a colorwork vest with sport weight yarn and worsted weight needles. Trying to keep that from puckering was not enjoyable. Yep, pattern was written that way, and I was too lazy to re-engineer it. It took all the fun out of knitting it, and I only finished it to cross it off my list.

  26. Back when I was doing a lot of machine knitting, I used yo’s on the third row or so to mark my gauge. I find that raised stitches throw off my “eye” for the fabric. And, btw, it is ALWAYS good to consider the drape of the fabric (yes, in a swatch!) before launching on a new pattern. It gives you all sorts of information about the final result…

  27. I absolutely agree about LL’s book (wonderful) and a tighter knit garment. When you get the math thing figured out, will you post for those of us who strikingly math challenged? Thanks so much for bringing this to light.

  28. I love the book too — could make almost every pattern, and that’s incredibly rare. Haven’t made anything from it yet, though I have a grand plan involving some fleece I dyed with black walnuts.
    Thanks much for the gauge alert. And OMG, I thought I was the only one who thought Ms Starmore was a bit tightly wound in the gauge department! I have resigned myself to Do The Math with a design of hers that I love, want to knit, and have swatched to death, and am still unable to knit tightly enough to get her gauge.

  29. Stephanie, You’re absolutely right. I approach knitting the same way — the fabric of the knitted garment is more important than gauge. I usually re-do all of the math, also. Long ago, I set up the math calculations on an Excel spreadsheet, so now the math conversion goes pretty quickly. I just re-use the spreadsheet by changing the gauge for the new garment. (Yes, I’m a math geek, which I think is a good thing…) If a sweater doesn’t fit, or has fabric that stretches + droops, it’s not worth our time.

  30. Another con of looseness is the fact that loosey-goosey stitches, at least for my knitting, have a tendency to be all uneven. My tighter stitches have a much more consistent look. Maybe you said that. Anyway, whatever you do, you’ve got to love that yarn! It is so fab! Saw their trunk show, and almost, not quite, got the very one you are using. Substituted cascade instead, since college kids rarely remember to hand wash carefully. Know it will be beeyooteefull!

  31. And this is why I’m still running scared from swatching for my Bombshell (Big Girl Knits). It’s the most yarn of one type I’ve ever owned, and I’m freaked out about messing it up with bad gauge and tons of frogging.
    I need to suck it up and start…

  32. I bought this book for myself last year but have yet to knit something from it. Thank-you for your discourse; I will definitely keep it in mind when I do pick a project from it (planning to start with the Trinity vest, since I’m on a vest kick since my successful Knitting Olympics debut!).

  33. I’m a structured sort of person, and I like control (bit OCD in places) so when I want loose I undo my corsets and let down my hair, knitting stays under control!

  34. Hear, hear! With socks I’m so tired of the oft used, “use larger needles to increase sock size.” Especially when a fingering-weight pattern starts out at 8spi or even less. Good for selling more yarn I suppose. Not so good for durability 🙂

  35. I may have to buy this book. I am the queen of “loose” knitters. I automatically go down three sizes from the suggested needle size when I read a pattern or yarn label. This does not work with socks, because I already use size 0 for fingering weight and they don’t make wood/bamboo straights any smaller than that and I fear the inadvertent punctures I’d give myself with 000 metal ones.
    I cast on 48 stitches to make an adult woman’s size sock in fingering weight because I CAN NOT KNIT tighter than that. I’ve been doing this 12 years. I’ve made dozens of pairs of socks. I’ve tried. No go.
    And I like drape in clothes, so maybe, just maybe this is my book.

  36. Looser knitting is easier on my hands and wrists and much more relaxing as a hobby. (For me).

  37. I’m with you as well on the sock gauge. I keep telling people (my students and customers) to go down on their needle size – that the tighter their socks are knit, the longer they’ll wear. We sell Blackwater Abbey yarns, and I also agree with you on the gauge. It’s really much happier at 4.5 to 5 sts/inch. I knit on the tight side and still have to go down at least one needle size with Blackwater. I do love it though.

  38. You might want to look into buying a proportion wheel from your local art supply store. Then you can calculate everything with one turn of the wheel.

  39. Amen, sister! I have never understood the appeal of floppy, holey knits, which is why I do both hand knitting and machine knitting. I can’t finish hand knitting fast enough, or make weights that are tolerable in my stuffy classrooms, so I agree with you completely. Someone above commented on the, um, unsupported models, who I always assume have been surprised in chilly boudoirs. The photos just have the goose bumps airbrushed out. For those of us who want to wear things for a while and have them serve the worthy goals of warmth, beauty, and longevity, tighter gauge works better.

  40. I agree that loosely knitted garments just don’t make me happy altho I think of it more in terms of needle size. I have a ton of Cotton Fleece in stash from when BS called it worsted & suggested size 7. The first time I decided to use it for a Wonderful Wallaby (on size 8 needles as suggested by the pattern), as soon as I started it, the swatch just felt ‘wrong’ to me & looked horrible to me. I do not like knitting I can see through (unless it is deliberate for a lacy look.) I went down 2 needle sizes to a size 6 & knit a size larger than I had planned. The results were perfect. I think BS now calls CF a DK & suggests a size 6 needle.

  41. I am also loose. Ridiculously so. I have such a hard time getting gauge with a lot of projects. I have had to go down a yarn size to get gauge. It’s awful, but try as I might, I’m loose and nothing I seem to do will change that. Thankfully my husband doesn’t mind. 😉
    I’m thinking I might need this book.

  42. PS There is an esthetic appeal to lace knitting, but only when there’s enough of it to have cleared the extra loopy test. And mohair can look wonderful with loose stitches. Wouldn’t be a preference without exceptions…

  43. I’m having a very similar problem! I got some gorgeous lace yarn from pigeonroof studios with the intention of making a lovely lace shawl. The problem is, the yarn is really fine, more of a cobweb weight, and when I knit it up (at a tighter gauge than the shawl pattern called for), the result is sort of terrible. The stitches are really uneven and they’re so loose that I can barely tell the difference between a knit and a yarn over. My plan is to rip back and knit a stole at a tighter gauge, with the hopes that I will get a scarf. That, or double it and use it to make a smaller laceweight project.
    By the way, I also agree with you on preferring tighter gauges. Fortunately, I’m a tight knitter and I have small feet. So I’ve learned that if I use the recommended needles on socks, I will knit them at 36sts/4in rather than 32, and I’ll get socks that fit me as a result.

  44. Beware the cables… I’ve knit (or started to knit) a couple patterns from this book. Although I get stockinette gauge, my cables are ALOT tighter that Lisa’s. I’ve found its better to knit one of the pieces in pattern to see if I’m close and like the texture rather than go by the recommended swatch.

  45. If this is your first experience with BWA, you are going to love it! It is crisp enough to do the cables without a cable needle, but softens nicely (but not too much) when it is washed, and does not pill. Can’t wait to see the finished product!

  46. I’m so with you. Recently I was making some socks on my machine, and using a yarn with the same suggested gauge as the suggested yarn. I got a much tighter gauge than the pattern, and I can’t imagine it looser. That’s actually been happening a lot lately.
    I just looked at two patterns last night, and they called for ‘worsted’ yarns, but knit at 16st/4″. I’m also annoyed with (mostly American) patterns that think 16-17sts/4″ is ‘worsted’ weight. To me, worsted is Patons Classic/Decor/Canadiana; 20sts/4″.

  47. I’m kind of a spreadsheet geek as well as a knitter, so I could set up the pattern on a spreadsheet for you. As long as you feed me the gauge you want to use, I can translate the pattern to work for your gauge. Once the pattern’s set up, if you decide on another stitch, it’s just a matter of telling it the new gauge. Of course, making cables or whatever fit the layout is a separate issue. Good luck with however you decide to handle it.

  48. This is why my approach to gauge is to knit a swatch with the yarn and measure the swatch that has a fabric I like. The right sort of tightness or looseness or whatever. And then find a pattern for that.
    So in the case you mention, I might find a yarn that knits to tight fabric at the gauge specified. Less math.

  49. Very interesting observations! I am currently wrestling with the Great Expectations sweater from Takhi. I’m knitting it in the recommended yarn, but as I try for the recommended gauge, I produce a fabric that couldn’t support itself with a full time job. I guess I’m in the camp that prefers the Kevlar-vest type of aran. I’m also not feelin’ it with the yarn….. I have a feeling I’m going to have to rethink the whole project.

  50. I totally love Lisa Lloyd’s book too. I’d wear anything in it happily BUT, I’m short (5 ft. 1 in.) AND I hate to sew, so I mostly use her gorgeous book as inspiration and off I go …

  51. I feel EXACTLY the same way about gauge. I really don’t enjoy loosey-goosey knitting. Your idea of the purls in the gauge swatch is brilliant, btw.

  52. Thanks for that information. Because I love that book and want to knit sweaters from it, but most of them are sized pretty big for me. Sounds like I can size ’em down by knitting to a more desirable gauge…maybe.

  53. Oh, totally, I’m seriously loose. I try so hard to get gauge and also need to go down a couple of needle sizes to get there. It’s amazing to hear so many experienced knitters talk about the benefit of tighter gauge. Perhaps I need to drop needle sizes even further?!? 00 sock needles here I come!

  54. My knitting is very even — UNTIL my most recent attempt (Berocco’s Prudence Easy) and all of a sudden my knitting is hinky.
    After reading this post, I realize it’s because the stitches have way too much room to move.
    Unfortunately, you didn’t write this post until I was 3/4 of the way through the damned sweater.
    I hope the blocking will help.

  55. You feel about knitting the way I feel about weaving – I don’t like sleazy hand woven fabric for exactly the same reasons you’ve outlined for knitting. (And I’m using ‘sleazy’ in it’s true sense, not the pejorative one i.e. too loose for the intended function)

  56. My first knitting book was Knitting Without Tears. Let’s just say that I’ve been regarding patterns as a guideline ever since. Working with handspun most of the time forces me to swatch, then match the pattern/no. of stitches to it, rather than forcing the yarn to do something it doesn’t want to.

  57. The knitter friend who helps me out of all my knitterly troubles (I think we all have at least one of these, and I, for one, thank God for ’em!) knits much more loosely than I, and is often amused by the tightness of my knitting. Like you, I cannot loosen up, no matter what I do.
    I have decided to declare my tight style a virtue, and make it work for me!

  58. I ditto everyone’s comments about how great a book A Fine Fleece is. My friends and I recently did a KAL on Harriet from that book (although I was the only one who actually finished it) but we had a big question about needle size and gauge as stated in the pattern. Size 6 needles (4 mm) to give you 16 sts = 1″??? We decided that it was probably a typo on the needle size. I knit the sweater in Noro Kureyon on size 8 needles and I love the sweater. The stitches are nice and firm, the lace shows up well, and the stripes are fun.

  59. You are pretending not to notice the real solution here, aren’t you? Shopping for yarn that you like at the pattern’s suggested gauge? Now Stephanie, tell me that thought hadn’t occurred to you…

  60. Again, I learned something new from you, thanks. Looking forward to seeing whatever it becomes, LOVE, LOVE, LOVE that colour.

  61. Hmmmm…. perhaps the gauge is what I don’t like about the sweater I’ve begun. Twice. First yarn was going to look too bulky, too stiff, and the four pounds (!) of SWS I found at Wally World in a big five dollar bin, looks funny to me knit up at gauge. Hmmmm… perhaps I will make another start and see if I like it better knit more tightly. Thanks for talking about this! I think you may have solved my problem! I was about to abandon this poor sweater!

  62. I recently bought that book, there are several items I want to knit. Good to know about the gauge situation. That being said, I wasn’t really planning on using the suggested yarns, but rather yarns with suitable gauge, so I will just have to keep this information in mind. Wow, finer than Cascade 220 and knit at 16 per 10 cm. I personally like Cascade 220 between 18 and 20 for 10 cm. I was going to swatch Cascade Eco Wool for the 16 per 10 cm.

  63. Type “Lisa Lloyd is loose” in google and your blog is the number 3 result. The number 4 result is a review of the book that says all the sweaters are loose-fitting. I just remember your harlot google search (which is still number four, btw).

  64. To Lisa S. re your comment about math and EPS.
    I’m a nurse, so you would think I have a handle on math. Oh, contrare. I do know my nurse required math, however, knitting math gets me into trouble every time. That said, I love love love EPS. I have made each of my children a sweater (that’s five) over the last year in Fisherman’s Wool and they turned out fabulously. I am also finishing a sweater for me in Jamieson & Smith fingering weight wool for me.
    I want to be able to use whatever needles I want, whatever yarn I want, and just find the gauge and do one little math problem. Once you find that one number, everything else flows from it. Love EZ !! I’m hoping there’s a new person just like her someone out there to write more books, because I’ve practically memorized her books that I own.

  65. Oooh, thanks for the tip on doing 5 purls with the 5mm needle for a swatch (not sure what I’ll do if I need to use a 4.5 or a 5.5, etc). 4 purls with a 4mm.

  66. That’s the first time I’ve ever been called loose! To avoid boiling to death in my knitwear, I typically knit a pattern calling for worsted weight with double knitting yarn. I knit the same gauge with the same needles as the pattern; the fabric is just thinner. I get a tailored appearance by sewing the seams on a sewing machine. Patterns calling for DK get 4-ply, and so on.

  67. I really agree with you on this. Generally, I like things knit tighter rather than looser for exactly the same reasons.
    I also own and love A Fine Fleece, and while I have yet to knit any of the sweaters in there, I could see myself making nearly every single one. One of my problems with the patterns in that book, though, is the sizing. Most of the sweaters are really roomy for my taste (I’m pretty small, so lots of ease just swallows me up)…and I’ve wondered if just knitting at a tighter gauge for some of them (like the espresso jacket, which is so classy otherwise) would help solve that issue. I guess I have to try it to know, though.

  68. Thank goodness for your post. I’ve had friends look in horror when I knit socks on 72 sts with 2.25mm needles and I don’t have large feet. I also don’t believe the gauge on yarn bands. I knit a lot of worsted at a dk gauge. I once knit a garter stitch vest in Noro Silk Garden at the gauge given and by lunchtime the armholes were at my waist. I had to cut and sew to make it wearable. Amen to your thoughts.

  69. Love the purl idea (and the knots).. but what do you do for 4.5 mm? How to you do 1/2 purl? Just curious! (I’d probably have a trick like 4 purl, 1 space, 1 purl.. but I’d like to hear yours…)

  70. I seem to hear a lot of comments about my “tight” knitting from other knitters and how they would feel happier if I would change my style. Well, for one, I don’t think I can be that tight as I almost always “get gauge” and two, the same people exclaim over my finished fabric and even stitches.
    Thank you for extolling the virtues of firm fabric Stephanie.

  71. I have to be honest, I’m a loose knitter. I think it’s because I’m also a slow knitter. A sweater already takes me at least a couple of months to finish as it is. I just don’t want to add to that if I can avoid it.

  72. I’m in your camp, having just knitted a “loose” sweater and having it pill like mad…already. I don’t know how much a tighter gauge would have helped, but I am all for things that last.

  73. Agreed. The good news (I have my eye on a couple of those sweaters too) is that some of her sweaters look huge in the smallest size and tighter gauge might go a bit of the way in getting me to something I wouldn’t be swimming in.

  74. I definitely agree with you. I often find myself going down one or two needle sizes and doing some math. I don’t like it when I can see light through my knitting! Last time I made a sweater with a gauge that was drapey, it felted into a tiny cardboard sweater when I washed it. I actually liked the felted fabric but alas, it was way too small.

  75. It’s funny that all of your reasons for liking un-loose knitting, are all of the reasons I wear a bra out of the house. 🙂
    Bosoms in a (well-fitted) bra:
    + Hold their shape better. Breasts with less room to move, move less. They are less likely to “grow” with age, or to bag or sag. (Actually I doubt that but it works while exercising at least.)
    + Having less “room” under a garment, means that the garment tend to look more uniform and tidy.
    + Last longer. Closely held, breasts can’t move against each other to cause friction, and are more durable. They pill and show wear less too.
    Yikes, the idea of pilling breasts is a bit frightening…
    You can handle the math. Good luck!

  76. Yes. Definitely yes. I adore this book, and I’ve thought that I’d probably end up knitting a large size on smaller needles for this exact reason. Thanks for a good discussion that helps me to articulate better why I was feeling that way about the whole thing.

  77. I’m sure you’ve thought of this and that 12 people before me have recommended it, but for some reason I’m typing it anyway. But as a loose knitter who likes firmly-knitted fabric (I almost never use a needle larger than US 4), I just substitute a yarn that gives me a fabric I like. So for that gauge, an aran instead of a worsted.
    Repeating the obvious, just another service I provide…

  78. I have always been a loose weaver and a tight knitter. controlled by different hemispheres of the brain perhaps?

  79. I think I learn something every time I read one of your posts. I happen to be the type of knitter that likes loose for certain garments (say a summer top), but generally wants things to last for awhile. And yes, in my personal book worsted weight should knit up to 5 sts/inch.

  80. I’m in the “firmer is better” camp too, although it’s probably because I mainly knit socks and wear is an issue. I find for socks I just ignore the needle recommendations and go for a 0 or 1, according to how the yarn feels to me. I know how many stitches around a sock needs to be to fit me and my most frequent gift “victims”. Just another case where knitters have to be smart enough to know when to follow exactly and when to break out the calculator.

  81. I love this! Now I know why I like zero needles and lots of little stitches for socks! Thanks! Now to apply it to the rest of my knitting!
    knitting really does helps math skills.

  82. I agree that the Blackwater Abbey feels floppy. Is it a matter of twist — woolen vs. worsted?

  83. Wait a sec – I have a choice how loosely I knit? I thought that was genetic! How do I learn to knit more tightly? I rarely get to use a needle bigger than an 8. Usually I’m working with 4’s or less, just to meet gauge.

  84. Well, that could work to your advantage. Most of the patterns in that book seem to run really large. For those of us who are smaller than your average linebacker–What’s the Canadian equivalent of that? I’m afraid my hockey knowledge is a bit lacking. So is my football knowledge, but we’ll let that be for now.–knitting the same size at a smaller gauge might be a perfect solution.

  85. Oh thank God – I thought I was the only one way too uptight. Like, really tight. I’ve been casting on socks and frogging the loose results. I feel better now.
    Another option – make the sweater your wine project. You can only knit it with 2+ glasses of wine or beer.

  86. Andy why is that often designers have their own yarn, with its own recommended needle size/gauge , and then in the pattern there is a completely needle size/gauge?

  87. I thought it was just me who always wanted to knit at a tighter gauge than the pattern calls for — even when I’m using the recommended yarn. I like my knitting to feel like FABRIC.

  88. Dude, that kinda sucks. I love that book, but have yet to knit from it, and I appear to prefer things tight, like you (according to numbers)… big bummer.
    I’ll be looking forward to seeing if you post anything about your fix.

  89. Uh oh, I’m apparently a loose knitter, too! Perhaps that’s why I haven’t been able to sucessfully create a sweater that fits? Or why I fail to see why they make a needle smaller than a US 3? I may have to check out these loose ways!

  90. I may be a loose knitter (and a happily married woman) but I do agree with you on gauge. Just means I knit all socks on 2 mm needles, practically!
    Drape is one thing, but loosey-goosey and baggy elbows etc is problematic. And hard to seam. There is a happy medium….
    I just knit a cabled hat, which was in Madeline Tosh yarn, which was what WAS called “Worsted” but just got revised to DK. Well, based on the hat, DK is right. The hat calls for worsted weight yarn and came out too small for me; at least, it doesn’t cover my ears, more than the tips, which is not acceptable for true winter weather. It will fit a preteen; I’ll find someone to wear it.
    My point is, I knew it was likely going to be a bit small when I was about half through and could really see it off the needles. (No, I did not knit a cabled swatch. I took my chances. It’s OK. I knew this might happen.) But I did not choose to reknit on bigger needles because the gauge seemed appropriate to the yarn. Bigger would have made the cables floppy and sloppy and undefined, I think. So, better to be true to the (DK weight) yarn and have a lovely hat which I need to find the right size recipient for. Listen to the yarn! Just as you are doing.
    And there are always school-age heads that need warming!

  91. Well, Stephanie, that’s why a pattern is just a suggestion. I’m a plus-size girl, so I have to recalculate everything anyway. I swatch until I get the fabric I like, measure gauge, then re-do the math allowing for both gauge and size. The trick is to convert their stitches into inches, substitute the inches I need to adorn my plus size self and then multiply by my gauge to get MY stitch count.
    Then I change about 5 other things just to please me. In the end it’s often rather different from the original, but that’s OK by me.
    Julie in San Diego

  92. I’m with you on looseness, as I have always liked a tighter gauge than most books suggest. After a lot of experience, I know what works (for me) and what I like, so I just do it. I don’t *have* to be a blind follower, you know! So I end up doing a lot of math too, or I just take a look at the pics, and then go and do my own thing using that as inspiration. I cook that way too! 🙂 Glad to know I was on the right track.

  93. Why when I have been knitting 34 of my 38yrs did I never think of your purl wisdom! 5 purl sts equals size 5 needles. I put in a purl row to remind me I changed needles, so near & yet so far.
    Steph you should be awarded a MBE for that one (not to mention many other great ideas too).
    You clearly meet the criteria:
    achievement or service in & to the community of a responsible kind which is outstanding in it’s field
    very local ‘hands-on’ service which stands out as an example to others.

  94. Hmmm…while I am a loose knitter (maybe as a result of knitting for about 36 years and knitting continental and combined), I also like my knitted fabric denser that ballbands/patterns say… so I constantly going down and down and even more down with needle sizes, and constantly recalculating patterns… I har real trouble with a sweater like the sunrise circle where row gaige and stitch gauge is equally important, took me ages to find a yarn that gives similar sitch numbers, but still giving the fabric I could be happy with…

  95. Can I just click “agree”?
    Would you say that loose fabric is not only more inclined to sag and loose form, but also to pill more?

  96. wow excellent post. way to find a way to get in a mini gauge lesson and call out a lady’s looseness. i also love the implied pun of you being tight. how many children do you have again?

  97. I got A Fine Fleece on a trip to the States. It was late in the day, & DH was stroppy. Title + spindle on the cover got me. The beautiful project pictures really got me. Well, I have yet to make any of them… I am a small person. The +10-12″ of ease & then no shaping? I don’t need Stacey & Clinton to tell me how that would look! Thanks for letting me know about the gauge issues:) More math, hmmmm

  98. I’m a loose knitter (partly because of hand issues) who prefers things knit at a tighter gauge! Argh. I am finding myself knitting more lace, since it’s the only thing where I’d consider looseness a plus. I like making socks but, as another commenter said, how far down can you go from size 0 needles? I would also say that loosely-knit socks are uncomfortable, because you can feel the individual stitches.

  99. Even if I decide to knit more loosely than usual, my fingers will tighten it up. If I’m working on bigger needles to get a loose gauge, I’ll soon be pulling the yarn tighter and tighter until I can barely force the needle through the loop, and whatever I’m working on will be shaped like a trapezoid.
    I keep the book “The Knitter’s Handy Book of Sweater Patterns” around, and basically convert the pattern using that, if I don’t like the gauge.

  100. I love A Fine Fleece and I wrote a review of it in Wild Fibers Magazine when the book first came out. I am in the years-long process of knitting every item in the book — I just finished Corduroy. My Knitting Olympics event was to make socks from that book. I am glad you like it too!
    I wonder if Black Abbey yarn makes different types of yarn? I haven’t used it for a few years, but the Black Abbey yarn I used was very much an aran weight, not a light worsted. Huh. Interesting. Makes me want to go buy some now….

  101. I am so with you on this gauge business. It seems as if so many yarns (and patterns) give a suggested gauge that results in cheesecloth–not what I am going for at all in a sweater! It may have drape, but often the result is just messy stitches no matter how hard I try to make them even.

  102. See, the math problem is the one that gets me…makes me afraid to even attempt a sweater like that unless I get the correct gauge.
    How does one go about doing the math? Is there a book on Knitters Math I don’t know about?

  103. I think I need this book. I knew about it, but didn’t realize the great sweaters in there! Thanks for the recommendation!

  104. The first knitting class I took the instructor was astounded at how tight my knitting was (not conrete-tight but firm-tight) and she advised me to not listen when people told me to loosen up my knitting gage. As I knit mostly socks and children’s sweaters it has worked to my favor over all these years.

  105. If you figure out the sleep thing, I’d love to know. I know someone who’s been like that for over two months.
    That being said…I get up, do something relaxing (like reread a favorite book, or ah, knit something simple) and then try to sleep again in an hour. No computer or TV though…the screen light makes you more wakeful.
    And on the sweater gauge..unless you need row gauge for some reason, it’s easy. Find a gauge you like, divide into the body cast on of each size to find out what chest size it would fit, then use the *stitch* instructions for the pattern size that you’re knitting, but the *length* instructions for the size that would fit you if you knitting in gauge. Minimal math- though it helps to go through and highlight which set of instructions you’re following for each part, (even more than it normally would).

  106. I am a tight knitter, and a lefty whose style style starts continental and ends wonky. This said, I have never used recommended yarns…I’d never be able to make gauge. I have to go up 2 needle sizes for straight needles, 1 for DPNs and circulars…that’s if I choose a heavier yarn. I like the way I knit and the fabric that results, so I have resigned myself to the changes I have to make. Why fight the fabric and pattern? It sucks the joy right out of knitting.

  107. Thank you for the information about gauge beyond fit. I’ve never encountered this info before and it’s quite enlightening. And, of course, your way of teaching without speaking of “right way” and “wrong way” always appeals me.

  108. Question… Do you think perhaps the patterns were written to a target audience of knitters? I am thinking that the patterns in the book might have been written for newer knitters who want the satisfaction of a finished product quickly who might not have had enough experience with long term hand knits. Whereas, seasoned knitters like yourself and several of us have been through the loose trials and resultant baggies, only to find that it is better to “adjust” our knitting so that the final garment is something that will last and is well worth the extra effort/time to make it so.
    I am noticing this trend towards instant results in a lot of the pattern books I have purchased lately. Unfortunately, the results are seen at my knitting guild where a new knitter brings in her/his fresh off the needles garment and disappointed at the end result. Not because of failure to follow the pattern exactly including gauge, but rather the end result once worn/washed a bit no longer resembles the original sample. For some this alone can cause them to “give up” and not try to understand what has happened.

  109. I am a super loose knitter, and end up using relatively tiny needles to make up for it. (Like, worsted weight on size 2 needles, I kid you not.) It’s the right thing to do though. I’ve knit only one sweater where the fabric wasn’t relatively firm, and it sagged all to heck the first time I washed it. Not going through that again.

  110. Why not just knit to the same gauge on a thicker yarn? You’ll get a denser fabric, no math required.

  111. I have that book, and I love the aesthetic, but I do not like to see the daylight through the fabric. I’ll keep that in mind when I’m swatching for one of the sweaters.

  112. Your timing is impeccable as always. I’m in the midst of my own gauge reflection, ripping out the second sweater I ever knit, which was knit in Lopi at 18 st/4 in. Yup, you read that right. And yes, the original “sweater” did stand up by itself. I made every mistake possible in this one sweater. (and I just wish that meant I was done making mistakes but alas…) So now, 12 years later, I’ve frogged it and am knitting a real Lopi-gauged yoke sweater. And I accidentally knit one sleeve on US10’s and the other on US10.5’s. The gauge difference was enough that sleeve #2 had to be frogged and redone on the 10’s. And the fabric was distinctly too loose (even after my way too tight lopi disaster). How I missed that is a mystery (but see above).
    Also, I will have enough yarn left over from the original sweater to knit my 7 y.o. his own.
    And also, Lopi frogs, washes, and reknits amazingly well, even after sitting in a plastic bag in time out for 12 years. Those sheep, they grow some good fiber!

  113. I agree with your remarks on tension etc – I often have to ‘edit’ a pattern to get anything like a good fabric. But patterns are just guidelines – they are NOT written in stone! And remember – THERE ARE NO KNITTING POLICE!!

  114. I knit October Frost last year, but out of handspun,which was certainly thicker than Cascade 220 or any standard worsted yarn. And the sweater is very large, but I love it!
    I plan to knit Rhinebeck from Cascade 220, but I think the gauge is 20/4 for that one so I’m okay.
    I have some real Aran weight for Fylingdales and that should work just fine.
    Do you care about any of that? Probably not, but the book is beautiful and full of beautiful patterns and well worth figuring out the math!

  115. aran vs. worsted? Instinct for me is aran runs 16-18 and worsted runs 18-20 stitches in 4 inches. Yes, I know I listed 18 under both…that’s when you get to call it whatever you like. Therein lies the problem.

  116. I agree with you. About the book (love it) and gauge, generally too loose. I’m planning to spin for and knit fylingdale.

  117. i love this book and have made sweaters from it. i used a heavier worsted yarn to get the gauge. love the sweaters.

  118. Thank you! It’s about time someone took that photo with entirely too much daylight through the knitting and stepped up to talk about being lose (in gauge anyway).
    I do agree – it’s a fine book!

  119. Reminds me of my much tighter gauge days… One of the knitting ladies was looking at my newbie project that was so tight that it was barely able to move on the needle. She says to me, loudly, “Well, you aren’t loose.” Of course silence in the crowded coffeeshop decended right at that moment. My reply? “My mother will be so proud.”

  120. I just went through this with some Blackwater Abbey that I bought on ebay. Since I can’t get more yarn of the same dyelot, I have to knit at 4 stitches to the inch. I’m going to be really sad if there’s much yarn left over.

  121. I tend to be a loose knitter that likes firmer fabrics (I’m always going down needle sizes). That said, I currently have my sixth project (Gaelic Mist) from this book on the needles, and this is only the second time that I’ve used the yarn Lisa recommended. The other four times, I looked at the gauge received, went out and bought yarn I thought would give me a similar gauge, and said to heck with the yarn Lisa used.
    I don’t know about Halcyon, but I know that a lot of people have knit Flyingdales on Cascade Eco, and they turned out really well. So, even though I know you really like the BWA yarn, have you considered changing to a slightly bulkier yarn?

  122. If the pattern calls for 3.25mm to get 7sts=1″, I’m pulling out my 2.5mm needles. Socks? They’re all knit on 2mm to equal 8sts=1″. And, yes, I have pulled out my 1.5mm double points, to knit sock weight yarn at 9sts=1″. I spend time to knit, I want proof I spent that time next week, the week after, even next year (unless it was horrible, messed up). They’re is no loose gauge for me, I hate it. How else do you think my daughter has worn that blinding pink cardigan for four years, besides it was four sizes too big, and she won’t let it go?

  123. I think it’s interesting how the discussion here is about two different types of loose/tight knitting. One type is the suggested guage for a yarn/pattern/needle combination. The other is a particular knitter’s general ability to get the suggested guage with the yarn/pattern/needle combination. These are two different ideas. Most of us know if we generally have to go up or down needle sizes to get the suggested guage (for me at least one size down, quite often two). That having been said … do you LIKE the suggested gauge with the suggested yarn? That is Stephanie’s problem with this project. And I do like the light through the swatch photo to show exactly what the main issue is with it.

  124. I love your purl on the swatch idea!! Thank you for sharing that with us. What do you do with the .5 of a needle size?….now that’s just gonna bug me (in a good way…hee!)Happy Spring too! A.

  125. When you do decide to get the calculator out, make sure the wine is NOT within reach!

  126. oh thankyouthankyouthankyou for your tip about purling on the swatches to denote needle size! this is why you are a knitting hero- always helping folks out when they need it. and i agree about the loosness. i like a firmer fabric, although you’d never know it from the 2 sweaters i just knit. what can i say- impatience took hold. 🙂 i hope the maths work for you. i’m considering switching a worsted for a sport to size-down an upcoming aran. fingers crossed…

  127. Great discussion knitters! I too cut my (knitting) teeth on EZ. So part of starting a sweater has always been swatching for fabric then figuring out the numbers. Happily I enjoy the extra problem solving to make what I want. And yes, I rarely follow a recipe as written.

  128. My sense of aesthetics regarding fabric looseness are right in step with yours; I’d much rather have the firmer fabric.
    However, while I’m not the least bit afraid of math (I can do differential equations; arithmetic and simple geometry do not faze me), I think I’d probably take the route of changing yarn, rather than recalculating the whole pattern. It’d be much easier to find something I like that *does* knit nicely at 16st/4″, and then find something else for the Blackwater Abbey yarn where the requested gauge is whatever it is I’m getting with that yarn.

  129. I think my favorite part of this post was the line: “I’m not the sort to decide I don’t like something without trying though, so I swatched.” Esp. in light of the many, many, many post about swatch frustration.
    I have knitting on my to-do list today. soo happy!

  130. I agree re: gauge, but what I really took away from your post is the brilliant way to label the gauge swatch!! I knew you are a genius, this just proves it once again! Thanks.

  131. Luckily, you know about and understand that disclaimer on all yarn and patterns – “or size needed to get desired gauge”. Too bad when YOUR desired gauge is going to require a lot of refiguring of stitch and row counts.
    But I agree. Better to do the math and be happy with the result that to follow blindly and live with regrets.

  132. Thank you for writing this post. It’s so helpful and informative for those of us who only have a year or so under our knitting belts. These posts from you are invaluable because you explain so well and thoroughly.

  133. I’m in your camp on the loose vs firm issue. I have knit several items w/ BWA yarn and I love it. But I truly like something more like 5 st/in, maybe even 5 1/2 st/in. It’s gorgeous yarn.

  134. Count me among the tight knitters–when knitting socks with fingering weight yarn, I can easily get 9 spi with US 1 and 10 or more with US 0 needles. I love Nancy Bush’s sock patterns, but have run into a little trouble with her gauges, which seem on the loose side to me–unless I am knitting with DK weight or above, I will NEVER knit a sock at 6 spi. When I knit the Whidby socks from “Knitting on the Road” I ended up adding 8 extra stitches of ribbing. I like the “gentlemen’s” patterns from “Knitting Vintage Socks” because I can knit them as written and they will fit me!

  135. Stephanie, I agree that loose knitting is all the things you described, and not as desirable but as one of those “loosey goosey” knitters (not by choice) I’ve tried tightening my gauge by changing the way I knit. I now knit Continental. But I’m STILL loose. Ideas of how to tighten things up? (knitting-wise that is)?

  136. I’m totally with you on this! I learned to knit in Bolivia where rural women knit sweaters on sharpened bicycle spokes with a gauge so tight the fabric is practically watertight.

  137. I feel similarly about sweaters having a firm gauge, and generally find that between that desire and my tendency to be a loose knitter means that I go down (at least) 3-4 needles sizes from what is designated in the pattern or on the ball band. The last few sweaters I’ve made for me have been on size 4 and size 5 needles. My friends look at my like I’m nuts, but what is the point of knitting a sweater that you won’t like in the end after all that work.
    (And I’m knitting a sample sweater for a designer on size 13 needles with bulky yarn. It’s like switching between toothpicks and tree trunks!)
    The one exception to this looseness issue I’ve found is garter stitch. There have been a few times that I’ve gone with a looser gauge with a garter stitch garment (especially for a baby/child) because I wanted the stretchiness and flexibility inherent in the garter stitch. My son got a beautiful but very firmly knit baby surprise jacket when he was born. While it fit it was great, but he grew out of it quicker because it was knit firmly and didn’t have much give to grow with him. It was made with handspun, so I need to find a stuffed animal that can wear it and allow it to become room decor. 🙂

  138. In my opinion: If you spin your own wool, which I do a lot, a looser gauge works. Her book is supposed to be handspun and commercial. I like my hand spun stuff a lot looser- it felts more in washing and stabilizes and blooms. Same applies to my handspun socks. My hand spun cheviot and BFL can be quite loose as they felt quite nicely but otherwise 8 to the inch is wise after all that work. My handspun socks really hold up well for years.

  139. It seems a lot of yarn companies and patterns have moved over into the loose scale. I am with you on preference. My calculator is my best friend.

  140. I am so with you on this one. I am a fairly tight knitter, and instead of compensating for this by going up a needle size I glory in it by going down at least a size. (Unless I’m knitting lace, of course — and even then I might stay with the “standard” needle size for the yarn instead of going up.) I get at least 30 sts to 10 cm in Cascade Cotton Fixation/elann Esprit, 40 in an average fingering yarn, 46 in Trekking. All of those assume st st; if I start throwing in cables the gauge goes up, or down, depending on your point of view. I’ve never even tried to sell a sock pattern because my sock gauge is so wacky.
    Out of curiosity, what needle size do you use and what gauge do you get knitting worsted-weight mittens? I use US 4/3.5mm and get about 24 sts/10cm.
    I will be curious to see how your sweater turns out. I constantly tell myself to conquer my sweater fear by knitting a few patterns as written, and then I can design my own as I do everything else, but I get hung up on gauge (as well as seaming).

  141. My first knitted sweaters were scary loose. Now it is 5 years later, and my knitting has tightened up quite a bit thankfully. This post about gauge is fascinating. I agree, I want my sweaters to have a nice smooth fabric with very little daylight showing. I have had to do math several time to achieve the desired effect. Your post proves that we are all different knitters with different tastes. (back when I was a very loose knitter, my knitting teacher said I should knit drapey lace, and that it would be perfect for me).

  142. I hate to admit it
    but I AM an old school p.i.t.a. when it comes to holey, loose knits. It takes me long enough to make a garment, and for it to bag, sag, or droop over time, just isn’t in my gameplan. It’s enough to make me dust off some cusswords..and liberally use some!!! I like classic looking knits… so many of the sweater patterns now make me look like my boobs need a lift…which sadly, is possible!!!

  143. I absolutely agree with you about gauge. I have always felt the same way–if I go to all the trouble of making and sewing it together, it needs to hold up until the apocolypse…

  144. I have had A Fine Fleece since October(Rhinebeck purchase). I have wanted to make the FlyingDales or Town&Country cardis. But now that I see your problems with gauge I am interested in the solutions. Different yarn ie tighter twist? Or working a different size? I am not a math whiz, makes me break out in hives. I look forward to a tutorial. Thanks Steph!

  145. Hey, I agree with you on the whole post! Yes, Lisa is Loose (knitter), Lisa’s book is great (I own it) and tighter gauge is better for my life. So I made the Staghorn Cable sweater out of that book and used a bigger yarn than Lisa did to get Lisa’s gauge and I love the sweater.

  146. I find as I knit more sweaters, I am much more likely to adapt the pattern to my gauge than my gauge to the pattern. I also love knitting the same yarn up in different things to see how it likes socks vs. hats vs. lace, etc. I’m such a process knitter… anyhow. Thanks for the interesting post!
    I also have to say, BRILLIANT to purl the size of the needle!

  147. Yes, let us not forget F. Habit’s Second Law of Swatches, best abbreviated to SFL, where L=Lie.

  148. This is why yarn still confuses me. I was in my LYS 2 days ago buying yarn for different projects. The owner kept saying, ‘just get the gauge’ – but some of the projects called for a worsted 5/inch on an 8, others were DK weight 5/inch on a 6…
    You are so right. It can’t just be about “getting gauge” and going up/down on needle size – there has to be some other measurement.
    Have you discovered a new (additional) measurement? A new measure of gauge perhaps?

  149. Loose? Sounds better than the older term, “sleazy”. Complete agreement from this long-time knitter, for all the reasons you describe. At issue is yarn structure and mechanics as relate to the fiber characteristics.
    If drape is the goal achieve it with the fiber selection for best wear and effect – silk, hemp and linen, rayon (not a fan of this fiber) blends or tapes and ribbons and the like.
    As for irretrievably loose gauge? That is in my experience thus far always the result of how the working yarn is held, and tension is brought into control by arranging the strand from the ball differently – looping etc., around the pinky or ring finger. This corrective works whether the yarn is in the right or left hand.
    Happy knitting all y’all,

  150. You know, I stopped paying attention to suggested gauge long ago. Mainly because I rarely use the suggested yarn. I go with one I think will work with the pattern, but other than that I fly solo.
    The only use I have for the suggested gauge is using it to re-gauge the pattern for my yarn. I do this with nearly every pattern.

  151. I’m with you on gauge. fingering/sock is usually 7.5-8 sts @inch, sport 6, dk 5.5, worsted 5, heavy worsted 4.5, after that bulky which I don’t bother with anyway. In fact, from the photo of the yarn you’re using, I’d have put it in sport/dk range. But that’s just the photo. Maybe find the gauge for the yarn, then recalculate the pattern for your size? Of course, then you’re in the ‘do I have enough yarn’ phase. Not a good phase.

  152. I want to thank you for this post. I was trying to swatch for a sweater that I really wanted to knit. With size needle it called for I was to small so I went up a size neele and still was off. I did not like the look of the pattern with either size needle. After your post I started again with a needle two sizes smaller thatn what it called for. I love the look of the pattern now and after some math am going make a size larger sweater than the one I had intended to make. Thank you so much. I can now have the sweater I like with a gauge that I like.

  153. Funny, I was just thinking about my own loose knitting today. I started knitting when I had pretty active arthritis in my wrists and fingers, and tight knitting was very painful for me. I therefore learned instead to knit nice and loosely, on bamboo needles, to minimise pressure on the joints and I have to say I have become attached to that way of knitting.
    It’s like a signature that says my wrists and fingers are a certain way, and it’s very intimate to me that my gauge is so much entwined with the history of my body. Although my arthritis is now controlled by drugs so I could theoretically knit in the tight way again, I find I am disinclined to go back to that.
    I can achieve a firm fabric by using needles that are too small for the yarn and I do this for hardcore garments like walking socks or the like! My firmest socks are made from dk weight yarn, knit on 2.75mm needles in two-handed colourwork, but all my sweaters so far look like your swatch in this post.
    I am learning that I need to go down a needle size to get the same gauge as most knitwear designers but maybe I should buy Lisa Lloyd’s book?
    Because you see I too am loose – in the knitting way.

  154. “To sum up- I believe Lisa Lloyd may be loose. In the knitting way, you understand. (I hope she takes that the right way.)” (Stephanie)
    Reading of someone being called ‘loose’ in the knitting way by the Yarn Harlot… Priceless. 😀
    This is my fist time back to your site since I haven’t quite finished the one row scarf I started for your 2010 Knitting Olympics. I did finish the toque (stocking hat to me) and I have enough of the scarf complete that it works as a button up scarf.
    Thank you for the inspiration, challenge, and humor.
    — Jack

  155. I’m a tight knitter and can fully appreciate your take on the value of a firmly knit garment. I’m currently working on Solveig Hisdal’s PEONY sweater (see my project page on Ravelry – theytoldmesew) and have had to resort to looser knitting (which makes me crazy to no end) to accommodate the strands being carried behind the work. I don’t do much colorwork and am quite concerned that I might end up with a doubly-thick ‘flowy’ sweater as a result. I would be curious to know what your experiences have been with these types of projects…

  156. Thank you all!
    Stephanie’s post has inspired some brilliant posts that I think will help me better understand my frustrations with some projects and ways to resolve them.
    Whatever would we do if we were knitting alone is some small community of people who did everything the same way without a multitude all over the world to make suggestions, express their personal experience, and give us another way to think about our knitting?

  157. Woops, this brings-up the question of ‘do your like it’, in the sweater I am knitting “Candy”, I got guage, but do I really like it, – yes is is OK (can you guess I am not ecstatic?). But will it wear the way I want it to – I really doubt it, thanks for thinking about that one, ‘startitis’ and ‘hope’ can be a fateful combination.
    Stephanie, with the crossover cardigan that you recently previewed, and is your ‘go to’ sweater, I was thinking the ‘light showed through the knit’, is this so? or is it at a weight and drape that you are happy with? Maybe I need a keener eye for the photography.

  158. I am also a “loose” knitter and as a result I use smaller needles. I knit socks on 1.5mm needles and they last and wear well. Others do not understand but it makes a huge difference for me!
    After years of knitting I finally just got wise to “tighter is better” (i.e. fit and wear) instead of “bigger gets it done faster”. Took a while…love your words of wisdom and the challenge you present.

  159. Love the purl tip for indicating needle size in swatches. I diligently knit small samples with our yarns, switch needles two or three times to see how they’ll look and then frequently forget to “tag” the results. Now, if I remember to “code” my work it won’t matter if I attach the tag or not. Thank you!

  160. Math: Use this formula. It makes using your own gauge so much easier if your exact size isn’t listed in a pattern:
    Taken from ravelry post by knitengineer on ravelry:
    We have a couple of knots to untangle here! The first one is ‘what is the pattern gauge’? Well, there are two – one for the original pattern’s range of sizes (17 st per 4” for sizes 32-48), and the other one applies to the three largest sizes which were added in the second release of the pattern (18 st per 4” for sizes 52-60). Since you are down in the lower size range, the pattern is written for 17 st gauge.
    Now, you like the smaller-needle swatch which is giving you 18 stitches, which is a bit tighter than the pattern. No problem – you are a knitter and you are fearless and invincible. (Right?) If you use your size 8 needles, your work will be smaller, but how much smaller? Here’s where we need some grade 6 math – your knitting will be (17 divided by 18 times 100) = 94% the size of what the designers intended. So if you follow the size 36 instructions, your finished sweater will be 36 times 94% = 34”. This might be too snug for you. What if you follow the size 40 instructions? Your finished sweater will be … no, let’s not always see the same hands up … that’s right, Peggy, it’s 40 times 94% = 37.8”.
    If the back section that you’ve already started is on size 8 needles, you can keep going and end up with a 34” sweater, or you can (gasp!) frog it back and start over with the size 40 instructions to get a 38” sweater.
    If it helps you at all, you are not the only one who has struggles with sizing issues. My second CPH is languishing in the frog pond because I realized only after knitting the back and both fronts that I was following the wrong size instructions!

  161. This, for me, was an especially illuminating analysis of gauge vs. pattern, I never considered that loose might be a bad thing and how that affects the garment holding its shape – so thanks.
    I’ve just spent 2 days agonizing over gauge. Pattern=Porlock/ Yarn=Cotton Jeans. Both are Rowan. Yarn gauge:19/10cm 7US. Pattern gauge:23/10cm. Huh? My gauge: 16 on US6. Arrrrgh. Couldn’t get 23 on 3US and that was when I decided the garment was going to be too tight and weigh 900 lbs. – since it’s cotton.
    So what am I going to do? I’m knitting a size medium (when I need the extra large) at the gauge I got (after washing it and machine drying my swatch). And measure a lot. I also checked the stitch count and gauge against Ann Budd’s book on patterns.
    However, I’m sure I’m making a dreadful mistake.

  162. Math: Use this formula. It makes using your own gauge so much easier if your exact size isn’t listed in a pattern:
    pattern gauge
    Taken from ravelry post by knitengineer on ravelry:
    pattern gauge:
    original gauge divided by gauge you like x 100 = ___%
    Then use ____% you got x your pattern bust size. This will equal the number of bust inches you’ll get from using the gauge you like.
    You can use this formula for each potential pattern size to figure out if it would be too snug at that gauge or not.
    If this doesn’t help and you need assistance, feel free to email the recommended gauge for the pattern, plus the gauge you’re getting that you like to me at madonnaearth at yahoo dot com.

  163. Would you consider adding in a laceweight yarn as a carry along to get a slightly firmer gauge? Depending on color, you could get a nice subtle heathered effect too.

  164. I’m not a Martha-phile, but I found on her website a gauge swatch template. Four print to a page, and on one long side is a printed ruler. It has spaces for needles, yarn, colorway, pattern, gauge, and even space at the bottom for what you think about the yarn. Then you punch holes at the top and attach it right to the swatch. I keep them all that way, and I never forget anything. Maybe one day I’ll sew them all together.

  165. I will join the chorus – I love your idea of using purl stitches to keep track of the needle size. Genius. Between your books & blog and the show “Knit & Crochet Today/Now”, I am picking up so many good ideas. I now have so many things to knit that – to (mis)quote the Cowardly Lion, “I hope my thumb holds out! And when will I find time to cross-stitch?

  166. Thanks for this post. I have that book and love nearly everything in it, so this heads up is really helpful before I get to actually knitting things from it.

  167. The swatch I did for a jacket turned out much looser than I like and was still tighter than the gauge specified in the pattern. So I did a swatch that made me happy and gave the numbers to an online conversion calculator. The jacket is on the needles and looks good, but I’m left wondering how anyone could carry on with the pattern as written. The result would be a jacket too airy for cool weather and too heavy for spring. Makes me wonder where I’ve gone wrong.

  168. I’m tempted to use your blog today for a good example of an essay with my students – and not dry like most examples that are given.
    I like the clarity of your argument combined with your fair-mindedness for Lisa.
    You have made me think more critically about gauge. Thanks!

  169. (Longtime lurker, first time commenter, because I feel provoked to remark)
    Everything you’ve said about preferring a tightly knit fabric to a loosely knit one, I wholly agree with. Yet I am that strange, strange creature: a loose knitter, usually needing to go down one to two needle sizes, who prefers a firmer fabric! I am happy to go down a few needle sizes to do so.
    I agree with you about how worsted ought to knit up, and I feel a need to echo Lynn B. from early on–is it out of the question to switch to an aran weight yarn, knit to the pattern’s requested 16 st/4 inches? Then you wouldn’t have to do any maths at all, and you’d wind up with a fabric you liked. It’s what I would do, I think – especially if I liked the worsted weight yarn I had already bought enough to know that it would someday end up as some other garment.
    As an aside, I blinked a couple times and had to re-read when I saw that the pattern recommended 5 mm needles for a worsted weight yarn. At the moment, I’m knitting a sweater with aran weight on 3.5 mm needles, coming in at 4 st/inch in seed stitch, and it suits me quite well. I shudder to think of the ugly gaping fabric I’d get with 5 mm needles and thinner yarn (although, again, I do knit loosely. I like to think of it as knitting unstressfully)!

  170. I bought this book because I loved one of the cabled sweaters in it. Should have looked further as it is a baby sweater. At the loosest guage will not fit!

  171. Thank you so much for this post (all your posts actually)! I too tend to like a fabric knitted at a slightly tighter gauge–my stitches are more even, have nicer definition and the fabric is warmer. The other ladies in my knitting group are more on the “loose” end of things. Thanks again for stressing the importance of creating a fabric pleasing to the knitter.
    Also, your blog is truly a delight…always one of the highlights of my day!

  172. I didn’t realize you could switch needle sizes in the middle of a gauge swatch! Or skip the garter stitches on the edges. That sure looks like an easier way of doing things. And I LOVE the purl idea! Thanks much

  173. I’m wondering if, since the book is geared towards handspun yarn, the looseness is to accommodate the qualities of handspun? Specifically, handspun tends to me (at least, mine is) more dense and blooms more when washed, than commercially spun yarn.

  174. You know, I thought I was the only person who felt this way. I find myself looking for ways to either alter a pattern or work a pattern with firmer fabric. Sometimes, I just want something that will keep me warm.

  175. Oh boy do I agree. I think we have had a totally rampant gauge inflation in the past 5 years. I notice it in yarn labels. How many yarns have I picked up that say they should be knit at 4 stitches per inch, and I have to knit them at 5.5 to get a fabric that won’t sag and pill? I have noticed it in patterns, but way way more on yarn labels. I don’t even hardly pay attention to yarn labels anymore, I decide for myself what gauge the yarn wants to be knitted at.

  176. Thank-you for laying out the properties of both loose and tight knitting. Being a stubborn Derbyshire woman I automatically dig my heels in when someone says ‘your knitting is too tight/loose, do it my way.’, even though my mother and grandmother both knit much more tightly than I.
    My own knitting tends to be on the loose side, but I never use the same wool as the pattern tells me to, I just pick a slightly heavier weight and do a test knit to see if the fabric produced is what I want for the garment. I also tend to knit mostly in acrylic or acrylic/wool blends with the bulk of it acrylic, so the pilling thing is less of an issue (I have both health issues and a tight budget).
    Thank-you for a very educational post that will help me make a good wool and needles decision when I move on from small easier pieces to full jumpers and socks.

  177. Thanks for the comments on ‘loose’ knitters!:-) I’m one myself and have just learned to use much smaller needles that patterns indicate. I HAVE A PROBLEM….when I wear socks that I knit myself, even though they are knit as tight as I can, the way the garter stitch feels on the inside of the sock really bothers me…Is there some knitters solution? i’ve thought of knitting the sole with the knit stich on the inside and wonder if it would help.???

  178. Thanks so much for this post, Stephanie. I own A Fine Fleece, and love it dearly . . . but hadn’t yet gotten to knitting any of the projects. (Something about lots of small children, homeschooling, meals and diapers has gotten in the way, I think.)
    I will definitely watch out for the gauge issue as I swatch, as I also really don’t like loose knits (unless they’re lacy).
    Have a great weekend!

  179. I love BWA light worsted. I’m a very tight knitter, and like the way my stuff looks knit that way, so I always make the next size up to compensate. I use US size 6 needles on BWA with very satisfactory results. See the brown sweater on Ravelry (dgw).
    Also, BWA worsted works for Aran patterns, and you don’t end up with a suffocatingly heavy sweater.

  180. I went to a spinning group for the first time last saturday. Francine from Rovings was there, and she showed me how to spin on her wheel. Very cool lady. Woohoo for Manitobans!! 🙂

  181. Mom used to say that bigger needles would make a softer knit fabric, so she would intentionally go with the floppier size. I didn’t realize it at the time, but what I objected to was the funny looking results that came with the softness. As a loose knitter, myself, the solution seems to be: acquire a supply of size 4 needles for worsted projects.
    Recently got hold of a copy of Fine Fleece for the Flyingdales, primarily, but was reminded that the samples all look odd to me on the tiny models – wish I knew what ease they got for those photos. Then it would be easier to figure out how to compensate for gauge alone. Especially if I end up spinning my first sweater’s worth for it.

  182. Couldn’t agree more. When worsted is knit at a gauge that you can stick your finger through, it’s too loose, and it’s going to snag, snag, snag. I’ve been noticing a lot of patterns that call for worsted weight at 4 sts/in, and I’m wondering if it isn’t just a misguided effort to get the sweater done faster and make the yarn go farther. If I wanted something “flowy,” I’d choose a less resilient yarn.
    I love “Fine Fleece” too. Depending on the pattern, I’ll either substitute an Aran weight or knit a larger size in a tighter gauge.

  183. Thank you for this lesson. I love the patterns in that book too. People’s comments about how to compensate have been very informative as well.
    What does it mean if you’re a loose knitter, but an uptight person? Funny how the psychology doesn’t necessarily match the knitting.

  184. Some of my yarnie friends tease me for knitting at such a firm gauge … I feel better knowing that you tend towards a firmer fabric as well 🙂

  185. I hear what your saying and in principle I agree with you. HOWEVER, I live in California. Pretty much anything knit in a tight gauge is completely unwearable here. Being a knitter and living here is a challenge, practically everything knit is for warmth and really we don’t need anymore of that here. I’m thrilled that you found a book for me to knit nice flowy things from. Thank you. 🙂

  186. I can’t help but to knit tightly. Loose freaks me out. Very clever purling the number of the needle size! Someday when I actually swatch something, I’ll be sure to remember that.

  187. Oh, wow. Purling the sts to remind you of needle size is a *great* idea. Tx!
    I prefer firm, as well. That sounds like an aran gauge for BWA, which is totally off for the weight.

  188. Now, wait … the Harlot thinks it’s bad to be loose? Just getting this straight.

  189. This post was so good!! I’m a new knitter, and it amazes me how different my swatches feel using different needles with the same yarn! Sometimes people talk about “stiff” – I’ve not got the experience yet to know what is “good” and your post really helps me to see the variables. Great blog!!!

  190. I’m a loose knitter and usually have to go down a couple needle sizes on almost everything, but I totally agree on tighter gauges. I don’t *like* seeing holes in my knitting as in your last pic! So I merrily ignore the suggested gauge on most yarns in favor of a fabric I like.
    I could do without the cussing at the resultant math, though. 😉

  191. I was looking at one of your older blog entries, and you have really pretty hands and long nails.That is not relevant to this post or anything, but I wanted to say it.

  192. I love the purl stitches to record what needle size you used. Do you have a system for fractions — like size 4.5 mm needles? Or 2.25 or 2.75?

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