Gauge, Yarn Tension and Stitches

When crocheting or knitting, the title should be your mantra. This article is about the importance of gauge and yarn tension when starting a crochet or knitting project and how it can protect your sanity. At the end of the article, I’ll give you some pointers on how to make up your own crochet hat pattern. So let me begin by telling you a little story of how I totally didn’t listen to the advice given in almost every pattern and skipped this important step.

When I was in my mid 20’s, I had a coworker who used to crochet during the down time on her shift and she made all kinds of cool stuff. I hadn’t crocheted since I was a little kid and I too wanted to start making cool stuff. I went to the store, bought some yarn, a hook and a little pattern book. I was going to make a little baby dress, no idea for whom because I didn’t know anyone with a baby girl, but it was cute and looked like a great first project!

Okay, it wasn’t and it turned out to be my worst nightmare. This baby dress pattern was way more complicated than I was ready for! It was lopsided, had varying degrees of tight and loose stitches, (not to mention extra stitches here and there) and was looking terrible. I got frustrated after not even getting halfway through the project, so I put it down and never went back to it again.

Later, I got the wild idea that I would crochet myself a cardigan with super cute bell sleeves. That was a terrible idea too, however, I managed to finish this project. I never bothered to check my gauge and ended up with really long sleeves. (I should add here that the long sleeve screw up didn’t teach me anything because I did it again a couple of years later on a knitted sweater.) I don’t have short arms, by the way. I was just too lazy to take the time and check my gauge.

I’m sure there are a lot of knitters and crocheters out there who have shared my plight at some point during their journy. I have not made sweaters in years, but I do make other projects that require checking my gauge like hats and fingerless mits. Think about how your lucky recipient might react if you presented her with a hat that would fit Jabba the Hutt when she only has a 20 inch head. Likewise, it sucks to make one mitten and then get going on the second one, only to find upon finishing it, that it’s half an inch smaller than the first one. Oh, yes, I speak from experience. Making myself out to be a real dummy here…but if it helps you eliminate the frustration not checking gauge can cause, then my work here is done.

Tension and gauge go hand in hand; tension – how you hold the yarn (tight/loose) and how tightly/loosely you create stitches, effects the gauge, or sizing of the project. If you crochet too tightly, you’ll end up making a smaller gauge swatch than your project calls for. The remedy to this problem is simply solved by changing hook size or needle size if you’re knitting – or making a conscious effort to work looser stitches. I need to do this often because I crochet at different tensions depending on the time of day, or if I’m tired, stressed, relaxed, etc… My tension, unfortunately, isn’t always the same. Some lucky folks don’t have that problem, but at least I know my pitfalls so that I can switch hook sizes, work on my tension and do test swatches to check my gauge.

As an example, lets talk about the Simple Accidentally My Fav Super Slouch Hat pattern tutorial that I posted on my blog. When I want to make another one, I have my gauge scribbled down so that as I work the first couple of rows, I know what measurements I need to meet. The sizing on this hat may not fit everyone and might be giant on a lot of people thanks to the fact that I have a rather large cranium and I like my hats super slouchy. This is where knowing the person’s head circumference, checking gauge/tension and adjusting the number of rows, hook size/needle size and perhaps also stitch size, can help you achieve good results.

Ah-Ha! Did you catch that? I just added something else to think about when starting on a project! I have tweaked a lot of patterns by changing the number of rows and/or stitch to alter the finished look, feel and size of a project. I love doing this with hats because they are small projects to experiment with, plus, I’m all about instant gratification, baby!

And now, for something I think you’ll really like…info on hat sizing to help you come up with your own pattern! (Be for-warned, it involves “math”)

Said “math” starts with taking a head measurement. With your measuring tape and starting at the forehead, wrap it evenly around (front and back should be even, not one part lower than the other) your head or recipient’s head, and pull the tape snug. That measurement is the head circumference. The foundation circle diameter of the hat will now need to be calculated – take that circumference – let’s say 22 inches – and divide that by 3.14. That gives you 7.00636 – lets just shorten that to 7 inches so we don’t make ourselves crazy here. The foundation circle will need to measure 7 inches in diameter – measuring across the middle of the circle.

As you make the foundation circle larger, you’ll need to increase the number of stitches in each row until the desired diameter is achieved. You’ll also need to experiment with hook size, yarn and your tension in order to get the correct gauge – once you do that WRITE IT ALL DOWN. Yes, I’m yelling. I did that too and had to go back and figure out my gauge all over again prior to starting another hat – again, my screw up = hopefully helping you, or making you laugh.

In crochet, remember that the larger the stitch, the more stitches you’ll need in your first round. Rule of thumb for most basic crochet hats is 6 single crochet (sc), 8 half double crochet  (hdc) or 12 double crochet (dc) in the first round. Then, for subsequent increase rounds, you’ll add the same number increase evenly per round until you reach the needed diameter measurement. This should produce a flat circle. Think of something you could put on your kitchen table – something flat and round that you can set stuff on (perhaps a beginning project??) If you’re circle starts to get wavy/ruffled on the edges, you’re probably increasing too many stitches, and/or your first round started with too many stitches for the stitch size you’re using. If it’s already starting to curl under, you may have too few stitches.

For example, if you start with 12 dc in the first round like I did in my hat tutorial, your second round will be increased by 12 stiches = 24 total stitches; third round = 36 total stitches; fourth round = 48 total stitches and so on.  My hat pattern stops increasing at round 5, but you could go on and on adding increase rows if you want to use the circle for a different project (like maybe a rug, or the bottom portion of a market bag).

When you’ve reached the desired diameter, simply stop increasing rounds. The last increase round will be the same number of stitches until you reach the bottom of the hat. If your last increase round leaves you with 48 stitches, all following rounds should have 48 stitches until you reach the bottom of your hat. You can certainly decrease rounds toward the bottom if you want it to fit tighter around the head, or Sometimes at the bottom of a hat, instead of decreasing, I switch to a smaller hook and/or maybe go down in stitch size, like from dc to hdc or even sc for the last row or two – it’s your idea, your experiment and your pattern!

That’s it for now! I hope you found this article helpful and entertaining. I would love to see & hear about your experiences either with my hat tutorial, or what you did to come up with your own personalized hat! If you want more information about yarn, hooks, tension, gauge etc…check out the Crochet Yarn Counsel website at:  http://craftyarncouncil.com/ They also have lots of PDF documents you can print out and refer to as you craft your path!

Brynda

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