It's all about that gauge, 'bout that gauge, no frogging! Yes, I totally have Meghan Trainor's "All about that Bass" on repeat in my head as I write this post. :)
If you have ever discussed a pattern with me, you know my first question is 'Did you check gauge?' Most often the response is silence and I know that the person pretty much bought the knit or crochet pattern, picked up her needles or hook and yarn and began with Row 1; skipping all the introductory information required to assist you in recreating that lovely item you simply HAD to make for yourself. And then, horror as little by little that cute sweater you intended to make for yourself is now a special project for your friend's 3 year-old daughter and you chalk the experience up to the pattern not being a very good pattern. #sadface
Many of us have been there. This post is plea to those that don't check gauge to 'please check gauge' and to those that are the gauge faithful, I'll attempt o provide a bit more information as to why, how, when we gauge.
First, let's talk about 'what is 'gauge' or in other parts of the world, 'tension''. The big picture answer is gauge/tension is an interplay of (1) yarn weight, (2) needle/hook size and (3) the way you yarn - are you a loosey-goosey 'yarnist' or tighty-whitey yarnist? (yes, yarnist is now a thing; the best way to discuss both knitters and crocheters without having to write both terms out each time) :-P
I guess it is due to my type A personality but I tend to yarn tightly so I always need to adjust for that when working patterns (and yes, I have had my fair share of gifting items intended for me to children! )
At the basic level gauge is about measurements. Everything comes down to stitches and rows. How many stitches and how many rows will it take to make X. Gauge tells you, if you want to make item X and you want to make item X as it looks in the picture then however you yarn, when you work y amount of stitches then those stitches combined must measure z inches or centimeters. You still with me, or did I lose you? In a pattern you'll see this:
Gauge: 20sts/12 rows = 4" (10cm) in st patt blocked
The above is code for: to get whatever item you are yarning to look like the one in the pattern photo; when you work 20 stitches those 20 stitches must measure 4" (10cm) and when you work 12 rows, those 12 rows should measure 4" (10cm). In "st patt" means in whatever stitch the designer has used for the item, (i.e. a hat using single crochet). And, 'blocked' *happy dance* one of my other favorite topics and will shall dig in deeper but for now I'll say that it means "finished" so in this example you'd need to make sure your "finished 4x4" square is 20 sts across and 12 rows. We all on the same page? Ok, good!
Blocking ~ or what I like to call 'finished' ~ is the application of steam or water to the worked yarn piece. Think of a fashion designer steam ironing garments ~ I think we have all seen this (Project Runway anyone?) Blocking, in its simplest definition allows the yarn to be its best self, exactly the way you want it to be. Blocking also gently cleanses the yarn after you’ve worked it into it's intended masterpiece (I mean, it’s been everywhere with you as you worked it!) Second, it helps to open the fibers and define your stitches (particularly for knitted items worked in pieces, blocking will assist in preventing the edges from rolling while seaming).
The use of water when blocking is called Wet Blocking. Which is like a little spa treatment for your finished piece. You'll want to use a gentle cleanser like Eucalan or Soak in a water temperature the yarn can withstand. I personally use the nonscented cleaners in tepid water. The water temperature information can be found on the yarn label.
If you will steam block, you will also check the yarn label to see whether or not the yarn likes heat:
Personally, if I want to steam block and the label indicates either warm or hot is acceptable, then I won't think twice about using my steamer. However, whether you wet block or steam block you'll also need non-rusting T-pins and blocking mats. (tip: if you have littles and they have the foam play pads, you can use those too but they shouldn't be the ones with the alphabet or any type of design as the color from the design can bleed onto your #yarnwear ~ the plain jane ones work just fine) Once you have pinned the item to measurements you will walk away from it for several hours, about 12 to 24 hours - this allows it to set.
So to sum up, the best way to gauge and set yourself up for #yarnwear success is to work the gauge square in the recommended st/row measurements, then block it. If it turns out your square is much smaller than specified then you may have to go up a needle/hook size or two and if loosey gossey is more your style you'll need to go down a hook or two. Yes, this may seem like too much work BEFORE you can even get to making the actual item. But I hate frogging more than a little extra work at the onset. Ha!
Here's to more Stitches & Sips!