Have you ever wished you knew exactly what yarn to get in a rush order or trip to an LYS, that you could predict the finished drape and feel of your project, or (gasp) could skip gauge swatching? I have some tips and tricks on creating a gauge library to help you with all three of the objectives above. (Okay, you might not be able to skip gauge swatching; Tabetha Hedrick, SweetGeorgia’s guru of gauge, is watching me! But having a gauge library will make that step go by just a little quicker!)
Why Start a Gauge Library?
First off, what is a gauge library? A gauge library is a record of yarns, needle sizes, and the gauges they produce. Knitters and crocheters might use dozens or even hundreds of different yarns across hundreds of projects in a lifetime. Together, these are a goldmine of information that can inform future projects, and a gauge library is one way to harness that information.
To start a gauge library, all you need are projects or swatches and something to record important info on each one. I personally love a simple lined notebook and a pen, but a binder, note-taking app, or spreadsheet can also work well.
What Info to Include
A gauge library should include all the information you need to reproduce previous gauge results. This will vary from maker to maker. At a minimum, I would suggest recording the yarn, its weight and fibre content, the needle size you used for your project or swatch, and the gauge you achieved in that specific stitch pattern. For my knit gauge library, I record stockinette stitch gauge by default and will make a note for swatches in other stitch patterns.
For a more detailed gauge library, include specifics that may have impacted your finished gauge. These may include the yarn’s ply structure, needle material, whether your swatch was worked flat or in the round, and the density/drape of the finished piece. For more information on gauge swatching and potential info to add to your library, check out Tabetha Hedrick’s Mastering Gauge course on the School of SweetGeorgia.
How to Organize Your Gauge Library
Again, organizational preferences may vary widely between makers. As a designer, I find it most useful to organize by gauge so that I have a quick guide to yarns that I can plug into design formulas. For instance, I have a heading in my notebook for yarn/needle pairings that will give me 5 stitches per inch and record the information from the previous section underneath it. You may find it more useful to organize by yarn weight, needle size, or fibre content. If you use a certain yarn frequently, it may be helpful to have a section just for that yarn, and record your gauge results in different stitch patterns and needle sizes. (I use SweetGeorgia Tough Love Sock on a regular basis and track my results for that yarn closely.) Think through your own workflow and how you choose yarns; this will maximize the usefulness of your library for your personal process.
How to Use Your Gauge Library
Once you have your gauge information and have organized it to best suit your workflow, how do you use it?
When planning a project, have your gauge library handy. If you’ve chosen a pattern with a gauge of, say, seven stitches per inch, flip through it and look for yarns and needle sizes that gave you seven stitches per inch. You can then decide whether to plug in one of those exact yarns or use the information to guide a different substitution. If you have yarn in a certain weight and fibre content, check your gauge library to get an idea of the gauge range you can achieve with similar yarns; this will guide your choice of pattern. And if you’re designing your own pattern, a gauge library will help you decide on a yarn or estimate the finished size of a piece.
If you have a gauge library, can you actually skip gauge swatching? Yes… and no. On the one hand, if you have a record of the gauge you achieved using a certain yarn and needle size, it’s reasonable to assume future results will be similar. For example, I know SweetGeorgia Mohair Silk DK on a US 6 needle will give me 5 stitches per inch and a solid but drapey fabric, so I start with that assumption when a) planning a Mohair Silk DK project or b) planning a project at five stitches per inch. (In fact, I use Mohair Silk DK often enough that these details are now rote memory.)
However, numerous variables outside our control can impact gauge results, such as our mood (stress tends to produce a tighter gauge, while relaxation produces a looser gauge). So it may still be a good idea to swatch before a project, particularly for sweaters or other pieces that require a more precise fit. But your gauge library can still speed up the process by giving you a place to start, rather than haphazardly trying different needle sizes until you hit on the right one for your project.
Conclusion: Record Those Gauges!
While this article is a basic treatment of all the potential applications for a gauge library, I hope it’s inspired you to start one. Knowledge is power, and knowledge that is catalogued and easy to access is that much more powerful—especially when it comes to our knitting and crochet projects!
[Editor’s Note: A gauge library is a perfect place to store your gauge swatches as you make them, too, clipping them to the page. All just another way for me to encourage you to swatch…. <evil laugh>]