The second step is to get the exact gauge called for in the pattern.
To get the exact gauge called for in the pattern you need to look at how many stitches per inch there are in the pattern gauge. Then look at the label on the yarn you are planning to use. Most yarn labels will tell you stitches per inch. Are the pattern gauge and yarn gauge close? If so, then the yarn will work for your pattern although you may still have to adjust your needle size.
This is where swatching comes in. In order to accurately measure your gauge you must make a large enough swatch with the exact needles you will be using for your project. If you will be knitting in the round you will need to swatch in the round. This is because knitting in the round is tighter than knitting flat.
The importance of gauge can't be stressed enough! Because a tiny difference in your stitch gauge will make a HUGE difference in the finished size of your sweater.
200 stitches knitted at 5 stitches to the inch will be 40 inches around
200 stitches knitted at 4 1/2 stitches to the inch will be 44 in. around.
200 stitches knitted at 4 stitches to the inch will be 50 in. around.
The mathematical equation used to find the finished measurement of the sweater is as follows:
Number of stitches cast on divided by stitches per inch = finished measurement
(200 divided by 5 = 40)
To measure gauge on your swatch:
First, steam or wash the swatch as you would the finished garment. This is important because yarn can bloom or shrink!
Once the swatch is dry, lay it flat without stretching.
Use a gauge check tool or a good ruler and lay it on your swatch lining up row and columns of stitches.
Then count how many stitches there are in a full 4". Be sure to count quarter and half stitches as even an eighth of a stitch will make a difference in the size of your finished sweater.
If your gauge is looser (too few stitches per inch) work another swatch with a smaller needle.
If your gauge is tighter (too many stitches per inch) work another swatch with a larger needle.
Repeat this process until you get the gauge called for in the pattern.
Swatching and measuring gauge is so important and the time spent checking gauge is never wasted. What is a waste is knitting a sweater that doesn't fit and then never wearing it.
Always take the time to swatch and measure gauge! You won't regret it!
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