How does Knitting Needle Material Affect Gauge?

Posted by Knitters Pride on July 7th, 2022

Knitting Needle Gauge

In knitting, the gauge refers to the number of stitches per inch. This count depends on the yarn, the stitches, knitting needle size, the personal tension of the knitter and also the material of the needle.

Knitting a gauge swatch when beginning a new project is an essential step. While many knitters are guilty of avoiding this step, other knitters will guide you how this step is necessary for great knitting projects.

The most important reason for swatching is, of course, to make sure that your finished project turns out the right gauge and therefore size. If you are making a fitted garment, this is actually quite crucial. Knitting is both a time-consuming and expensive endeavor and no one wants to come to the end of a project and find out that the sweater you labored over in expensive, beautiful yarn is either too large or too small to wear. Talk about disappointing.

What is Gauge?

When a pattern gives instructions for knitting a swatch it will indicate a suggested size of needles to use and the phrase “or needle required to obtain gauge.” The pattern designer had a certain size of stitches and number of stitches per inch in mind when creating the pattern and this is called gauge. The same yarn knitted on a smaller needle will yield a smaller garment with smaller/tighter stitches. A larger needle will result in a larger garment with looser stitches. This means that you may need to go up or down a size of needle to get your swatch, and therefore project, to be the right gauge and turn out the right size. The swatch instructions will tell you what size working a certain number of stitches over a certain number of rows should yield. For example, my current project says: 22 stitches & 36 rows = 4 inch square. It is important to note that the swatch must be done in the stitch to be used in the project, in this case garter stitch.

But not everyone knits at the same gauge for a number of reasons. For example, I tend to knit a bit loose and usually I have to go down a needle size from the recommended size in order to obtain correct gauge. The technique used in knitting, combined with how much tension the knitter puts on the yarn, and the size of the needle all affect the gauge. But, did you know the kind of yarn and the material the knitting needles are made of can also affect gauge?

Knitting Needle Material and Fibers

Aluminum and steel needles are the smoothest needles. Plastic needles are almost as smooth as metal. Bamboo and wood needles, while appearing very smooth actually put a little more friction on yarn than the other materials.

Certain yarns, especially those with silk, cashmere, or alpaca tend to be more slippery in feel and slide through the fingers more easily when knitting. It is harder to keep good tension on these yarns while knitting. When combined with slippery needles such as metal ones, your knitting can end up looser than usual. In order to obtain the correct gauge with silky yarns you may need to go down a needle size or switch to bamboo or wood needles to help you keep control of the slippery yarn.

In contrast, other yarns, especially fuzzy wool yarns have more grabbing power. When knitted with bamboo or wooden needles, the resulting gauge may be tighter than desired. In that case, you would want to go up a needle size or switch to needles with less friction such as aluminum or steel.

Knitting a gauge swatch can help you determine the correct type of needle for your project in addition to the right size. Taking a half hour or so to knit the swatch can save you ripping back a project that is difficult to knit (or unhappily persevering instead of enjoying the knitting) because of incorrect type of needles, or worse yet, the project turning out the wrong size.

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Knitters Pride

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Knitters Pride
Joined: July 7th, 2022
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