The Case of the Mystery Gauge Swatch

Thank you everyone for your well wishes in my last post. Colton is pretty much back to normal but the rest of us are struggling. And it always makes the weekends hard when one child isn’t sick but the rest of us are. Colton was pretty bored and impatient with us, especially given that we had some periods of sunshine. We managed to get outside a little bit on both days for his sake, but those trips took a lot out of me!

And THANK YOU to everyone who offered to help me figure out the gauge issues with my Junction sweater. There were so many kind offers to help, as I knew there would be. I love knowing that I have so much support and kindness in my life! AND there are two things about me that nearly everyone in my life has told me at some point: 1) I am extremely stubborn; and 2) I learn things the hard way. So I still have the patience to make about a bajillion more mistakes until I’m ready to ask for help!

This gauge issue has turned into a conundrum for me. My original swatch and my finished garment were vastly different. Today’s post unravels the mystery and leaves me with a dilemma that I would love to hear opinions about. So I hope you’ve had your Monday morning coffee and are ready for a little story!

After Colton got on the bus on Friday morning, we did the basics for school (reading, writing, and math) and then curled up on the couch for a day full of movies. We all felt so rotten that I only needed to get up to get everyone medicine, refill water bottles, and to keep snacks available. That was the first (and last) day that I was able to do that for my own illness and it helped to keep things basic. Knowing that Colton was safe. busy, and happy makes such a big difference!

While on the couch I thought about my gauge issue. A lot. My original swatch was 22 st = 4″. The swatch I measured on my finished sweater was 18 st = 4″. How could they be so different?

So I thought and thought and thought back to starting it in October. What in the world could have happened? And then it dawned on me.

The pattern calls for size 3 needles for the ribbing so I ordered an extra set of tips (I’m using my original 3s on my Inclinations Cowl). I remember thinking that I couldn’t start until the new tips arrived. I was so excited the day they came in the mail that I cast on my swatch right away. Is it possible that I used the size 3 needle tips to swatch and not the called-for 5s?

It occurred to me that I’d only need to make one swatch to figure that out. If I knit up a swatch with a 4, then my gauge should fall somewhere in the middle of the two swatches I already had. (that’s logical, right?) So I did. And wouldn’t you know it? I got 20 stitches = 4″ — as predicted. I think it’s safe to say that I knit the original swatch with size 3 needles.

Left = original swatch; 22 stitches =4″ | Right = new swatch; 20 stitches = 4″

In summary:
Finished garment (using size 5): 18″ = 4″
Second swatch (using size 4): 20″ = 4″
First swatch (assuming size 3): 22″ = 4″

So my original swatch was closest in gauge, but I used the wrong needles to knit the entire sweater! These are the careless mistakes that happen when your life is a constant hum of chaos. 0% recommend.

Mystery Solved?

I can simply adjust my needle sizes and reknit this garment and I think it will fit just fine. HOWEVER.

Juliann sent me the link to this video and it has me rethinking this plan. According to these calculations, I can use my size 5 needles and knit the sweater two sizes smaller and it will fit me thanks to the larger gauge. The biggest benefit to doing this is that I’ll cast on fewer stitches and it shouldn’t take me as long to reknit this sweater, which is a major consideration for me. And I was plenty happy with the fabric I created with the larger needles, so I’m not worried about that with the finished garment.

The downsides that I can think of are: 1) Sweaters are designed at a particular gauge for a reason and I’m not sure how the appearance would change; and 2) I don’t always trust my own math and this could be another big mistake. But of course, the second downside isn’t a true consideration for me because of my theme song*:

🎶 And bad mistakes,
I’ve made a few 🎶

I am so tempted to try this smaller size and see how it fits. I can always rip it out again if it’s way too small and then knit at the appropriate gauge. What am I missing?

What would you do?? Knit at the appropriate gauge with the smaller needles OR knit the smaller size? I’d love to hear everyone’s opinions! Thank you in advance!

Thank you all for your patience with me last week because it was a hard one. I think Bronwyn and Bryce are at the worst points of this particular illness, so I expect we might do a little reading aloud from our chapter book and our history book and then consider the school day complete.

I think today is the first day of spring in the northern hemisphere? I hope many of you find a way to enjoy it! I’m planning to be back on Wednesday with a reading update. Until then – take good care.

*I must add that knitting is the perfect hobby for people who learn by making mistakes (like me). The consequences are minimal: you can almost always just rip out your project and start over. That’s not the case with sewing or quilting, which involves cutting fabric into smaller pieces until – poof! – there is no more. Yarn can be used again and again and again with very few issues. It’s amazing!


22 thoughts on “The Case of the Mystery Gauge Swatch

Add yours

  1. You are one of the most peaceful human beings I have ever encountered on this site, you have this way of writing that sounds like you are talking to the reader while knitting, it is very unique and beautiful and calming. Thank you for this.


  2. This makes so much sense as an explanation as to why the sweater was so much bigger than expected! As to what needle size to use, I think you need to decide that based upon your preference for the fabric. If you were happy with the fabric you were getting on the larger needles and it didn’t seem too loose to you, then I say go for that gauge. It will certainly be faster to knit version 2 of the sweater, and you will use less yarn. Knitting at the smaller gauge will result in more durable fabric, but it will also likely take you longer to complete. I know there is the concern about “sweaters are knit at a particular gauge for a reason,” but you also have to remember that designers are just people who have their own preferences, and I think Andrea Mowry has a preference for denser fabric, so she tends to specify a tighter gauge. The good news here is that you know what gauge you get with three needle sizes, so you have several options, and you can likely make them all work.

    I hope today sees you all feeling a little better!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m sorry you are all sick! It’s the hardest thing as a parent, having to take care of sick children while you are also sick. I hope you are better soon. As for the sweater, I agree with the other Sarah. I almost never get gauge in a pattern using the suggested needle size. I’ve done what you are proposing several times, knit a different size with the intention of it coming out larger/smaller. I’ve even done math to figure this out! Whatever swatch you think looks the best (not to tight or too loose), go with that one and then pick the size accordingly.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much, Sarah. I’m so glad to read that you’ve had success with knitting a sweater at a different gauge. It gives me courage to proceed!


  4. I am nodding along with Sarah’s comments. My first thought was what fabric do you like best…which Sarah so brilliantly points out. If you like the fabric you knit, then knit the smaller size… a win-win if ever! XO

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I have definitely knit sweaters with the “wrong” gauge because I preferred the fabric. Recently knit the Deschain and I didn’t want the open fabric. Very happy with my decision.


  6. well ugh about the sickness … and glad you figured out the gauge mystery! if it helps, I often use the numbers for a different size if my gauge is different – NOTE that you also need to look at rows … a smaller size will usually mean fewer rows in the all-important yoke – be sure YOUR row gauge will work with that number of rows (often it does, but do check!) Rest up and feel better (to everyone!)


    1. Thank you for reminding me to think about the row gauge. I’ve decided to go with my most recent swatch, size 4 needles, and it hit the row gauge PERFECTLY. I think this might work out??!


  7. I have made similar mistakes sometimes part way through a project I’ll have picked up a wrong needle and then wondered what was occurring. First day of Spring for me too, it’s raining! Sorry you were all under the weather, hope you make speedy recoveries.


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