As we started the 'crochet-a-long' for The Crochet Sock Collection on Friday, I had some things to say about gauge and why it's important.
If you're a seasoned knitter or crocheter I'm sure you are already aware that you should always swatch before starting a project, but I'm sure there are a lot of you who don't. That's Ok, I won't judge, I am also guilty of going straight on in without doing a swatch myself every now and again. For some projects it really doesn't matter so much, shawls and blankets are a good example of that, but if your project needs to fit on your body, then you really really should. You know that saying 'a stitch in time saves nine'...if you've had to frog half (or more a sweater) you'll know it can be a lot more than nine.
The numbers that a pattern provides you with as gauge/tension are what the designer has based the whole of their pattern around. For me, these are the numbers that go on to my spreadsheet and all the other little boxes fill themselves up from there. They are the foundation of it all!
If your tension varies to mine, which it almost certainly will a little, crochet is like handwriting, we all have our own unique style and that may affect the number of stitches you get per cm, then if you blindly follow the yarn and hook recommendations you may find your finished item to be a completely different size and shape as it's intended to be. Which is why we're always banging on about making sure you check your gauge!
When working on a swatch, always use the stitch the pattern tells you to, the yarn you intend to use and the hook you are going to use, both the size and the material used for them will alter your tension. If the pattern says, work in the round, then work in the round, if it says work flat, then work flat. Basically just do everything exactly as you would when your working on the actual garment, that way the stitches in your swatch should match up perfectly to those on your finished piece. After you've made your swatch, wash and block it, let it dry then take your measurements.
I tend to do a swatch that is made up of exactly the number of stitches and rows as suggested for 10cm square, I'll take a measurement before blocking if it's more than 10cm then I know my tension is too loose and I'll need to go down a hook size, if it's correct or less than 10cm I'll block that swatch to 10cm square. For the most part the tension would have to be much much too tight for it not to stretch out to the desired size, so again it will be an obvious problem. Once the swatch has dried I have a good look at how it drapes and feels and looks. Just because it stretched all the way out to 10cm may not mean it I like the way it feels, it may be too tight and lack any give, or it may seem too dense still. If so I'll adjust my hook size accordingly and try again.
All this may seem like such a time consuming task, but I assure you it's much less time consuming than having to create a garment all over again because you missed this one step!
If you fancy joining along with CAL we have a facebook group over here, or we're using #thecrochetsockcal on instagram (you can follow me here).
The Crochet Sock Collection is available to purchase as a PDF download here and as a print copy here.