Sometimes gauge just doesn’t work the way you planned

I started crocheting about two years ago. As with any new craft, I started small and made cowls, hats, scarves, and other accessories. A few weeks ago, I decided I wanted to make my first crochet garment and chose the Drops Summer Bliss Vest. This long, lacy vest has a Boho feel, and I really wanted to make something that I could wear over a tank top when I’m in Sedona for my residency at the Sedona Arts Colony in mid-July.

This is my story about my first attempt at making this vest (yup, it didn’t quite work out, so I’m making a second one). To get the most benefit out of this blog post, consider printing out the pattern and following along.

Swatching

First, I made a swatch so that I could check my gauge. Gauge, also known as tension, is the size of your stitches. When making a project, you want your stitches to be the same size as the ones in the pattern. A swatch should be worked in the same stitch pattern as indicated in your project pattern. So for this vest, the gauge is indicated as 16 dc = 4” so I needed to crochet a swatch all in double crochet.

As a newer crocheter, I have discovered that I tend to have a loose gauge. With other projects, I have found that I needed to go down one or even two hook sizes to get gauge. This pattern recommends using a hook size US7/4.5mm, so I started my swatch using a US6/G/4.00mm.

After working a few inches of my swatch in a 4.0mm hook, I measured the number of stitches over 4 inches, and got 13 ½. Since I needed 16 dc over 4 inches, which is more stitches and therefore smaller stitches, I switched to a smaller hook. Then I worked the next part of my swatch with a 3.75mm hook. It was still too big, as I got 15 sts over 4 inches. Then I switched to a 3.25mm hook at finally got the correct gauge.

For this project, I also decided I wanted to swatch the flower/star pattern to make sure I understood how to do it. This is a good idea to do if you’re trying a new stitch pattern or technique you haven’t done before (you can also determine if it’s tricky, fiddly, time consuming, and/or turns out the way you’d like before you invest the time into making the whole garment). I had never done a double treble crochet before, and this pattern calls for working two of these in one stitch. And, as this pattern is only charted, I wanted to make sure I could follow the chart. I chained a few extra stitches at the end of a row to get the correct number needed for the pattern repeat, and continued swatching with the flower/star pattern.

So, with the swatching done, I was ready to start my project. The only 3.25mm hook that I had was a bamboo hook, so I purchased a nice new metal ergonomic hook which I knew wouldn’t catch as easily on this yarn and would help prevent cramping in my hands when working a large project such as this.

 

Working the project

Before starting, I made sure that I had printed out the “American English” versus the “British English” version of this pattern, which was originally written in Norwegian (see tips below to understand the difference).

Then I reviewed the schematic to determine what size I needed to make. Note that some patterns include sizing information at the top of the pattern, some will include a schematic that shows an outline of the project with corresponding measurements, and some will include both. This schematic had some measurements in both centimeters and inches, but the most important measurement (the bust circumference) was only shown in centimeters (and if you look at the schematic on this pattern, it is at first confusing where this measurement is indicated. It’s the first measurement on the bottom of the diagram, which shows 43-44-50-54-62-66). Keeping in mind that the measurement indicated is the flat measurement, I doubled each centimeter number to get the total bust circumference. Then using an online metric conversion calculator, I determined that I needed to make the third size of the pattern, which is bust circumference 100cm/40 inches (the “XL” size).

Before I started, I circled all numbers that corresponded to the third size of the vest, and highlighted the sections that were specific to the XL size. Then I started my project, using my new ergonomic 3.25mm hook, and chained 225 stitches.

After working the first dc section (a total of 2 3/8”), I measured the width of the piece: 100cm/40 inches. This all seemed good, so I continued to the star/flower pattern. The sides were even, all seemed good again. I kept working the pattern, dividing for the right and left front sections and working the back. I was so excited when I was at the point where I could sew the shoulder seams together and try on my new vest.

The first snag was when I realized that the Front Sides were shorter than the Back. I had worked to the measurements indicated, but my row gauge must have been taller than the pattern gauge, which made the Back piece taller on the final few rows. This was an easy fix. I ripped back a few rows prior to the final rows, then reworked them so that the back ended up being the same height as the fronts.

 

Then I sewed the shoulder seams together and excitedly tried on my vest.

It

Was

Too

Small.

The vest barely wrapped around my chest. Adding ties wasn’t going to be enough to hold it closed. And it wasn’t just a little small. This vest is about 8 inches too small!

 

 

 

 

What went wrong?

Look back at the schematic- there are two rows of numbers across the bottom. The top row is the bust measurement, which is 50cm flat, or 100cm/40 inches in circumference. The bottom number is the hem measurement which is 60cm flat, or 120cm/47 inches in circumference. This pattern is written to decrease from the hips to the bust. So, can you see what happened? When I took my first measurement, I got 40 inches, which was the number stuck in my head as my bust circumference, so I thought all was fine. The difference between the hem measurement and bust circumference is 10cm flat, or 20 cm/8 inches. So my finished vest ended up being 8 inches too small around the bust.

But that’s not all. I did my gauge swatch and had the correct stitch count, so I should have actually had the correct measurement of 120cm/47 inches across the hem. Since I didn’t, that means my gauge had changed. Instead of getting the correct gauge of 4 dc per inch, I got 4.77 sts/inch (each row was 191 dc, divided by 40 inches). So that additional .77 stitches per inch ended up decreasing my width by 8 inches over the entire span of stitches.

 

Why did my gauge change?

I have two theories about this. Remember when I said that I bought a new metal ergonomic hook to use for the project, but I had done my gauge swatch with a bamboo hook? That was the first mistake. Even though the hooks are the same size, differences in manufacturing can affect hook size – in this case, the metal hook could be slightly smaller than the bamboo hook. In addition, using a metal tool vs. bamboo can affect your tension, as the material affects the slipperiness of the tool and therefore the ease of making stitches.

Also, as you may know from your own projects, your gauge can change from day to day based on many factors including your stress level and the conditions in which you are crafting (hot and humid making your hands sticky, vs. cold numbing fingers). I also know that I’ve been consciously trying to tighten my gauge, as I indicated above that I crochet loosely.

So, all of these factors had an influence on my final project gauge.

 

Lessons Learned:

  1. Do your gauge swatch in the exact same needle or hook you will use for your project.
  2. Write schematic measurements into the written pattern at applicable points, in your usual unit of measurement. This is so that you don’t rely on reading the measurement in metric if you are used to inches, and assume that your eye will pick out the correct measurements in a schematic.
  3. Measure often. Always measure at points in the project where there is shaping. And even when you work even, measure every few inches to make sure your gauge has remained consistent.

(See the bottom of this post for more tips!)

Lastly, realize that we all make mistakes. I was hesitant to share this crochet adventure with my students, much less write this blog post. As an “expert” in my field, I feel that I shouldn’t be making mistakes like this. But I reminded myself that even though I’m comfortable with reading knitting patterns and figuring out gauge in knitting, crochet is a newer craft for me and I’m going to make mistakes just like everyone else. And I realize that sharing my mistakes with you can only help you better understand all of the variables and intricacies of our chosen craft.

 

What’s next?

Because this vest is too small, I can’t fix it. If it were too big, I could sew side seams to make it smaller, then cut off the excess (I had to do this with my first knit sweater, which ended up being about 6 inches too big! Yup, I’ve learned a lot of lessons about gauge).

So, I am going to make a second vest. I ordered more yarn yesterday, and I still hope that I can make it in time for my trip to Sedona in three weeks (eep!). Luckily, crochet does seem to be faster than knitting, so I’m optimistic I can get it done in time.

As for my first vest, I’m checking to see if it will fit my niece. If not, then I will probably sell it. If you are interested in purchasing this vest, please email me. The final dimensions are 32″ around bust, 40″ around hips, and 31″ from shoulder seam to hem.

 

Share your story!

Do you have a story about a project you made that ended up being too big or too small? Please share here in the comments!

In next week’s blog post, I’ll talk in more detail about gauge: how to calculate your gauge, how to make a gauge swatch, and how hooks and needles can affect gauge.

 

Helpful Tips for YOUR Crochet Adventures:

  • Some crochet hook manufacturers use US numbers, some use letters, but all use mm. And depending on the manufacturer, one hook could be labeled a J, but another company labels the same hook an I. What’s most important is the actual mm size. Use that measurement when picking your hook size!
  • Crochet patterns written for the UK are different than the US: a British pattern will indicate a double crochet, which is actually single crochet in American patterns. See this website for more information.
  • Print your pattern and circle or highlight all the numbers (stitch counts, dimensions, etc.) within the body of the pattern that correspond to the size you’re making. (If you’re using a digital file you can use an app to highlight the text accordingly!) This way you won’t have to count each time or risk making an error in sizing.
  • Make sure to measure not just stitch gauge, but also row gauge – and then check your gauge against the schematic.

Update: This Gauge Story Has a Happy Ending!

I ended up giving this vest to my niece – doesn’t she look fabulous?!?