Crochet Gauge: What it is and why it matters

If you’ve ever crocheted anything, I’d wager you’ve fallen prey to an incorrect crochet gauge. At some point, you’ve spent hours crocheting a project that should be a specific size like a sweater or a beanie only to finish and find it’s too large or too small. What happened? Well… gauge happened.

So, what is crochet gauge and why does it matter? Why is this the answer to why a project turned out the wrong size?

Let’s dive into what crochet gauge even is, why it matters and some tips to help match the designers gauge for a pattern and keep your gauge throughout the project.

This image is a Pinterest pin. It has an image of two swatches at the top and below it, it reads "How to match crochet gauge and why it matters".

What is Crochet Gauge?

Before we talk about why gauge matters, we have to talk about what crochet gauge even is. To do that, we need to take one step back and talk about personal tension.

In crochet, your personal tension is simply how tight or loose you crochet. There is nothing wrong with being a crocheter who has tighter stitches or looser stitches. It’s just a simple matter of how you naturally crochet.

Let’s consider a square of 20 single crochet by 20 rows using a 5mm (H-8) hook and Medium (4) weight yarn. If you’re a tighter crocheter, your square will be smaller than someone who is a looser crocheter despite having the same number of stitches. If you’re a looser crocheter, your square will be larger than someone who is a tight crocheter.

Your tension is made up of a multitude of little things like how you hold your crochet hook, how you hold your working yarn, if you pull up on the stitches or if you cinch them down, if you rest your pointer finger on the neck of the hook… etc. Your personal tension is how you naturally move when crocheting.

So, how does personal tension relate to gauge?

Crochet gauge is essentially a measurement that shows the difference in the pattern designers personal tension compared to your personal tension.

When a designer lists the gauge of their crochet pattern, what they’re actually saying is: “This is my tension. You need to match it for this project to fit correctly”.

To ensure our projects fit as they’re intended to, we need to match our personal tension with the designers personal tension.

This is crochet gauge.

Does Crochet Gauge Matter? Why?

Now that we know what crochet gauge even is, you’re probably wondering if and why it matters. The short answer is yes. It almost always matters.

Gauge matters when it comes to almost every project because most projects we create as crocheters are intended to fit something or someone or be a specific size.

Notice I say “almost every”. There are some patterns where your gauge being off generally won’t hurt the project because either the size doesn’t matter or you can continue working rows or rounds until it’s your desired size. These would be things like dish cloths, shawls with simple repeat rows that you can add on to bring the size up, scarves where you don’t mind if it’s 62 inches instead of 60 inches long, etc.

Where gauge really matters is with wearables or projects that need to fit someone or something. These are things like sweaters and cardigans, intricate shawls that don’t have simple repeats, tops, beanies or hats, plant cozies or projects that are intended to fit into a hoop, like my Aura Wall Hanging.

In these cases, if you don’t match crochet gauge with the designer, your projects most likely will not fit properly. They’ll either be too big or too small. Nothing ruins the excitement of finishing a project only to realize that it’s totally wonky in size.

This is why gauge matters.

To ensure that your project is the size that is intended and the size that will fit properly, you must do a crochet gauge swatch – especially if the project is intended to fit someone.

What is a Crochet Gauge Swatch and How Do I Make One?

Designers typically list the gauge for the pattern in a 4 inch by 4 inch square of stitches. This is considered a gauge swatch.

Note: Sometimes it might be listed as a certain number of rows or rounds equals a certain measurement for patterns, especially patterns in the round.

In patterns, designers list the yarn they used (at least the weight, but usually also the brand and colorway) and the hook they used and the 4 inch by 4 inch gauge. The gauge is what matters most, here. The yarn weight matters, of course, but the hook is a recommendation based off of their personal tension. The hook size is what they used but not necessarily what you will need to use to match their tension.

How to make a crochet gauge swatch and measure it:

Let’s use a simple example for a gauge swatch. Let’s say the designer of your pattern says that the crochet gauge is 15 single crochet by 18 rows and this square when completed should measure 4 inches by 4 inches.

You’d likely see this written like this: “15 sc x 18 rows = 4 in x 4 in”.

This means that you’ll want to pick up the same weight of yarn and the same size of hook as the designer and create your own gauge swatch to see if your personal tension matches their personal tension.

To make your own gauge swatch, you’ll want to work more stitches than specified in the gauge instructions to ensure that you get a proper count. It’s more accurate to measure your stitches in the middle of a swatch than it is to measure from one side to the other. For this example, you’d likely want to work 25 or 30 stitches and 25 or 30 rows before measuring.

This gives you a margin of error to make sure that your gauge really does match the designers. Measuring the edges of the work can give an improper count.

From here, place a ruler or measuring tape parallel to the bottom of a row of stitches in the middle of your work and count how many stitches there are in 4 inches. This is your Stitch Gauge.

*A ruler will always be superior to a cloth measuring tape. Cloth measuring tapes can get a bit wonky, as you’ll see in the pictures below. I did, however, use a cloth measuring tape in these images because it shows up better in pictures than my ruler does and I want you to be able to accurately see what I am demonstrating.

This image shows a swatch of single crochet stitches with a cloth measuring tape set across it horizontally, or parallel to the stitches. This is demonstrating how to measure your crochet gauge for stitches.
The numbers on this cloth measuring tape can be seen much easier, but you can see how it’s not totally straight.
This image is the same as the previous, but it uses a ruler instead. The ruler is a clear teal color and doesn't show up as well in photos, but demonstrates how there is a much cleaner line.
See how much straighter the ruler is but how the numbers didn’t show up very clear in the picture. For the purposes of this post, the cloth measuring tape made more sense.

Then, place your ruler or measuring tape perpendicular to the stitches and count how many rows there are in 4 inches. This is your Row Gauge.

This image shows the crochet gauge swatch once more, this time with the cloth measuring tape set across it perpendicular to the stitches, or vertically to count the rows.
Don’t mind my curling edge there. Single crochets do that when they aren’t blocked.

Does your gauge approximately match what the designer listed in the gauge swatch? Yes? Great! You can now dive straight into the pattern.

Odds are, though, that your gauge won’t match the designers.

What if My Swatch Doesn’t Match the Crochet Gauge?

If your swatch doesn’t match the crochet gauge listed by the designer, you’ll need to change hook sizes to try to get your personal tension to match theirs.

If your gauge does not match the designers, it simply means that your personal tension doesn’t match theirs – and that’s okay! We just need to find a way to make our tension match the designers. This is where a different hook size comes in.

When we measured our gauge swatch, we measured both the Stitch Gauge and Row Gauge.

If your Stitch Gauge is off, it’s likely that your Row Gauge is off, too. Usually matching Stitch Gauge will help match Row Gauge, so let’s look at stitch gauge first.

If you have more stitches in 4 inches than the designer does:

Having more stitches inside of a 4 inch measurement than the designer does means that your personal tension is tighter than the designers is. You needed more stitches to fill the 4 inches than they did.

To fix this, use a larger hook size and create your swatch again. A larger hook size creates bigger stitches with more space, which means you’ll need less of them to reach 4 inches.

If your original swatch has significantly more stitches per 4 inches, go up 1 or 2 hook sizes. If your original swatch has slightly more stitches per 4 inches, jump up 1/2 of a size or 1 size.

For example: If your original swatch was made with a 4mm (G-6) hook, you’ll want to go up to a 5mm (H-8) or 5.5mm (I-9) if you had significantly more stitches. You’ll want to go up to a 4.5mm (G+) or 5mm (H-8) if you had slightly more stitches.

Rework the swatch with your new chosen hook size and measure again. If your gauge now approximately matches the designers, you’re good to work their pattern using the hook you used for this gauge swatch. If it doesn’t, you’ll want to try another hook.

If you have less stitches in 4 inches than the designer does:

Having less stitches inside of a 4 inch measurement than the designer does means that your personal tension is more loose than the designers is. You needed less stitches to fill the 4 inches than they did.

To fix this, use a smaller hook size and create your swatch again. A smaller hook size creates smaller stitches with less space, which means you’ll need more of them to reach 4 inches.

If your original swatch as significantly less stitches per 4 inches, go down 1 or 2 hook sizes. If your original swatch has slightly less stitches per 4 inches, go down 1/2 of a size or 1 size.

For example: If your original swatch was made with a 5mm (H-8) hook, you’ll want to go down to a 4mm (G-6) or 3.5mm (E-4) if you had significantly less stitches. You’ll want to go down to a 4.5mm (G+) or 4mm (G-6) if you had slightly less stitches.

Rework the swatch with your new chosen hook size and measure again. If your gauge now approximately matches the designers, you’re good to work their pattern using the hook you used for this gauge swatch. If it doesn’t, you’ll want to try another hook.

What if my Row Gauge is still off?

If your Row Gauge is off, even after matching Stitch Gauge, there are a couple of things you can try.

Option 1:

Sometimes, going to a half size crochet hook can fix the Row Gauge without losing your Stitch Gauge. So, for example, if a 4mm (G-6) worked for Stitch Gauge but doesn’t work for Row Gauge, a 4.5mm (G+) might work.

This is absolutely not a perfect science and you do have to be careful with this because, of course, going up a half a hook size definitely can alter your Stitch Gauge as you get comfortable working the pattern.

Option 2:

Check to see whether the designer included a note about Row Gauge. Some designers will state whether or not Stitch Gauge or Row Gauge matters more. Sometimes, you can fix Row Gauge by simply working additional rows or removing rows until the project reaches the height or length required. When in doubt, ask the designer! We are happy to help.

Option 3:

If Row Gauge is crucial to the pattern or if the designer did not include a note about it and you can’t decide if you can just add or remove rows without making the project wonky, you’ll want to look into how you finish each stitch.

When you create your gauge swatch, pay attention to how you finish stitches. Do you cinch them tight before creating the next stitch? Do you pull the last loop up before pulling through the loops on your hook? This affects your Row Gauge.

If you have more rows in 4 inches than the designer does, you’ll want to pull your stitches tighter to help bring the Row Gauge down. This means pulling the first loop of the stitch tighter than you usually do.

If you have less rows in 4 inches than the designer does, you’ll want to pull the loops of your stitches up a little bit to create room and height in the stitches to help bring your Row Gauge up. This means pulling the first loop of the stitch up a little more than you usually do.

This can be difficult to get used to as it almost completely changes the way you naturally crochet for one project. If you need to pull the stitches tighter or pull the loops up to keep them more loose, remember that you’ll need to do that for each stitch in the entire project.

Unfortunately, there just isn’t an easy “change hook size!” answer for Row Gauge and it’s something you’ll have to actively pay attention to for the entire project.

Do I Really Need to Make All These Gauge Swatches?

Yep. Trust me, it’s better to spend the time making gauge swatches to match the tension of the designer than it is to crochet an entire project only to find out that it’s so small it can fit your big toe or so large it be used as a tent.

It’s not like I’ve totally not done a gauge swatch and then been offended that my sweater was way too small. I don’t have any idea what you’re talking about! 😉

This image shows two gauge swatches side by side. The swatch on the left was made with a 4mm hook and the swatch on the right was made with a 5mm hook. The swatch on the right is far larger than the swatch on the left.

Check out the difference between these two swatches. I crocheted these swatches one after the other using the same yarn and same stitches. Both have 20 single crochet and 20 rows.

The swatch on the left was made with a 4mm (G-6) hook. The swatch on the right was made with a 5mm (H-8) hook.

Notice how much larger the swatch on the right is compared to the swatch on the left. This is only 1 hook size difference (not counting 1 half hook size, the 4.5mm (G+)).

There’s quite a difference in size between these swatches by going up only 1 hook size. Imagine if I was following a pattern that said I needed to fit the size of the swatch on the right with a 4mm (G-6).

If I didn’t do this gauge swatch and I didn’t realize that my swatch would be much smaller than needed, the project I would be making absolutely would not fit. It would be way too small.

A Note About Matching Gauge and Your Yarn Choice

If you use a different yarn than the one the designer listed, it’ll likely be harder to match gauge than if you used the same yarn.

This is because not all yarn of the same weight are exactly the same thickness.

You’ll see this the most with Medium (4) weight yarn but all yarn weights are like this.

Some Medium weights can be very thick and some would almost be considered a DK (Light – 3). Just something to keep in mind if you decide to use a different yarn brand than the designer did.

You may have to play around with your gauge swatch more than you would if you use the same yarn as the designer.

What Else is a Crochet Gauge Swatch Good For?

The most useful thing about a crochet gauge swatch is absolutely that your project will fit properly. But you might be wondering what else you can use that little square of yarn for instead of getting rid of it.

I’ll be honest here and say that I usually don’t cut the yarn of my gauge swatch. I’ll unravel it and use it for the actual project if I’ve used the yarn before and I know how it behaves after being washed and blocked.

These little squares created from our gauge swatches are fantastic for testing how the yarn will behave in the wash. Of course, you’ll want to follow the washing instructions on the label of the yarn, but you’ll be able to test how the yarn stands up to washing, if the colors bleed or fade, if it felts after washing, if it stretches, etc.

Some Tips and Experiences with Crochet Gauge
(Because gauge isn’t a perfect science)

A few weeks ago, I reached out to crocheters through my newsletter and asked what questions they had about gauge and any thoughts, experiences and tips they might have.

The thing about writing a blog and being an experienced crocheter is sometimes we forget simple questions we had when we were learning. It happens to everyone of every hobby or expertise. It’s simply really easy to focus more on technicalities or “big picture” and forget the questions or experiences one might have when they’re a beginner.

Most of the questions crocheters had I was able to answer in depth in the information above. But, there are a few gauge experiences that these crocheters (and myself!) have had that I think are important to note.

Crochet isn’t a perfect science and neither is gauge.

Crochet has a ton of technicalities and things you “should” or “shouldn’t” do properly but it absolutely isn’t a perfect science. We won’t be able to match each others gauge perfectly to the smallest denomination and it’s important to understand that.

That’s why in my tips for how to create a crochet gauge swatch and how to match a designers gauge, I’ve included the word “approximately”.

It’s important to keep in mind that any handmade item is never going to be 100%, absolutely “perfect”. You may have at least a small difference in size compared to what the pattern designer specified but if you did your best to match the designers crochet gauge, then your finished project should be approximately the size you set out to make.

It’s up to you to decide how much size difference matters to you and if it’s worth it to make several crochet gauge swatches and possibly slightly alter how you naturally crochet for a pattern.

If it’s not worth it to try to match gauge for something that needs to fit and you’re unwilling to possibly make several gauge swatches to find the hook that makes your tension match the designers the best, then the pattern probably isn’t for you.

And that’s totally okay.

Your tension absolutely can change as you become comfortable with a pattern.

Yep, this is me raising my hand! I’ve been here and so have so many others.

Let me tell you a story about a super cute summer hoodie pattern my lovely designer friend released. The second I saw it, I knew I HAD to make it. I ordered the yarn and impatiently waited for it to arrive so I could make my hoodie.

Then came the dreaded gauge swatch. I am a naturally tight crocheter and my lovely friend is a loose crocheter. It took me probably 7 gauge swatches to finally match her gauge. I had to go up 3 hook sizes from her hook to match.

Well, now that I had the gauge right, I was off making. I spent hours making this hoodie in gorgeous cream and golden yellow. I absolutely could not wait to finish off this hoodie and wear it immediately. I crocheted into the night to finish it.

Hot of the hook, I hold my hoodie out with excitement to my husband. “Look at it! Isn’t it amazing?!” My husband’s response was: “Um… are you sure you made the right size?” To investigate what he meant, I put the hoodie on.

It was HUGE at the bottom. The shoulders and bust were totally fine, but the hip portion of the hoodie was massive. Not only was it way too long but it was also so wide that I’d have to gather it in a big knot to make it look like I wasn’t wearing a tent.

So, what happened? Why did the hoodie fit perfectly in the shoulders and bust, but not in the hips?

I became comfortable while crocheting. I got so comfy making this pattern that I totally lost my gauge and it steadily became more and more loose. Hours that I had put into this hoodie were gone.

I am absolutely not the only person this has happened to.

What do we do to help this not happen?

When you’re crocheting big projects and you want to avoid the tent-hoodie situation that I had, you’ll want to pay attention to your personal tension throughout the project.

This means setting the project down flat and measuring it often. Don’t wait until you’re three quarters of the way through to check. If you lay the project flat and your measurements are still where they need to be, keep going.

If they aren’t, your tension is changing and you’ll want to refocus. This likely means just paying a little more attention to the stitches as you crochet but it can also mean doing another gauge swatch to sort of reset your tension.

You might think it adds extra work to your project and… yeah, it does. But if your tension goes wonky in the middle, you’ll be thanking yourself for taking the few minutes to check and correct your tension before finishing a project that is so large or so small that it is unusable.

Your personal tension is totally, completely okay.

We’ve talked a lot about personal tension in this blog post and what it has to do with crochet gauge. I also had a few crocheters reach out and ask if being a tight crocheter was a bad thing. I’m here to stomp out any insecurities we have about our own personal tension.

The 100% answer is: Your personal gauge is totally, completely okay. Whether you are a crocheter that tends to have tighter stitches (like me!) or a crocheter that tends to have looser stitches, it’s okay.

That’s what personal tension is all about! We are all as different as we are lovely and it would be a shame to think that we should be worried about what our personal tension is.

I know it can be difficult not to compare ourselves with designers, especially when we’re trying to match their gauge for a pattern. As frustrating as trying to match someone else’s gauge can be, please remember that your personal gauge is special to you and their personal gauge is special to them.

There’s no need to actively try to change your personal tension UNLESS your personal tension is making it difficult for you to enjoy the hobby.

If your tension is so tight that you’re fighting to get your hook into stitches you’ve worked, you might want to work on that. I know how frustrating that can be because I struggled with this when I was new to crochet, too.

You can try to focus on pulling the loops of your stitches up a little bit which should help loosen them. You can also try holding the hook a little further back which should give you a wider range of motion which will naturally help your stitches loosen. I did both of these and I was able to loosen my tension enough that I wasn’t fighting to crochet. I am definitely still a tight crocheter compared to others, though.

If you are a very loose crocheter and you struggle to find the tops of stitches to work into or you find that you struggle to match row gauge often because your stitches are too tall, you can focus on tightening your stitches some.

Keep in mind that crochet stitches will not unravel themselves regardless of how loose your tension or a stitch is unless the yarn is actually cut and not secured.

You can try to focus on pulling your stitches tighter a little bit which will help tighten them, just like we talked about with row gauge.

Practice Makes “Perfect”

I know, I know! No one likes the “practice makes perfect” cliché but it is absolutely a true statement. As with any hobby or career in the world, we all start at the beginning and we only get better the more we practice.

The more you do gauge swatches, the easier they’ll be and the more you’ll be able to guestimate how many hook sizes to go up or down if your gauge is off.

The more you crochet, the more consistent your personal tension will be.

Practice makes “perfect”.


This image is a pinterest pin for this blog post.

That’s it for Crochet Gauge!

For now, anyway! Do you have any tips or experiences regarding gauge or tension? Do you have any questions this post didn’t answer? Let me know! I’m happy to continue adding to this post as necessary so that it helps as many crocheters as possible.

In the meantime, you can join my newsletter or my Facebook Group to stay up-to-date with all things on this blog, like crochet patterns, tips and tricks, stitch tutorials and events.

Thanks for hanging out with me today!

2 Comments

  1. Thanks Shannon. That was a great post. Even being an experienced crocheter, we can always learn something and you put everything so clearly into perspective. I like the tip on measuring the swatch in the middle and doing extra rows and stitches to enable that. It’s great to understand the technicalities. Thank you.

    1. Hi Michelle!

      Thank you so much for your comment! I’m so glad you found the information to be useful and that you found something new. I totally agree with you, even being an experienced crocheter there’s always something new to learn. I learned so much by receiving the questions that I received for this post. Thank you again for your kind words. 🙂

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