A Beginner's Guide to Blanket Gauge
Far and away the commonest query I receive from people making up one of our blankets relates to gauge. So what do I mean by that? Gauge refers to the sizing achieved by the person writing the pattern – in other words, me – when they made up the original sample blanket. So in the Size and Gauge section of any of our crochet blanket pattern you’ll see a reference to the gauge – usually expressed as a number of stitches (and rows, if relevant) to 10cm or 4 inches, using the stated hook size and yarn.
Yeah, I know. You’re in a rush to get started and it’s so tempting to glide past the ‘technical stuff‘ and just reach for your hook. Been there more times than I care to remember! But if you’re expecting your blanket to turn out the same size as the one in the pattern, you have to match the pattern gauge, or compensate for the fact that your tension is different. So often people send messages saying they’ve done the required number of stitches, but their blanket is nowhere near the same size – often smaller (and there’s a reason for that, which I’ll get to in a moment).
What do I mean by someone’s tension? Your tension is how tightly or loosely you crochet, a combination of how you grip your hook and hold your yarn as it feeds into the stitches. If your tension is tight, your stitches and rows/rounds will be smaller and the fabric more dense. If your tension is loose, your stitches and rows will be bigger and more ‘gappy’. Neither one is intrinsically better than the other, but it will affect the measurements of your crochet. It’s not uncommon for people to have tension so different that their finished blanket is a third or more smaller than the stated dimensions on the pattern.
Does it really matter if your tension is different to the gauge? Well, yes and no. The beauty of crochet blankets is that they are, well, blankets, and so long as you’re crocheting evenly it’s not a huge issue if it turns out a little smaller or larger – unless it’s destined to cover a bed. Differing tension usually only matters in terms of how much yarn you use. If you’ve bought a kit, or the amount of yarn suggested in the pattern, and your gauge differs wildly from the one stated, you may not have enough to finish the project.
So what can you do if your gauge is different? I’m a relatively experienced and ‘looser' crocheter, so more often than not I receive messages from people who find their blanket is working out a good deal smaller than mine. This is a particularly common issue for people who are new to crochet – we tend to hold the hook and yarn more tightly when we’re not familiar with the movements we’re making; as you progress, you may find your tension relaxes. Your crochet tension can even change with your mood, or if you put a project down for a long time then go back to it, or even if you choose a different style of hook to the one you'd been using before.
There are two ways you can tackle tight tension. Well, three. You can consciously try to relax as you crochet and form bigger stitches, but that can be hard to maintain if you naturally crochet more tightly. So the second thing you could do is go with your own tension and adapt the pattern, adding more stitches to the foundation chain, for instance – most of our patterns mention the number of stitches in a repeat, to make this easier to work out - or adding more squares or rounds. Bear in mind though that adding stitches/rounds to a pattern will mean you use more yarn, and you may not have enough in your kit or stash.
The best and often easiest solution is to change your hook size until your gauge matches the one in the pattern, and that might mean going up (or down) several hook sizes. My sample crocheter is working on the sample for the upcoming Autumn Woodland kit, and she’s had to go up to a 5mm hook to work the blanket to the same dimensions as I get with a 4mm hook.
The standard advice is to work a sample square and measure your gauge, going up one hook size each time until you match the pattern gauge. Yeah, I know that’s a pain, but it’s the only way to ensure you get the right dimensions with the amount of yarn stated. Also, if you crochet tightly, you may find you end up with a fabric that is too dense and stiff and doesn’t drape very well – great for amigurumi (crochet animals and toys), but less desirable for something you want to be soft and snuggly.
A final word of advice – blankets are large projects, and as mentioned before, your tension can change over the course of making one. When I was creating the blue Campervan sample (above), I got about two-thirds of the way through before I realised my tension had radically altered, and my blanket was turning into more of a wonky trapezoid than a rectangle. Campervan crash!
Reader, I had to rip back and recrochet the whole darn thing. The moral of the story is check your work regularly – lay your blanket out on a clean floor or table, and make sure the sides are vertical and your rows nice and even. You have been warned!