FREE Knitting Patterns, Tutorials, Magazine

How to create gauge that works for your pattern


Imagine: you go into your LYS and you have a pattern in mind. It calls for Baby Hugs in Medium, and when you get there, you see the most stunning color. You pick it up and curse your bad luck because it’s in Baby Hugs Light. The same color isn’t available in the Medium — it’s sold out because it’s the most popular color! What are you going to do?


Baby Hugs Light yarn in the colors Pinkie and Frosting being knit in the round on double pointed needles
Baby Hugs Light yarn in the colors Pinkie and Frosting being knit in the round on double pointed needles


A lot of knitters would put that skein back on the shelf or buy it to use on another pattern, but today we’re going to go over one of the skills needed to substitute a different yarn weight in a pattern. There are several ways to do this, but we’re going to look at one of the easiest; changing needle size.

I’ll put a disclaimer here: always verify your fiber choice! Just because you can make socks out of fun fur, doesn’t mean that you should. Ensure that if you’re making an item that will get a lot of wear and tear, the fiber will hold up. Alpaca might feel luxurious, but 100% alpaca socks aren’t going to last long. In the same vein, make sure the washing instructions are going to fit in with your lifestyle. If you never have the time to hand-wash, make sure you are either producing a garment that doesn’t require a lot of washing or you’re prepared to commit to washing that garment every time you wear it!


A pyramid of Red Heart's Baby Hugs Medium and Light yarn in 9 of the 18 available colors.
Make your fiber choice the right one for your lifestyle!


Let’s go over the needle difference first, because that’s going to be the easiest way out of changing your pattern or yarn. Check your pattern gauge; there will be a needle size, along with a gauge that will make a square 4″ x 4″. This is the gauge you want to get with your yarn and needles. For the sake of this example, let’s say you want to get 20 stitches to 4″.

Take the recommended needle size for that yarn and make a swatch. No cutting corners either, you need to make that swatch at least 4″ x 4″, this does not count borders. This isn’t a beauty contest, we just need to know what the gauge is going to be. If you don’t get 4″ with 20 stitches right on, adjust your needle size up or down until you have it.


A swatch in Red Heart's Baby Hug yarn in Lilac. It has no borders -- it's just stockinette stitch
One 4″ X 4″ swatch in Baby Hug yarn in Lilac. This swatch was knit with the recommended needle size of 9 US [5.5mm] needle.


If you’re not sure if you should go up a needle size or down a needle size, just remember that the needles control the size of the space in-between your yarn. If you go up a lot, you’re going to have a breezy garment, if you go down a lot, it’s going to be very warm and dense. Once you’ve arrived at the right needle size and your gauge is right on, see if you like the fabric. Imagine your whole garment being made like this swatch. Have you gone down so many needle sizes that the sweater would stand on its own like a lampshade, or have you gone up so many sizes that you would be able to see right through it?


Two swatches displaying the difference between going up a needle size and going down a needle size with Red Heart Baby Hug Medium
The top swatch was knit with an 11 US [8mm] needle, can you see how much larger it looks from the picture above? The bottom swatch is knit with a 5 US [3.75mm] needle, there is barely any space between the stitches.


When you’re substituting a yarn that’s close to the pattern yarn (say the pattern calls for DK, and you have a worsted yarn) changing needle sizes offers a great chance for success without a lot of re-calculating.

If you’re not happy with the fabric, you can do the math. If you’re picking a drastically different yarn weight, for example if you’re going from a Medium to a Super Fine, that’s something you’ll have to figure out with a calculator. The most important thing when you’re going through this process is that you be 100% happy with your finished object. When you can pair your perfect yarn with your perfect pattern, it’s a recipe for knitting ambrosia.


This is part 4 of 5 in this series.
Go back to part 3: Knit the best wrister pattern EVER!

Go to part 5: A boring hat? Never again with this easy knitting pattern

About Michelle Nguyen

Michelle Nguyen is founder and creative director of Stitch Please Yarns. She originally got into the fiber arts business writing about knitting at her blog Stitches be Slippin, and now, also writes for


  1. Gill Rees

    I have been given some beautiful super chunky yarn. I have an Aran pattern that I would like to follow using this super chunky yarn. Any help to do this would be greatly appreciated .

    • Hello Gill! What kind of garment is the aran pattern for?

  2. Kari

    I do not see how you discussed changeing from a yarn such as a worsted to say a DK. You discuss needle size as one way but you do not say how to figure out the increased or decreased number of stitches necessary to use the smaller yarn size to make the same garmet come out correctly .

    There is a way to figure out the new number of stitches to cast on and so forth to get the same garmet with the smaller yarn.

    • Hello Kari, there is a way to change out the yarn and have the pattern come out the size you want it, but it involves a lot of math. When you’re making smaller pattern adjustments you will be able to tell if your adjustments are going to work because of your swatch. You make sure the needles and amount of stitches cast on with the yarn you are currently knitting with match the recommended watch size on the pattern. This is a quick and dirty way to sub in a different size yarn to a pattern. Always knit and measure a swatch and it will show you the way!! :D

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *.

It may take up to 24 hours for your comment to appear above.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.