Knitting Patterns Affect Gauge And Size

comparing dimensions of basic stitch patterns

I’m always amazed that a knit fabric is simply made of two basic stitches, knit and purl. Stitch patterns are different combinations of knit and purl stitches, and there are numerous ways of combining them to make knit fabrics. The addition of various techniques and tools, combined with knit and purl stitches form other patterns like lace and cables. Gauge is the number of stitches and rows per inch of fabric, and is determined by the size of the stitches. Factors affecting gauge include a knitter’s style, yarn, needle size and the pattern stitch. This post compares the most basic stitch patterns, and the important information that this comparison reveals.

Basic Pattern Stitches

Garter Stitch (g st)

Knit fabric made in garter stitch is dense and lies flat. It looks the same on both sides. Garter stitch takes more rows to knit an inch of fabric than for stockinette stitch or single rib. Every row is knit.

Cast on any number of stitches

Row 1: knit to end

Repeat this row for pattern.

If you purl every row instead of knitting each row, the appearance is the same, but the knit stitch is preferred. Even though knit stitches form a “V”, it’s weird that when you knit every row in garter stitch, the ridges look like purl stitches.

Stockinette or Stocking Stitch (st st)

This basic pattern is worked by alternating rows of knit and purl stitches. The knit side forms the right side of the fabric, and the purl side is the wrong side. Stockinette stitch fabric is smooth, but the edges tend to curl up towards the knit side. Sometimes the purl side is designated as the right side of the fabric, and is known as reverse stockinette stitch. To make stockinette, knit the first row and following right side rows; purl the second row and following wrong side rows.

Cast on any number of stitches

Row 1(RS): knit (k)

Row 2 (WS): purl (p)

Repeat these 2 rows for pattern.

Single Rib (k1, p1)

Single rib fabric is reversible, very stretchy and lies flat. For these reasons, it’s a great choice for edges or borders. Single or knit one, purl one rib is the simplest of rib patterns, and there are many other combinations of knit and purl stitches to form ribbed fabrics, such as [k2, p4] or [k3, p3]. Because this fabric draws in, there are more stitches horizontally per inch of fabric. The knit stitches in any ribbed fabric are lined up over each other, as are the purl stitches, forming columns of these stitches. The purl stitches appear to recede, whereas the knit stitches are raised on the surface. A ribbed fabric is made by alternating knit and purl stitches horizontally.

Even number of stitches

Row 1: *k1, p1; rep from * to end

Repeat this row for pattern.

Odd number of stitches

Row 1: k1, *p1, k1; rep from * to end

Row 2: p1, *k1, p1; rep from * to end

Repeat these 2 rows for pattern.

Seed Stitch

This textured pattern is created by alternating a sequence of knit and purl stitches. Unlike ribbing, the knit stitches are purled, and the purl stitches are knit, forming a “broken rib” or “pebbly” texture. A seed stitch fabric lies flat and is reversible. As with garter stitch, it takes more rows to knit an inch of fabric than for stockinette stitch or single rib.

Even number of stitches

Row 1: *k1, p1; rep from * to end

Row 2: *p1, k1; rep from * to end

Repeat rows these 2 rows for pattern.

Odd number of stitches

Row 1: k1, *p1, k1; rep from * ending with k1

Repeat this row for pattern.

Comparing Swatches

The swatches in the image above were all knit with the same needle size, and the same number of stitches and rows. Under these same conditions, it’s important to note that different patterns result in different finished sizes or dimensions. Both garter and seed stitch fabrics will require more rows to form the same length of fabric as for stockinette stitch or single rib. The width measurements of garter, stockinette and seed stitch swatches are similar, but the width of single rib is smaller than the others. Because of rib’s elasticity, the stitches pull in.

It’s important to remember this concept, because a pattern stitch ultimately affects the gauge and size of your project. You can’t substitute one pattern stitch for another, without making a test swatch and adjusting stitch and row numbers in instructions. The gauge calculated from your test swatch must be the same as in the instructions, ensuring that you obtain the finished measurements of the project. Pattern stitches like garter and seed stitch will also require more yarn, because more rows are required per inch of fabric.

Knitting patterns with the same number of stitches and rows, and worked with the same needle size have different dimensions. A garter or seed stitch swatch is wider and shorter in length than a rib or stockinette stitch. This affects the gauge and finished size of a project. It is critical that you check your gauge before beginning a project. The best instructions give the gauge for the actual pattern stitches used in the design.