Needle Material Affects Gauge

Recently, I got a new carbon fiber interchangeable needle set (Karbonz from Knitter’s Pride). As you can imagine, I already have an extensive needle collection, so you might ask why I need a yet another set. The short answer? Gauge.

Each of my needle sets are made from a different material, which can affect both stitch and row gauge. I was curious how I would knit with my new needle set, so I designed an experiment.

I began with a ball of 100% wool yarn (Knit Picks Wool of the Andes Worsted) and 4 sets of size 7 needles, all made from different materials:

1. Plastic Resin: Denise Interchangeable Needle Set
2. Wooden: Knit Picks Harmony Needle Set
3. Metal: Addi Turbos
4. Carbon Fiber: my new Karbonz Interchangeable Needles

I knitted up a stockinette swatch (30 sts x 45 rows) with each needle type, then blocked them all very, very carefully to be sure they weren’t stretched.

Knit-Darling-Needles-Gauge-Swatches

After the swatches dried and kind of mellowed out for a while, I took careful gauge measurements. Then I used the results to figure the dimensions for an average sized sweater that is 200 sts wide and 150 rows tall.

I was shocked!

The results really surprised me: if I knitted a sweater with one kind of needle versus another, I would have about a 2″ variation in either width or length. That’s a big difference!

Knit-Darling-Needles-Gauge-01

I was also curious about differences in my “flat vs. circular” gauge because I’ve had trouble with sleeves not matching the sweater they are attached to. So I got to work on a circular swatch with my wooden dpns.

Results? There is a difference, of course. If I knitted my 200 st x 150 row sweater with a circular construction, it would come out 1.5″ narrower than if I knitted it flat with the same wooden needles. Surprisingly, the row gauge was unaffected.

So what’s the take-away from all this?
While your results would certainly vary from mine, I think it’s important to be aware of how your tools can affect your finished objects and to use this knowledge to your advantage:
1. Knit your gauge swatch with the same needles you plan to knit the garment with.
2. Knit circular swatches for circular garments.
3. The more stitches in a row, the more a difference in gauge affects the finished measurements of the garment.
4. If you need to connect a circular-knitted sleeve to a flat-knitted body, make a separate circular gauge swatch. If you knit like I do, you might need to go up a needle size or switch to a needle made from a different material to get the correct gauge.
5. And for goodness sake, make large gauge swatches! (6″+ is a good rule of thumb)

I hope you found this post informative! I know I will probably reference it often in the future. I’d love to hear what you think in the comments section below.

63 comments

  1. thanks for this, i knit with a variety of needles and never thought they would affect the gauge so much, will be doing more swatches in future. i also change the needles i am using depending on whether i take something with me when travelling so i should really be consistent for the whole item LOL. enjoying reading your blog… lots of useful info :)

  2. You didn’t state the actual gauge you were working towards just the number of stitches and rows you completed – I would be interested in knowing if any of your swatches met an actual gauge then you would know which needle works more accurately for your own knitting style. Your experiment did prove the age old adage of “swatch and gauge”! You have more patience than I to have done this for sure.

  3. Lee, you’re right. I didn’t state a gauge that I was working towards, because I wasn’t really trying to achieve a particular gauge. I guess this is the designer in me. Usually the way I begin a garment design is with a schematic. Then I pick a yarn and try it out on different sized needles. The needle size that I choose for the pattern is based on how attractive the fabric looks and feels to me. Then I use the gauge I get to figure out all the stitch counts for the pattern.

  4. This is amazing and most educational. May I share this with our knitting guild newsletter? It proves, again, the importance of swatching.

  5. Do you think the difference had to do with material, or with the different “flex” in the joins between needle and cable? I’ve noticed that flex definitely impacts my knitting (even non circular) but never thought much about material. Interesting!

  6. I have noticed the gauge difference between using wood needles and bamboo needles as well. My gauge is much larger with bamboo needles despite being the same size, There was such a difference I went to my needle gauge just to be sure I had the same size needles. I thought it was just me.

  7. I have an electronic caliper and have seen slight size differences in needles of the same marked size.
    Also, the length of the point (tip to full thickness) makes a difference, if you have long points they knit tighter.
    Can you measure and see if that might be it, versus material?

  8. Hi Lute,
    You’re right that different needles might have slightly different measurements even though they are marked with the same number. Though all of my needles appeared to have very similar tip tapers, and they all fit snugly into my needle size tester hole (I don’t own an electronic caliper), there are so many other variables that can affect the way your stitches form. My goal with this blog post was to drive home the importance of using the same needles for swatches as you do for your actual project.

  9. Thank you for this excellent post! I have done a comparison of just the needles, but never thought to consider the TYPE of material the needles were made from. This is enlightening !

  10. Really interesting! I’ve just discovered that the length of the points of the needles makes a significant difference to my gauge, as well as the speed at which I can knit, and how long I can knit for.

  11. Jesse, thanks for your comment! I think it’s all about how the stitches form on the tips of the needles, and the length of the tip would certainly affect that. I feel like when I knit with very slippery needles, my hands tense up more which can definitely cause fatigue over time.

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