Mar 9, 2014

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.

Comments

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    Tiffany
    3 months ago

    This has to be the coolest info I've EVER read learning about knitting. I'm new to knitting and had no idea that they would differ your gauge do differently!!! You'd think that buying the same size needles would make the same size projects. Thanks for doing this and sharing it with us!

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    margaret
    25 days ago

    I am a very experienced knitter from bedspreads to suits. However I am completely stumped on trying to knit a bear rug. The gauge says 7 sts stitches and 15 rows to 4" I have tried various needles and even doubled and tripled the yarn(which of course makes it too long)There is no way I can get 4" from 7 sts However hard I try. I even wondered if the pattern is wrong but it is probably me as the pattern picture looks fine. Can anyone help at all please? I have tries

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    Alexis Winslow
    25 days ago

    Hi Margaret, That sounds like a real doozie! Honestly, the likelihood that the designer got exactly 7 sts inch 4" is very low. Publications always round the gauge to the nearest whole number. Since your project is not intended for the body, and a perfect fit isn't crucial, "close-enough" is probably fine. If you're a real stickler, you might consider changing your yarn to get the correct gauge. Good Luck! Alexis

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    GG
    9 months ago

    You are Awesome!! Such useful information. I will definitely keep this in mind. you rock!! Who knew?

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    Paulette
    9 months ago

    Wonderful post. I very often have to adjust recommended needle size but I never took into conisderation the type of needles I was using. I will be making more swatches from now on!

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    Donna C
    9 months ago

    Was not surprised about the width, but the length was shocking!

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    Ann at KFI
    9 months ago

    Interesting experiment. When I was on staff at a LYS in Connecticut we'd always emphasis using the same needles to swatch as you planned to use for the project. I bought a Denise set when I first learned to knit since it got me such a wide variety of sizes for an affordable price. However, I'm very aware my gauge is drastically different on a Denise needle compared to an Addi Turbo. It can be an issue when a swatch on a US5 isn't correct and I have to go down a needle size. For my US4 and smaller circs I've started seeking out Prym and Inox needles, as their coating gives me similar traction. Some recently acquired bamboo circs are working out well, too. My personal use of these needles isn't an official endorsement. ;-)

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    Barb Collins
    9 months ago

    This was a great post. It will make me take more time when swatching for sure. I usually spend a minimal amount of time swatching and prepping for a project. Thanks!

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    Tammy
    4 months ago

    Wow! I never knew this and it had never occurred to me that materials could make such a difference. Thanks for the time and effort you put into this experiment and sharing it with the rest of the knitting world.

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    Amanda
    9 months ago

    Great things to think about. I wonder if or how the brand of a certain type of needle would change the gauge.

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    Susan
    9 months ago

    Loved your experiment and the information you provided. I always knew I knitted differently on different types of needles. It is nice to know I was not crazy.

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    Iryna B.
    9 months ago

    Thank you very much for this eye-opening experience! Swatching is very important! I hope more people will realize that. I Pinned your post and blogged it too. Thank you

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    Alexis Winslow
    9 months ago

    Darlene- The swatches were all about 6" x 6", give or take a little of course. The needles all measured perfectly at 4.5mm, so really this experiment is all about hand tension. The different needle materials caused me to make my stitches a little differently in each case.

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    Robin
    9 months ago

    I will repeat your experiment with my needles. I know my woodens give different gauge than my metals. I also get different gauge with my square needles.

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    Alexis Winslow
    9 months ago

    Robin, I haven't had the opportunity to try square needles. I'm curious what your results will be!

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    Martine
    9 months ago

    Wow, I had no idea that the needle material would make such a difference! Love the graphic too. This is going to come in handy next time I’m having trouble getting the right gauge – try different needle types as well as sizes…

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    Alexis Winslow
    9 months ago

    Thanks Heather, I never thought about temperature being a variable. There are so many things to consider!

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    heather
    9 months ago

    Your scientific method is admirable, thank you for posting your results! I find that my gauge is effected by temperature. I live in Eastern Oregon, where temperature variations are extreme. Though the winter temperatures here can be well below zero, the summer temperatures are well above 100. Wooden needles in winter and metal needles in summer make the same gauge for me.

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    Jessica-Jean
    9 months ago

    I discovered this interesting factoid for myself a couple of months ago. It would be nice if it were included in all the how-to-knit/crochet books/booklets/pages in magazines/websites. http://www.knittingparadise.com/t-229483-1.html

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    Philippina
    9 months ago

    I have also noted that I knit a lot tighter on circulars than on my DPN's, even when they are from the same material. That is why I usually knit sleeves on my DPN's.

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    Mary Morris
    9 months ago

    My teacher's motto: "The Wages of Sin is Not Counting Your Gauge."

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    Laura
    9 months ago

    I knew that the different needle materials affected the stitch width but I had never paid any attention that it also affected the row width or that you might get a different gauge on circular needles. I'm trying to figure out why circular needles would make something smaller but not shorter?

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    sconstant
    9 months ago

    I agree with Fran - I'm terrible with keeping my needles straight, and had two gauges, and noticed that they said different things for my small sock needles. I bought an industrial drill bit gauge, which had a lot more different diameter holes, and noticed that some of my labelled sevens fit into one hole, but others didn't fit in for two more holes down - there are wide differences in the width of needles. If you haven't put them all in a needle gauge and seen that they're the same size, they're likely not, and that's probably a bigger cause of gauge differences. Also, depending on how you knit, a long taper may mean tighter stitches, because you're wrapping yarn around a smaller diameter part of the needle.

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    Helen
    9 months ago

    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 :)

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    Darlene Krystal
    9 months ago

    I found this very informative......my questions are...."How much did the tension you had in your hands play into this experiment.....and how large in inches were the swatches??....Thank you for posting this information.....

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    Marie Z. Johansen.
    6 months ago

    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 !

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    Linda
    9 months ago

    Thanks for this wonderfully informational article. I already know I'm a tight knitter and it would seem that my preference for metal (Signatures) adds to that. I took acrylic (Knit Pro) needles with me on vacation recently because I didn't want to risk an over-zealous TSA agent snatching my Signatures, and I kept thinking to myself, "wow, my fabric is really loose!" Now I know why. :)

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    Nanci
    9 months ago

    Since i knit my socks with magic loop doing two at at time each on its own needle, i will be certain to use either my Karbonz pair or my Harmony pair. Thank you for this information

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    Chris
    9 months ago

    I have known that wood affects my gauge differently than metal, but it's good to see it in a graphic. Will be on guard the next time I think to use different materials in the knitting of my sweaters. Thanks for doing the leg work, or should I say hand work!

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    visit this website
    6 months ago

    Great information. Lucky me I came across your blog by accident (stumbleupon). I have bookmarked it for later! Here is my web site: visit this website

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    Nicole Garrison
    9 months ago

    This was very interesting. I often wondered how my gauge could be so different from what was listed in the pattern (many times 3 or 4 sizes). It would be interesting if the patterns could carry this information from the test knitters but it would probably be on unwieldy proposition in most cases.

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    Carol Young
    9 months ago

    I, like others who have commented, did not know the difference needle materials had that much effect on the finished product. I have noticed a difference between metal and wooden needles and have adjusted accordingly, but that 's the extent of my testing. I'll be more diligent in my trials from now on.

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    Anna D
    9 months ago

    Hmm, I've been having trouble getting gauge (too tight!) with my Knit Picks nickel plated circs..maybe I should invest in some wooden ones? I'll try some swatches asap.

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    Fran
    9 months ago

    It may be that it is not so much the material but the needle manufacturer. I explored this issue several years ago when using a circular needles from several different manufacturers. There are no industry size standards or accepted tolerances, so an Addi 7, Knit Picks 7, and a Denise 7 may not be exactly the same size. As you say, the more stitches you are using in a piece the more the differences become apparent.

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    Lute
    7 months ago

    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?

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    Glenna
    9 months ago

    Thank you for documenting this information in one handy place! I've noticed the exact things with different fibers/needle combinations...It has led to a needle stash in addition to yarn stash!

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    tamara
    9 months ago

    Thanks for this interesting post....a great excuse to expand my needle collection :)

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    Jackie Ritchie
    9 months ago

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

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    Jennie
    9 months ago

    I didn't realize different needle materials could affect gauge so much. I do know that an acrylic circular needle sold by a big box store was the worst set of needles I've ever used. (I only bought that one because there weren't any others available in that size. I should have waited until they got more stock in!)

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    Lee Clifford
    9 months ago

    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.

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    Alexis Winslow
    9 months ago

    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.

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    Sheri
    9 months ago

    This is so awesome who knew Thanks for an eye opener

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    Laurel
    9 months ago

    Thanks. This is very interesting !

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    Jesse
    5 months ago

    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.

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    Alexis Winslow
    5 months ago

    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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    Margaret Boski
    9 months ago

    Thank you for posting your experiment results. I learnt the hard way, I was in a hurry to complete the sleeves of a jacket that I was knitting for my daughter. The yarn was 14ply and too heavy to knit together on the same circular needles so I used straight 7mm needles. One bamboo the other milk (resin). Surprise! Surprise! The width was different and number of rows from beginning to armhole bind off was short by 5 rows yet measured the same in length. In the end I undid the sleeve knitted on the resin needles and used the Bamboo needles to get the same length and width. Lesson learnt I'll knit a swatch if and when I try that again........

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    Susan S
    9 months ago

    Another reason to use swatches. I have to branch out from using patterns that have "no gauge swatch required". Nice to hear about the variety of needles you use. I'm enjoying using needles my mom used but have bought plastic resin, bamboo, metal, and I'm always on the lookout for them at yard sales. Thanks for the information. Very worthwhile..

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    Deniece
    9 months ago

    Thank you so much for clarifying this for me!!! I've just recently started routinely swatching, but I have multiple brands of needles...therefore I should probably get a full set of one kind I really love and go from there.

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    Laura
    9 months ago

    Wow. This is a great post, excellent information and completely new news to me. It kind of blew my mind, how much of a difference the composite materials of the needle could make! This certainly goes a long way to explain some mysterious results in finished projects that a person has made repeatedly. Thank you, Alexis!

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    KnitsWithRaceCars
    5 months ago

    Do you think the same findings would hold true for crochet hooks?

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    Alexis Winslow
    5 months ago

    Hi KnitsWithRaceCars, Thanks for your comment. I think there are many factors that can affect how the stitches are formed. It has to do with where the stitches are actually formed on the needle tip, and how tightly the yarn is held as the stitch is being made. If I'm using a slippery needle, my hands aren't as loose and my stitches get tighter. The real take-away is that you should always do your gauge swatch with the needles you intend to knit your project with. Otherwise, you might have some unexpected results! I imagine the same should hold true for crochet hooks, though I admit I'm no expert in that area.

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    KnitsWithRaceCars
    5 months ago

    Very fascinating! Thanks for posting it. I'm curious as to whether you have looked for differences in either of the following: 1. Different shaped needles of the same size (ie. Nova vs. Nova Cubics). 2. Different types of wood.

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    Katinka
    9 months ago

    Super-interesting! I can definitely attest to the importance of circular swatching -- my gauge is much, much tighter in the round (I purl loosely, I guess). I put together the newsletter for my local guild and I may ask your permission later to use some of this in a future issue!

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    Pam
    9 months ago

    I think the TKGA would be interested in your test and essay. Hope you will send it to them. Thanks for your efforts and for sharing!

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    Newsitian
    9 months ago

    Based on this, my next sweater should be knitted on my Denise's, since I am a size 14 petite (wider and shorter). However I can continue to knit my socks and hats on my square Kollage needles, as I wear a size 7 shoe and a 6 1/2 hat. Good to know. .

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    Kirsten
    9 months ago

    Thanks for this post, it's really useful. I'd really never thought about this at all. I'd also never considered how humidity or temperature might affect needles or yarn, as some mentioned in the comments. One super picky note: Affect is a verb, and effect (in this sense) is a noun. So the title should be either "Needle material affects gauge" or "Needle material effects on gauge."

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    Mary
    9 months ago

    Interesting. I have real gauge variability problem. I'm a very loose knitter and usually have to go down at least two needle sizes. I bought myself a set of Karbonz needles for Christmas, in anticipation of my goal this year of knitting sweaters for myself. I was happy that my new serious attitude was helping with gauge issues, but it may very well have been the needles. The temperature and humidity issues are probably also something to take into account. Another reason to work a project through to completion - the environmental variables are more likely to be stable. Thanks for the great post!

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    Caren
    9 months ago

    Thank you for doing this experiment! I noticed a dramatic difference as well in my own knitting gauge when I changed needle materials. I would not have thought that the material your needles are made from could make such a difference...but it does. Even the type of wood used (bamboo vs. birch) can make a difference for me!

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    Kathie
    7 months ago

    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.

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    Kalany
    9 months ago

    Humidity can also affect gauge—quite significantly for some yarns—so that's another factor to keep in mind. It makes many animal fibers stretchier, kinkier, and fluffier (it can also affect yardage measurement for the same reason: yarns measured in high humidity areas can run short in low humidity environments, and occasionally vice versa). It may affect wooden or bamboo needles, depending on how well they're sealed. It definitely affects my homemade softwood DPNs. (Also, sorry to be pedantic, but the title should be "effects"; alternatively, the preposition could be deleted to make "affects" a verb.)

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    Fran
    9 months ago

    When using square needles it is suggested using one size larger than specified in the pattern; that being said, needle size matters little, as long as you achieve the required gauge. And, yes, temperature and humidity will affect both the needle material and the knitter. So, your gauge will differ with the same needle depending on these factors. I reccommend checking gauge every couple of inches and adjust needle size accordingly.

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    Alexis Winslow
    7 months ago

    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.

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    Dayana Knits
    9 months ago

    Excellent experiment, this is exactly the kind of thing I look for in the knitting blog world. I almost never knit with anything other than Addi Turbos, but there are so many new needles on the market that I have started to get curious. Must keep this in mind.

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    Beverly Lawller
    9 months ago

    I recently knit my first entrelac scarf. I started it on ChiagoGoo stainless steel needles which were more slippery than I wanted so I changed, in mid stream, to my wooden Dreamz needles in the SAME SIZE. The stitches were noticeably larger so I had to frog what I'd done with the wooden needles and go back to the stainless steel ones. It just occurred to me to put my husband's micrometers to work and measure, to the thousandths, the needles made of different materials. Temperature would affect the metal needles and humidity would affect the wooden ones. I also think there must be a range of dimensions to a size that the needle makers go by.. I've also noticed this in yarn of a given size. Caron's Simply Soft yarn in size 4 is not the same as Vanna's Choice yarn in size 4!!! The moral of the story is SWATCH, SWATCH, SWATCH.

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    pat
    9 months ago

    And the moral to the story is and should always be, "SWATCH". Than known s so much for posting this important info.

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    Chris Copeland
    9 months ago

    I am really happy about you experiment and I think I will have to do my own to include KA bamboo ( I find they give me a looser gauge than my Harmony) I also have Cubix, Chiagoo lace and Hiya Hiya Sharps with tend to give me a tighter gauge than my KP Nova interchangeables. I plan to make a swatch binder with each type of needles I own. Thanks for the information and inspiration to do my own experiment with my knitting style ( I tend to be a loose throwing knitter). I also think it would interesting to compare throwing to continental style.

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    Spinner
    9 months ago

    The lengthwise gauge is shorter for circular knitting because the throw for a purl stitch is longer than for an knit stitch. For a knit stitch the yarn is brought up from the bottom between the needles, but for a purl stitch, the yarn is brought over the top of the needles in order to get the stitch to hang correctly on the needles. This creates a slightly larger purl stitch than knit stitch. You can correct this by bringing the yarn up from the bottom and between the needles on the purl stitch, but that would require you to compensate for the change in how the stitches hang by knitting into the back of the knit stitches in order to flatten them out. While this wouldn't be too onerous for a piece of flat knitting, it would be very confusing to keep track of for patterns with ribbing or changes between knit and purl, so use with caution!

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    Robin Hunter
    9 months ago

    What an informative post. I've noticed this difference myself and I love your scientific testing of each variable!

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    Lacey
    8 months ago

    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!

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    Alexis Winslow
    8 months ago

    Lacey, I've never thought about the join in the needle being a variable too. Perhaps you're on to something there.

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