Even though I've only been knitting for about 3 months, I feel like I've knit enough that I should know how gauge works, but I am totally embarrased to admit I just can't figure it out! Up until now, I haven't knit anything where gauge was crucial. The first hat I made, I followed the needle size and yarn rec, and the hat was very snug. So a couple weeks ago I made the same hat, and just decided to go up 1 needle size. That hat was much better fitting, but I wasn't happy with the resulting fabric. Too floppy. I preferred the fabric I got on the smaller needle.
Now, I have to knit the same hat for a friend, and she gave me her head measurement and said that she didn't like tight hats. So I really want to make sure this hat will fit her, while using the smaller needle size to get the nicer fabric, so I guess I am going to have to alter the pattern. So I bit the bullet and knit my first gauge swatch, but I have no idea what this tells me, and I am worried that it involves my arch-enemy: math.
1. The hat in question requires you to cast on 84 stitches and has a gauge of 4-4.5 sts/inch on size 7 needles. This would result in a hat measuring either 21" or 18.5". The friend in question has a head size of 23.5" and doesn't like tight hats.
2. So, to figure out how many extra stitches I needed to cast on, I knit a gauge swatch. I followed the directions in SnB, which said to cast on 20 stitches and knit stst for 30 rows. Sadly, I left my SnB book at home, so I don't remember what I was supposed to do next, but I think it involved measuring the length of the swatch and dividing.
3. Measuring the length is proving difficult as the edges are curly and wavy. If I am measuring the length between cast-on edge and bind-off edge, am I supposed to be including the length of the cast-on edge? Because it's a lot bigger than the rest of the swatch, and probably takes up a good half inch itself. So if I leave out that cast-on edge, the swatch measures 4.5" in length, and 3.5" in width. I have no idea what this tells me.
4. So, I also have one of those little needle sizers with the little L shaped cut out section for measuring gauge. I'm getting 7 stitches per inch going up and down (between the cast-on/bind-off edge) and 5.25 stitches per inch going across.
5. So, which of those 2 numbers do I use to get my gauge? The 7 or the 5.5? Both are obviously way off the original gauge...
6. So, If my gauge is 5.5 sts/inch, I'd need to cast on about 130 stitches to get a 23.5" circumference? And if it's 7 sts/inch, I'd need to cast on 165? That seems like a huge amount for a hat! I can't be knitting that tightly, can I? Should I buy a larger yarn or something?? (I'm using KnitPicks Andean silk which is supposed to have a gauge of 4.5-5 st/inch on sz 7-8 needles).
I feel like I must be doing somethiing wrong here, and I really need to get this hat done by the weekend, and then I signed up for Sockapaloooza, so I really need to figure out how this whole gauge thing works if I am going to be making things that need to fit other people! I've read all about gauge in books and online and I just don't get it! My brain is dysfunctional in this area! Stupid math I hate you! >:(
Thank you so much to anyone who read all this, and can offer any help!