Part 5: Fine-Tuning Your Swatches
If your swatch produces more stitches per inch than specified in the pattern, you'll need to switch to a larger needle. Likewise, if your swatch has fewer stitches per inch than required, you'll need to try a smaller needle.
Here's something else to keep in mind. Some knitters have a different gauge on knit rows than on purl rows—with the purl rows often being looser. Look at your stitches closely to see if each row is, indeed, the same height. If not, consider using a needle that's one size smaller for your purl rows. Most patterns are worked back and forth, so it's simply a matter of using two mis-matched needles interchangeably throughout.
If you're working in the round, you won't have to worry about this. Stockinette in the round involves knitting all rows; reverse-stockinette involves purling all rows. Any purl stitches will create purl ridges that conceal any gauge irregularity.
In terms of changing needle sizes to get gauge, most knitters find they need only to go up or down by one needle size to achieve the desired results.
But here's the truth. While cooks need just a few knives to do all their work, knitters need needles. Lots and lots of needles. We need to have options and choices so that we can find the right size, tip style, and even material that will work best with the right yarn—which will, in turn, help us match the right yarn to the right project.
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You'll be grateful you did. Even duplicate sets of needles in the same size come in handy, especially if you like to have more than one project going at a time.
While your well-loved needles are waiting their turn, why not put them in a vase? They're prettier than flowers, you never need to water them, and they'll last forever.