Whenever I do a gauge swatch, I consistently have the same or fewer stitches per inch, but more rows per inch than stated in any given pattern. For example, the one I’m doing now says recommended 11.5 stitches and 15 rows per 4"x4" square and I’ve got 9 stitches and 22 rows in a 4"x4" square. Should I be worried about this? How should I adjust my knitting so I get the right end result?
First, how large of a swatch are you knitting? You should be casting on enough stitches to knit a swatch approximately 6 in. square or larger. Then you’ll measure your gauge in the center of the swatch. The reason for this is that the edge stitches can be loose or tight at the beginning and end of rows which throws off your gauge in those areas, so you need to be able to measure a uniform area. Forgive me if you already know this.
Also, are you washing and blocking your swatches the same way to plan to wash and block your item? Washing and blocking (whether that’s drying in a dryer, laying flat to dry, or pinning) can affect your gauge. What you’re after in the end is the washed and blocked gauge so that your item turns out the correct size after you wash it.
Don’t worry if you’re not getting gauge with the recommended needle. Everyone’s gauge varies and you may need to go up or down in needle size to meet the designer’s gauge. In this case you are knitting more loosely than the designer, so you’ll want to swatch with a smaller needle to get gauge. You may need to go down a couple of needle sizes or even more, especially if you’re a loose knitter. Note that usually stitch gauge is more important than row gauge as most patterns say to knit for so many inches. The exception to this are certain types of top-down sweaters as your increases are meant to fall in a certain set length. That said, you can always adjust accordingly in those situations.
In the end, creating a fabric you like is the most important thing, so if you’re getting gauge, but don’t like the fabric you can knit at a different gauge. If you’re knitting a garment, you would need do some math and possibly knit a different size (with some adjustments for length and armholes, etc.).
If you have too few stitches per inch, you need a smaller needle. If you have too many, you need a larger.
Gauge is important - it makes a big difference to the size of the finished item. For instance, suppose you were making a sweater with a 40 inch chest (finished size). At 11.5 stitches to 4 inches, you would need 115 stitches around the body. But, if you knitted those 115 stitches at 9 stitches to 4 inches, the sweater would measure 51.11 inches, a lot bigger and probably too big for the intended wearer.
I agree with @knitterlady13 that stitch gauge is usually more important than row gauge, but it depends on what you are making. If there is shaping involved, there will be a bit of arithmetic involved too, but don’t worry, it’s not complicated and nothing a basic calculator can’t cope with. Would you mind telling is what you are making, so we can help you work it out?
I agree with WeeBizzom that some things - like scarves - won’t be affected as much if your gauge is slightly off.
I knew that I would need to change needle size to get the right stitch gauge. I usually have to go down a size because I’m a loose knitter. I was just worried about the difference between my stitch and row counts.
This particular swatch is for a felted cat cocoon I want to attempt. I don’t think the gauge is super important for it. I made a swatch to test how well the yarn I’m using felted and it reminded me how I always have fewer stitches, but more rows and I wanted to ask whether I should be worried about that.
I would imagine having more rows wouldn’t be so much a problem as long as you’re aware and make some adjustments. You will end up growing quicker width wise vs lengthwise when increasing so it could cause issues with a yoke or raglan sweater, where you want a certain depth before you split for sleeves.
It’s not just the needle size that can affect gauge. Some people find that they get different gauge on the same size needle depending on whether they’re made from wood or metal, so that’s another thing to play with if you’re not getting gauge.
When I knit a swatch, I aim to get exactly the number of stitches per inch. Even a quarter of an inch off will make a difference in the size and in whether I will have enough yarn to finish. I usually have to go down a needle size or two from the pattern’s recommended needle size. I don’t worry about the row gauge because I am always off on that. To make sure that my item will be the correct length at any given point, I make sure I knit for the correct number of inches.
Another important factor is the yarn. I try to match the weight of the yarn to the suggested weight in the pattern. If I don’t, I can achieve gauge by wildly adjusting my needle size, but my fabric will probably look way too open/loose if I chose DK instead of bulky, for instance (or vice versa - too tight/stiff if I chose worsted instead of lace).
Edited this to clarify that I aim for stitches per inch, rather than rows per inch.