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Arts and Crafts

Everything You NEVER Wanted to Know (But Should) About Gauge– Part I

Knitting Mama Bear shares her professional guide on Guage.



This week, Knitting Mama Bear shares her professional guide on Guage:

Are you a knitter or crocheter of any skill level or interested to learn but you’ve always felt intimidated by this mystery called gauge? What is gauge and why do I need to measure it? Why does every pattern have a gauge note? What’s a gauge swatch and how do I count my stitches?

If you’re like me, you hate this part of the process too. Don’t worry, we’re going to get through this together.

What is Gauge?

It’s linked to tension, which is how tightly or loosely you pull your stitches as you make them. 

Gauge is the measure of how many stitches and rows fit into a certain area of measurement, usually 4 inches. However, the area could be measured in centimeters or a different number of inches. Given that all knitters have their own tension, one knitter may need a 4.0mm needle to make a 4″ square with 20 stitches, but a different knitter will need to use a 5.5mm needle to achieve the same size square with the same number of stitches. I’ll explain that in detail a little later.

What is a gauge swatch? 

A gauge swatch is a test of both the yarn you’ve chosen (especially if you are using a different yarn than the patter calls for) and your tension. You cannot change your tension. It’s like changing your voice – it works for a while but you will always return to your natural self. To make a gauge swatch, cast on the number of stitches suggested in the gauge then add at least 3 on each side to avoid distortion. For best results, choose a contrasting pattern as a border on all four sides of the square. 

Why is Gauge Important?

Let’s talk for a moment about why it is important. Why do you need to know how wide 20 stitches will be on size 4.0mm needles? 

Honestly, it’s not always important. For example, if you’re making something that doesn’t need to be a specific size, it doesn’t matter what your gauge is. Blankets, scarves, or purses can vary in size without destroying the functionality. When making this type of item, you can follow the pattern and you will get what you get with your tension. If your dimensions are different from the measurements listed in the pattern, it may not be a problem for you. 

It may even be a benefit. For example, if the pattern claims the purse’s finished size should be 10″ wide and 10″ high, but you wanted yours to come out larger or smaller, you might intentionally use a different gauge to get a larger or smaller item. 

But if you’re making something that has to fit, you’re going to need to pay close attention to the gauge and spend time making a gauge swatch. I know what you’re thinking: I just want to get right into the project. I don’t want to spend time making a square that I’ll never need again!

Trust me, gauge is critical for fitted items. Imagine making a sweater from someone’s pattern in your size. You used the exact same yarn and needle size but after putting in weeks of work, you find that the sweater is like a tent with a neckhole so large that it shows off your bra straps. All that time and energy was wasted and now you swear you’ll never knit another sweater again. And you curse a blue streak at the stupid designer who obviously knows nothing about writing a pattern. 

Gauge swatches are important so that when you knit a piece, you will wind up with the same size as the pattern indicates in terms of width. In terms of height, your gauge can tell you if you need to add or subtract some rows to get to the right length/height.

How to Interpret the Meaning of Gauge Notations:

Ok, ok, so I get that it’s important. But I still don’t understand how to read the notes in a pattern. What does Gauge: 20 stitches, 18 rows = 4″ mean?

This is a good example of how gauge is often noted in patterns. Sometimes they include the row number, sometimes they don’t. Let’s talk about how to read the notes.

As you read the next section, remember the sample gauge is 

Gauge: 20 stitches, 18 rows = 4″

Let’s start at the end. In this example, the goal height and width is given in inches. When you have worked the correct number of stitches, it should measure four inches horizontally. When you have worked the correct number of rows, it will be 4 inches tall. 

Now back to the beginning: when it gives a number of stitches, that’s the total number of stitches that fit horizontally between the 0 and 4″ measurements of a ruler or tape measure. So, if you cast on 20 stitches and work them in Stockinette stitch, they should measure 4″ wide.

When they provide the row or rounds number, they are giving you a height for your stitches. If you work 18 rows of Stockinette stitch, they should be 4″ tall.

Please be advised that sometimes a gauge measurement includes only the number of stitches – it doesn’t include the number of rows or rounds. In that case, you should always be measuring your piece as you work to ensure that you are ready to stop when it reaches the correct height/length. 

What about the stitch pattern? The gauge notes above didn’t tell me what stitch pattern to use! 

Usually a gauge is given in Stockinette stitch (knit on the right side, purl on the wrong side). If the gauge notes do not mention a stitch pattern, you can assume it is the measurement in Stockinette stitch.

However, they may indicate that your gauge swatch should be knit in a different pattern. It may look something like this:

Gauge: 25 stitches & 20 rows = 4″ in Seed Stitch (using size US 6 needles)

In this example, your entire gauge swatch should be worked in Seed Stitch (over a multiple of 2 stitches repeat K1, P1 on both the right side and wrong side). Twenty-five (25) of your stitches should measure 4 inches wide and 20 rows should yield a fabric 4 inches high.

Here’s one to practice on:

Gauge: 35 stitches & 37 rows = 4.5″ over Feather & Fan stitch (using size US 4 needles)

Are you able to interpret that guide?

You should have understood that your swatch should be knit in Feather & Fan stitch. It should be 4.5 inches wide and 4.5 inches tall. Horizontally, you should be able to fit 35 stitches into that measurement and you should work 37 rows or rounds inside that 4.5 inch measurement.

Great job!

One more thing to know before you try to knit a gauge swatch: Make it BIGGER than the recommended number of stitches and rows!

When you knit in any stitch pattern, the top and bottom rows and the edge stitches will be distorted. This will destroy the accuracy of your measurement. Always cast on more than the recommended number of stitches. I include an edging stitch on each side and I give my swatches a border so that my measurement typically occurs inside a frame of border stitches which prevents distortion. Inside the border itself, the gauge pattern will have at least 3 extra stitches on all four sides also. I like Seed Stitch for the border because you can repurpose your gauge swatch as a nice washcloth with a sturdy border! 

How To Accurately Measure A Gauge Swatch

Ok, all that’s fine, but how do I take accurate measurements?

Here’s what you need to know about measuring:

  • Lay the swatch on a flat, level, hard surface. Don’t use a lapdesk or a soft surface as this will distort the measurements
  • Don’t press down as you measure. The ruler or tape measure should only be lying lightly on the swatch
  • Use pins with big heads as a guide. Place the first pin directly into the center of the first stitch you want to measure, count the full number of stitches required by the gauge, and place a pin in the center of the last stitch.
  • Make sure you are measuring across one row only. To ensure this, string a scrap yarn through the stitches of one row. Measure a few rows above or below this guide
  • Remember to measure from the outer edge of the first stitch to the outer edge of the final stitch 

Please stay tuned for the next article addressing what to do if your swatch does not match the gauge of your pattern.

Arts and Crafts

Illustrating a Children’s Book

Show your work early and often. In your communications with the writer, show them your thumbnails, scribbles, and roughs. As artists, we have a tendency to cloister away until we have a polished piece of art; this tendency is detrimental to collaborations.



Illustrating a Children’s Book

So you wrote a children’s book, now what? This article will help writers understand the illustration process and help artists come up with a plan to tackle a picture book project. After working on quite a few children’s books in the past two years, I’d like to share some tips on the process of creating them.

First, you must answer a few questions:

How many pages?

Traditionally, the standard picture book format has 32 inside pages, with the first 4 taken up by copyright, barcodes, and other interesting bits and bobs. That means we have a total of 28 pages to work with in terms of illustrations.

But since the advent of print-on-demand publishing, book lengths have become much more flexible. However, it’s good to keep in mind that the traditional length is what parents and children (a.k.a. your potential readers) are used to, and deviating from it may be a jarring reading experience.

What trim size?

(A few of the available trim sizes.)

Trim size is basically the size of the book. Square books are popular for children, but letter size is also a respectable format. Horizontal picture books are very classy, but not many print-on-demand services offer them. It’s best to research the printers you want to use (KDP, Ingram Spark, Lulu, Blurb, etc.) and then decide which is best for the project.

How many illustrations?

It may be tempting to want a picture on every page, but the picture-to-text ratio is determined primarily by the intended age of the reader. As a rule of thumb, the younger the target audience, the more pictures you’ll want in the book.

Color or black and white?

(Black and white interior illustration for “The Lion Who Forgot”)

You may be wondering why a children’s book would not have color, but as we discussed above, older children often don’t need hyper-colorful images to hold their attention. If you’re illustrating for the 9-12 age range, some stylish black and white ink drawings may be more appropriate, depending on the subject matter.

There are exceptions to this rule; young children are sensitive to high contrasting images, so simple black and white images such as in “The Lion Who Forgot” will work well. 

Another consideration is that color printing will be more expensive than black and white; the more vibrant and intricate the illustrations, the better printing quality you’ll need to use.

Is your style a good fit for the book?

Younger kids like big heads and big eyes that emote clearly; older children can appreciate more sophisticated compositions and moods in a landscape. What’s your strong suit?

One of the best pieces of advice I’ve gotten when I was starting out in art was to never accept a project that doesn’t jive with your style because each project builds your portfolio in a direction you don’t really enjoy. And since you’ll be hired based on your portfolio, your career might take a turn in a direction different from your true talent.

Once you’ve answered these questions and have determined to accept the job, it’s time to take the next step.

The planning phase

1. Thumbnails— your Roadmap

(Thumbnails for “The King’s Colt”)

There are many places online where you can download a thumbnails template. These make it easy for you to see the whole story at a glance and spot obvious story flow issues early.

This is also the best time to work out your creative differences with the writer and avoid the nightmare of revising a fully finished illustration because you didn’t hash it out early.

Thumbnails guide you as you illustrate your way through the manuscript and gives you an easy way to scope out the project and count the cost before building the tower, if you will.

2. The test page and character designs

From the thumbnails, pick a page that has the main character(s), and take it all the way to the finalized stage. Take note of the techniques you’ve used and how long it took you to do them. This allows you to figure out your process and accurately assess the total amount of work involved in the project. From this one exercise, you can extrapolate the amount of time needed for the whole book, the budget the writer will need to come up with for hiring you, and as a bonus, the main character’s design is now hammered out too.

If the writer agrees to go ahead with the style, design, budget, and estimated timeline determined by the test page, you are now safe to dig into the production phase of the illustrations.

3. Streamline your art process

If you’ve paid proper attention to your process during the test page, you should be able to replicate that process for each book page. However, there is inevitably a style shift when a project spans weeks and months, and I’ve found the easiest way to keep the whole book cohesive, and the style consistent is to streamline the process.

This means doing the rough drafts of all the pages, then the line art of all the pages, and finally the color and paint of each page. This may look different for you, but the principle holds; finish the whole book in one stage before moving on to the next.

4. A few technical considerations

When designing your illustrations, keep in mind the following:

• The spine will pinch the middle of the book, so each page has a strip at the spine that will be hidden. That is called the “gutter.”

• Around each page, there is a border that may get accidentally trimmed. It’s best to keep essential bits like faces and text away from that border; this is called the “margin” or “safety.”

• Do your images go all the way to the edge of the page? If so, you’ll need to include an extra “bleed” border around your page, where the image continues to bleed past the edge of the trim size.

The printing service you use should be able to provide a template peculiar to your book’s specifications. Download that template and follow it to the pixel.

5. Formatting the text

(Contrasting text example from “The Peanut Trap”)

There are a few options when it comes to displaying the text. Firstly, your pictures should be composed with the text in mind to integrate nicely. To make the text legible, you’ll need to have the background in a contrasting tone to the text—i.e., dark text, light background, or light text, dark background. There are a few ways of achieving this. If your illustrations don’t have that contrast, you can use a box, a banner, or a speech bubble. 

Another often overlooked option is to format the whole book to have a blank facing page dedicated to text. This is actually an excellent option for all ages, so make sure to discuss the option with the writer you’re working with.

(Example of facing-page text and text on banner)

Some final thoughts

Show your work early and often. In your communications with the writer, show them your thumbnails, scribbles, and roughs. As artists, we have a tendency to cloister away until we have a polished piece of art; this tendency is detrimental to collaborations.

(Hilarious simple thumbnail to final for “Aurora Bearialis”)

The writer may not understand your thumbnails at the outset, but as you take them through your process, they will acquire more and more educated eyes. I can confidently say that the writers of “Aurora Bearialis” are able to decipher my scribbles now.

I hope you found this article useful. Of course, there’s nothing like lessons learned by doing, so go forth and create, my brothers and sisters!


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Arts and Crafts

Drawing the Line



A written guide by Handdrawnbear

What is a line?

Lines don’t exist in nature, it is a two-dimensional construct of the mind in an attempt to understand and represent three-dimensionality.

One might be tempted to think of edges as lines, that is how we describe a cube after all, but there are plenty of objects such as a ball, which has no edges, that also must be described by lines.

Lines are statements about where one surface ends and the next surface begins from our point of view. A line is used to define the limit of our perception, when an object or surface goes beyond our view; like the horizon line, it means we can see this much and no further.

How do we use a line?

It’s more a question of where, rather than how. Lines can be used to describe any object, but first, determine your level of magnification. How lines are used will differ whether we’re drawing a forest, a single tree, one branch, or just one solitary leaf.

We are informing the viewer where the edges of our perceptions are for this particular drawing, which will be defined by the level of magnification of the subject.

Drawing a forest means defining the edges and boundaries of the forest, therefore we must not concern ourselves with defining the edges and boundaries of each leaf.

Likewise, drawing a chicken means we can’t be tempted to define each feather; drawing a bear precludes us from focusing on every hair. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Handdrawnbear’s approach to drawing.

I can only speak for myself here, but the approach I take with any drawing is to use the least amount of lines possible, and start with the most important lines. Just as brevity is to wit, economy of lines is to a drawing. No one likes a line-salad of a drawing.

Let me explain. Say we’re drawing a bear, if you could only use one line to describe that bear, what would that line look like? I usually choose the line of the spine from nose to heel, which describes the posture of the animal.

Next, if you could only describe the bear using two lines, which line would you add? I’d put in the head in this instance. And then from there we continue to build the drawing from most important to least important lines, also known as drawing from the general to the specific.

This approach not only helps organize the drawing process, but also ensures that if we’re drawing from life and the subject moves or wanders away, we have put down as much essential information on paper as possible.

These methods have served me well over the years, and I hope you find them helpful, too.


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Arts and Crafts

How to Draw Faces – A Quick Introduction

A written guide and video by Handdrawnbear



A written guide and video by Handdrawnbear

There was a fat little Asian kid who sat alone at every lunch break, furiously scribbling on stacks of scrap paper salvaged from the classroom recycling bins.

This is how I spent my public school days, not a minute was wasted on “learning.” Now, I confidently say that I can draw anyone I lay eyes on. It’s not a boast, quite the contrary, drawing is the only way I can truly understand what anything actually looks like. My husband is often exasperated by how mechanically illiterate I am, I answer him honestly, “Dear, I’ve never drawn a car engine.”

Now you might say, but Handdrawnbear, I’m not as weirdly wired as you, how can I learn to drawn everyone?

Let me first clarify, we are speaking here only of observational drawing, which differs from technical or architectural drawing in function and form.

Drawing is a language, but not a hieroglyphic one. Hieroglyphs are preconceived symbols, clichés if you will. How would you like to read a novel written only in clichés and figures of speech? You wouldn’t like it at all. Even though symbols may be a shortcut to meaning, they are also extremely limiting; if you don’t have a glyph for something, then you can’t describe it.

Instead, when you draw from observation, look at it with the eyes of a blind man who’s just been given his sight. Throw out your preconceived notions of what anything should look like and really see what you’re trying to describe with your drawing.

When drawing someone’s face, really look at them and see what makes it unique from other faces. These three legends below could all be described as “a bearded man”, but they are actually so very different from each other.

Woodshopbear has a very striking countenance, his eyes are farther apart than the average man which gives him a very intense look.

Westsidebear’s soulful eyes are like gems if you can find them in his sheer amount of hair.

BigBear’s cheeks are like tall shields over which his sharp eyes pierce through and sees your browser history.

Everyone has an ideal average face in their mind, but it’s the departure from the average that individualizes each face. There is a danger in exaggerating features however, as you veer further away from reality you may venture into the monstrous. The way to avoid this is love and charity, it may sound funny but it will show through your drawing. I am unable to make someone I despise look good, and I’m probably not alone.

Of course, practice makes perfect, or as close to perfection as we can get this side of the eschaton. So draw everything, draw all the time. Draw from life whenever possible. Don’t be precious about your drawings. Craft comes before art, it’s hard before it’s easy. But whatever you do, never trace a photograph. Tracing is a useless exercise that gives instant gratification but no lasting benefit.

Drawing is observation and adoration combined. Because this realm is full of beauty, drawing is a reply in kind, a dialogue with creation.

Don’t seek accolades, you’ll only find emptiness; instead, give with your craft relentlessly to those you love, and you’ll find tribe and so much kindness and gladness in return. This is the beautiful truth I’ve encountered with the community of Bears.

And that little fat Asian girl? Well, she’s still drawing and learning to see. 

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