Everybody knits differently - no way is more correct than others. It is however necessary to take your gauge (tension) into account. So let's talk about it.
The gauge (also known as tension) is a way of measuring how big your stitches are - both horizontally and vertically - when you knit in a specific yarn on a specific needle. You find your gauge by knitting a swatch. A small square piece of knitting so that you can count the number of stitches you have horizontally and rows vertically in a square of 10 x 10 cm.
Gauge swatches are often talked badly about but it is just such a shame to have to frog weeks of work because the gauge was wrong.
Here is some advice for measuring your gauge.
KNIT YOUR SWATCH BIG ENOUGH
It is vital that you do not measure your gauge swatch from edge to edge. The width of the first and last stitches do not necessarily represent your gauge and can be deceptive. Ensure that you knit the swatch big enough so that you can measure your gauge a little bit away from the edge where your knitting is stable and consistent. If you do not want to knit such a big swatch, it’s alright to measure how many stitches you have within a 5x5 cm area, for example, instead and extrapolate from there.
KNIT LIKE YOU NORMALLY DO
When you make your gauge swatch, the most important thing is to just knit. Knit how you usually do and avoid knitting particularly loosely or tightly - knit however feels natural to you. You will have great difficulty maintaining a gauge which does not feel natural throughout an entire sweater. If you want the stitches to be looser or tighter switch intead to another needle with which you can get the tightness you want while knitting naturally. A larger needle will lead to a looser gauge, and a smaller needle will have the opposite effect.
USE THE SAME NEEDLE
You can easily risk your gauge changing if you switch needle type. It is not guaranteed that two needles with the same thickness will give the same gauge, even though the yarn and knitter are unchanged. The material the needle is made from (wood, metal, plastic etc) along with how pointy the needle is can have an effect on how you hold it and how you knit, and by extension the size of your gauge. The tightness can also change depending on whether you knit in the round or backwards and forwards. When you make your swatch it is important that you knit it on one needle and in the way you intend to knit the sweater.
Your swatch should be in keeping with the finished item you want to produce. If you knit in patterns - rib/eyelet pattern/fisherman’s rib etc, you should measure your swatch in that base pattern.
WASH YOUR SWATCH
Knitted items behave organically and loosen when washed and worn. You should therefore wash your swatch if you intend to wash the finished item. This also means that the fit of the finished item might change when you wear it.
LOVING YOUR SWATCH
We have without a doubt also knitted bits and pieces without swatches - and all those bits and pieces have formed big piles at the bottom of our wardrobes. It is a great pain when a silly thing like your gauge ends up meaning that the cool sweater in the best yarn needs to be knitted from scratch again. It is for that reason that we are torchbearers for swatches. They have many advantages:
🧶 A swatch is a test run for your lovely new yarn. You do not need to have settled on a particular pattern - you can just get going right away.
🧶A swatch can be a test for your washing machine. If you wash your swatch in the machine, you will be able to rest easy when the finished item is put in for its first spin.
🧶You get a really good feel for your finished item - how it will appear when you are done knitting it. You can test out different combinations with extra bits of yarn and quickly get a feel for where you want to go with your project.