Any knitting pattern will state to always check your gauge. To check your gauge you need to knit a swatch, which for my non-knitting friends, is a "test" of how many stitches per inch you are knitting. The traditional way is to make a 4" by 4" knitted square and measure how many stitches there are per inch. This is a very important part of starting a project, if you want it to fit (not super necessary for scarves, dishcloths, etc.). You need to get the right number of stitches per inch so the item you make fits and isn't too small or too big. After all., if you are going to spend $50+ on yarn and countless hours knitting a cardigan, you want it to fit the intended recipient.
However, many knitters do not swatch. They just see the pattern calls for a certain sized needle and a a certain weight of yarn and they cast on. I know several very fine knitters that do no swatch. They must have excellent tension and perfect stitch sizes How I envy them.. I, however, seem to have poor tension (which is strange for a continental style knitter) and imperfect stitch sizes. I have made two pairs of socks that are way to big (one for me women's size 10 and the other for my husband men's size 14 or 15 so we are not small footed). I even swatched for the women's socks and still ended up with huge things. So even when I do swatch, things can go terrible awry. But I am trying to get better. Knitting is about little improvement steps.
So while I have nothing really big happening on the needles right now, I have some fab swatches....
This one is for a little summer sweater for the future baby #2. I know this is not 4" by 4" square, but I figure it is good enough (remember little improvement steps). I need 22 stitches per 4 inches and I am really close. I just have to go down one size needle. Casting on to commence soon.
This one is for a maternity summer top. Again it is not the 4" that is should be yet, but I am getting impatient waiting to make something awesome. Plus, now that the weather is finally turning spring-link in Central Illinois I have a renewed sense of urgency that a sleeveless top is something I should be knitting.
So okay. I am still not the greatest swatcher, but I am getting better and soon there will be wonderful things on the needles.
Are you a swatcher? Any tips for improved tension?