Knitting Gauge: Understanding Gauge And Knitting Swatches
You'll see gauge (also sometimes referred to as tension) mentioned in two places: your pattern and the yarn label. Assuming you are knitting with the same yarn as the pattern used, the gauge may or may not be the same.
The gauge on the label is only a suggestion. It's a starting point for the suggested gauge. You'll see needle sizes noted too. This is just a suggestion as well.
All yarn works to a variety of gauges with various needles sizes.
If the pattern gauge is different than the label, this is gauge you need to achieve. Ignore the label. Remember, this is only the gauge and the needle size that this particular designer achieved. Your mileage may vary. This is why you need to check your gauge before beginning to knit the project.
The only exception may be where the gauge isn't vital such as a scarf, afghan, or hot pad. But be aware that if you don't check it, your project may not be the indicated size.
To check your gauge, cast on enough stitches to work at least 4 inches. If the gauge is 16 sts=4 inches then cast on 18 sts minimum. Work in the stitch pattern indicated by your pattern (it isn't always stockinette) for at least 4 inches. The goal is to have a swatch at least 4 inches wide by 4 inches long.
You can surround your swatch by a few rows of seed stitch, especially if your gauge is measured over stockinette. This will help it lay flat as you measure.
Bind off your stitches and let the swatch rest for a few hours.
Now count off the number of stitches that should equal four inches. You might want to place a straight pin on each side. They should measure exactly four inches. This is imperative. Even a quarter of a stitch can make a huge difference over a large number of stitches.
Now measure the number of rows in the same way. Sometimes you will be able to achieve the stitch gauge but not the row gauge. Unless the pattern is worked from side to side, the stitch gauge is more important. Go with that.
If you have more stitches per inch than your pattern calls for, your stitches are too small and you need to work the swatch again with a larger needle. If you have fewer stitches per inch than your pattern calls for, your stitches are too large and you need to work the swatch again with a smaller needle.