A swatch is a small piece of knitted fabric that you make to show how your knitting will appear, before you start making the item itself.
The tension of your knitting determines the size and shape of your finished item. The pattern is written with a specific tension in mind and it is definitely worth taking the time to check you can match it or at least be prepared for any alterations as you knit.
To start, somewhere towards the beginning of your pattern should be a section that states the required tension, maybe something a bit like this:
A Lovely Swatch of Debbie Bliss Winter Garden, knitted by Anjuli in the Smiles Team. Knitted on 9mm needles & measuring 15 stitches x 30 rows to 15x20cm
It will tell you the stitch pattern and needle size to use, it may recommend you try several different patterns if you are making a very textured item or doing colour work.
Knit the swatch at least one and a half times the size you are going to measure. For example, if the tension is measured over 10cm / 4”, knit a square that is at least 15cm x 15cm / 6” x 6”. Mark a square in the middle of the piece with pins and carefully count the stitches or pattern repeats.
If you have too many, you will need to use a larger needle, too few and you will need a smaller needle.
The row tension can be a bit more difficult to match. If you are finding it difficult you should match the stitches and then add or subtract some rows from your item. If your item has little shaping and only a minimum pattern this is quite easy. With a more complex pattern, or any colour work, you will need to plan where you will add or remove the rows.
Want to know more about your tension? Head over to our blog for a tension crash course.