Little anecdote: during the first year of opening the shop, I sold several balls of Shetland Aran marine to a nice gentleman. I explained to him the importance of making a sample before starting his sweater and I thought the message had been understood. However, the man took his bag and immediately began to cast on the stitches for his sweater. I was very very wise and said absolutely nothing about his choice even though, in my heart, I was sad for the balls of Shetland.
I REPEATE EVERY DAY LIKE AN OLD RECORD THE IMPORTANCE OF MAKING A SAMPLE BEFORE STARTING A PROJECT. The more I knit, the more I realize it's not just essential for clothing, even though that's where its importance is most emphasized. It is also useful to avoid getting a scarf without drape because the fabric is too dense, a hat that is too big or too small, or even socks that don't hold because the fabric is too loose.
It's very abstract to say that “we all knit differently” or that “every person has their natural tension to knit”. What does that mean in practice?
I asked the great team at La Maison Tricotée to help me explain. The team knitted a sample of CASA in stocking stitch on 30 stitches, with 4 mm needles and the same border in garter stitch. So it was the same guidelines for everyone… but with very different results!
Sandra: 16 stitches and 27 rows for 4″
Mariane: 17 stitches and 30 rows for 4″
Ariane: 17 stitches and 14 rows for 4″
Annick: 18 stitches and 31 rows for 4″
Several factors affect the tension: the type of yarn used, the needle (bamboo, metal, steel or wood), the fact of knitting back and forth or in the round, the way each person holds their yarn (with more or less force).
To knit a sample, take the needle that you are going to use to make your work, cast on about 30 stitches for a back and forth sample or double for a sample in the round and knit in stocking stitch (or in the pattern of your pattern, if specified) for about 10-12 cm (you can even knit a border in garter stitch).
Then let it soak in lukewarm water with a little EUCALAN for about thirty minutes. Roll it up in a towel to remove excess water, then lay it flat to dry. When the swatch is dry, measure the number of stitches you have in the 4''/10 cm width. If you get the right amount of stitches, you're ready to start your project. If you get more stitches, start a new swatch from the beginning with bigger needles. If you get fewer stitches, start a new swatch with smaller needles.
It may seem long and a little boring to do all these steps, but remember that knitting a 10 cm square takes much less time than knitting a sweater and it is an essential step to have a knit with perfect measurements.