How To Control Tension In Knitting

Even if you can’t wait to get started on that new knitting pattern, make sure that your tension measures up with this 3 step guide to help you to control your tension in knitting.

Every knitting pattern has a tension guide, which is usually given using stocking stitch. This guide is the most important factor in producing successful garments, yet funnily enough, it is often ignored by both new and experienced knitters alike.

So What Is Tension In Knitting?

Tension in knitting is simply the way that knitters measure how many stitches there are per centimeter across the width of the knitting, together with the number of rows to each vertical centimeter.

tension in knittingThis magic measurement varies a great deal, depending on the type of yarn used, needle size, and a personal factor which is how much stress each person exerts on the yarn.

If the tension is wrong, your garment could end up fitting a gorilla, or on the other end of the scale a doll, but not you.

If you have fallen in love with a beautiful sweater, then, of course, you want to reproduce it exactly, but unless you check that your tension matches the pattern, you have no way of knowing if what you are spending so many hours knitting will bear any resemblance to the original.

So, it’s not worth the gamble of ignoring tension, especially if you decide to substitute a different yarn for the one quoted in the pattern. In this case, it’s vital that the stitch tension matches exactly, even if you have to change to an alternative needle size to achieve it.

How To Calculate Tension

Here is a table that will give you the typical tension and rows to achieve, but yours could differ according to how tightly or loosely you knit.

tension in knittingMany designs involve stitch patterns and textures, or perhaps working with two or three colors simultaneously, like in fair isle or jacquard patterns. All of this influences the tension, so the designer always makes up a sample in the stitch she intends to use for the main body of the garment. Whatever the tension the designer achieves from this knitted sample forms the basis of all the calculations required to give a garment its shape and size.

Three Easy Steps To Check Your Knitting Tension

When you’re checking tension, don’t be distracted by the figure printed on the yarn ball-band. This is only a guide for knitters experimenting with or substituting yarns.

What is important to follow is the tension given in the pattern. However, if you do decide to substitute another yarn you can use the ball-brand to roughly compare your yarn’s recommended tension and needle size with the one given in the pattern.

There is only a small range of needle sizes appropriate to each type of yarn, and the optimum size produces a knitted fabric with the correct handle – soft and springy to the touch with neat, even stitches.

tension in knitting

Step Number 1:

Knit a sample using the yarn, needles, and stitch given in the pattern. Make sure that the needles are the size stated for the ‘body’ of the garment, as the smaller needles are often used for ribbing.

The tension is normally stated over a 10cm square, with the stitch and row tension measured separately, but make a sample of about 15cm across. For instance, if the yarn’s tension is 22 stitches to 10cm then you should cast on 33 stitches.

A large sample gives a more accurate measurement because you can avoid the edge stitches which may be distorted or may roll in.

Work in the appropriate pattern until the sample is 15cm square, then cast off fairly loosely.

Lay the sample flat, without stretching it, on a padded surface – a towel, for example – and smooth it gently into shape. Pin the corners and side, unrolling the edges if necessary.

Step Number 2:

First, take the stitch tension. Measure horizontally across the center of the sample, where you have got into your stride after the first few rows. Count the number of stitches stated in the pattern’s recommended tension (for instance 22) and mark these with pins at either end.

Then take a rigid ruler and check the measurement between the pins.

If your tension is correct it should be 10cm. You must be totally accurate in gauging your tension, as just one stitch out over 10cm becomes quite a large inaccuracy over the full width of the garment and can result in a dramatic increase or reduction in size.

Step Number 3:

Now check the row tension. This may be easiest to calculate from the reverse side of the fabric, especially with the stocking stitch, where each horizontal ridge represents a row. Count out the number of rows recommended in the pattern vertically down the center of the fabric avoiding the rows at the beginning and the end of the sample. For instance, 28 to 10cm for this yarn. Mark with pins at each end and then check the distance between them.

If the measurement, vertically or horizontally, is over 10cm, your knitting is too loose. But don’t worry, just change the needles.

The needles given in the pattern are only the recommended size so try using needles that are one or even two sizes smaller.

Likewise, your knitting is too tight if the distance between the pins is under 10cm, and you will need to experiment with larger needles.

I trust you understand better how to control your tension in knitting and you are on your way to knitting some stunning sweaters for yourself and your family.

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