Back To Basics: Tension

In order to create a piece the size it is intended in the pattern it is important to make sure you knit at the correct tension.

All patterns will state the tension at the beginning so if you are unable to use exactly the same yarn required it is important to make sure you choose one that will create the same tension.
Picking an alternative yarn that is the same weight is a good start.
All modern yarn will state the tension they create & the needle size required to make that tension on it’s label.

For Example:

Yarn Label

As you can see the tension is the number of stitches & rows measured in inches/cms.

This all sounds easy enough, but unfortunately it’s not.


No knitter is the same..!

Every knitter has their own way of knitting & once you get into the swing of things & find your own rhythm you will soon see that the tension written on the yarn label isn’t always what you end up knitting.

I have noticed that I am a loose knitter which means I tend to knit less stitches per inch than suggested on the yarn label. This doesn’t normally affect the number of rows per inch that I knit so I hit the correct amount there.

It is usually wise to knit a small swatch before starting a project with the yarn you plan on using. This will help you to gauge what your tension will be so if adjustments need to be made you are prepared before getting half way through a piece & then noticing!

How to knit a swatch:

A swatch needs to be worked in stockinette stitch (I will explain stitches in a future blog).
Stockinette stitch has a habit of making the edges of a piece curl so it is best to create your swatch like so:
ROW 1: Knit
ROW 2: Knit 2, Purl to last 2 stitches, Knit 2
REPEAT ROWS 1 & 2 until the square measures 14 cms.

(NB: The 2 knitted stitches on the purl row help to stop the edges of the swatch from curling which would make it more difficult to measure.)

Tension Swatch

In this example I am measuring a 2″/5cm by 2″/5cm square so the amount of ‘V’s counted need to be doubled to find the correct tension. My swatch shows that I have knitted a tension of 20 sts x 30 rows. To try & achieve the correct tension as shown for this wool on the label above I should knit another swatch on thinner needles.


Once your swatch is finished measure 4″/10cm horizontally & count the number of ‘V’s within the measurement.
Then measure 4″/10cm vertically & count the number of ‘V’s within the measurement.
Always include any half stitches.
The resulting number of stitches for each is your knitting tension for that yarn.


Making Adjustments

The easiest way to change your tension is by changing the size needle you are using. If you find that you knit too tightly & have too many stitches per inch then try using bigger needles.
Alternately should you find, like me, that you are a loose knitter then try using smaller needles.

Knit swatches until you find the needle size that creates the correct tension.


As a side note, should you find that you are only out by one stitch it may be best to stick to the correct size needle as it won’t make a huge difference to the pattern.
If you are out by more than 3 stitches you may want to take another look at how you tension the wool when knitting & try making it tighter.



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