One of the most important skills in knitting is being able to keep an even tension. Often beginning knitters aren’t even aware that their tension changes while knitting. However, when tension does change it affects the gauge and even if a piece of knitting is off by less than a fraction of an inch the garment won’t fit properly. Even worse, knitting with an uneven tension looks amateurish.
What is Tension in Knitting
Tension, also known as gauge, simply refers to how a knitter takes control of the yarn with her hand. When someone knits, the hand is performing two tasks at the same time. It both slows the yarn coming off the yarn ball, in addition to guiding yarn around the needle.
Tension pertains to the number of stitches there are for each inch of knitting. Besides the number of stitches, tension is also concerned with the force exerted on yarn as someone knits. Some knitters pull the yarn tight after forming every stitch. On the other hand, others knit loosely for a more open look. The same knitting project can be knitted by two different knitters, using the same yarn and same needles. However, the garments produced are different sizes simply because they were knitted with different tensions.
Finding the Right Knitting Tension
The best way to find the right tension is to experiment with different types of yarn and needles. For knitting to have the right tension the yarn needs to feel comfortable and be able to easily slide along the needle. A knitter shouldn’t have to struggle or break a needle just be to able to make a simple knit or purl stitch.
Adjust needle size – Stitches that easily slide off the needle are probably knitted on needles that are too big in diameter. By going down a needle size or two it’s easier to keep stitches on a needle.
Change the type of needle – It helps to try knitting on needles made of different materials. For example, if stitches don’t budge, needles made from a smoother material such as aluminum may work better.
Work with different yarns – When first learning to knit, novices should try different weights of yarn to determine which type works best for them. For example, fine weight yarn produces as many 14 stitches per inch, while some of the heavy weight yarns create only about 2.5 stitches per inch. It’s probably best to start out with bulky yarn and big needles, creating loose stitches and then move onto using the fine weight yarn and small needles which produce tight stitches.
Methods for Achieving Even Knitting Tension
Several methods are used in achieving even tension. Wrapping the yarn (once or twice) around the index finger helps as it takes the pressure off the hand, producing looser knitting. Another trick is wrapping the yarn around the little finger (pinkie) and then once around the middle and ring finger. What’s important is for a knitter to find a method that’s comfortable for her that doesn’t hurt her hands.
It’s not important whether one knits tightly or loosely. What matters is that the tension is even so the stitches are consistent throughout a knitting project. There’s no wrong way or definite rule of what works for every knitter. Once a knitter’s hands grasp the muscle memory of her own particular style of achieving correct tension, she starts to do it without thinking.