Improving your Knitting Tension

Before I started the Master Hand Knitting Certification program, I hadn't really given my knitting tension a lot of thought. I whipped through the first few swatches with confidence. To my surprise, swatch 1, the plain old basic stockinette stitch swatch was sent back for tension issues. I looked at the swatch again, with a critical eye, but still couldn't see it. Then I held it up to the light, and looked at the wrong side, and there it was, plain as day, guttering. That Ah-Ha moment changed the way I look at knitting and helped me so much over the years!


Uneven tension affects a garment's final shape, size, and looks sloppy. It is normally caused by knitters purling looser than they knit, so you can see gaps or gutters between every 2 rows on the purl side and elongated knit stitches every 2 rows on the knit side. But the opposite can occur if knitters try to compensate by purling tighter. The goal is to have both worked at the same tension.


Below are examples of bad tension. You can see the guttering between the purl rows on the first swatch and the enlarged knit stitches on the second swatch. These samples are from TKGA's Pinterest Board for their Taming Tension Course. You can see more examples on their Pinterest Board here: ​www.pinterest.com/tknitga/taming-tension/.


The most foolproof and permanent way to fix this, is to be mindful of your tension and practice knitting a little looser and/or snugging up the purl stitches a little more. It takes practice, but it can be fixed.


Besides putting your mind to it, and re-training your hands, there is another option! This is great to use while you're working on adjusting your tension because it can give instant results.


I have had so much success with achieving more uniform tension in my knitting by knitting with square needles. You knit with them just like you would round needles. Many, many knitters have found that their knitted garments and accessories that are knit with square needles, just look better. If you have perfect tension, you probably won't notice a difference, (but you might enjoy knitting with them anyway).


Knitting with square needles also reduces fatigue on the hands. They're comfortable to hold and knit with. Stitches tend to respond nicely to the square shape and stay put, with less effort on your part. If you drop stitches, square needles might help with that too.


My love affair with square needles began years ago with a set of metal Kollage knitting needles that I found at a trade show. They are only sold in certain yarn shops, so they are difficult to find.


More recently, I had the chance to try Knit Picks Foursquare Needles which come in fixed circulars, interchangeable circulars, and interchangeable short circulars. They are made of beautiful laminated birch, with smooth, flat sides. Each corner is gently rounded which makes them comfortable to hold.


I tend to get sore arms (forearms mostly but also pain at my elbow) from muscle overuse when knitting. With square needles, I find that I don't squeeze the needles quite as tightly so my hands relax a little. The needles help keep the stitches in place instead of my fingers doing all of the work. This allows me to knit longer, with relaxed hands, and less pain.


Besides being gorgeous and fun to knit with, I love the way my knitting looks! I like how even the stitches are, even when I'm tired and not really focused on producing even tension.


If you're thinking about square, interchangeable needles, Foursquare has a "Try It" needle set for only $16.99 (at the time of this writing), which lets you try out the Foursquare wood and nickel plated interchangeable tips in the most common sizes US 6 (4mm) and US 7 (4.5mm).


Addi also produces a square metal needle in their Rocket2 line which can be found in yarn shops and online at retailers like Jimmy Beans.


Try knitting with squares and see what you think!


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