You’ll often hear people talking about their ‘tension’ or ‘gauge’ when it comes to knitting. Tension/gauge is how many stitches/rows an average knitter will achieve in a given measurement. Often this measurement is done knitted in stocking-stitch (knit a row, purl a row), however occasionally patterns will give the tension when the yarn is knit up in a certain pattern. Unless it is stated on the pattern, always check your tension using stocking-stitch.
It is important before starting any project that you check your tension. This is to make sure that you don’t knit loosely (which would result in your work becoming too big) or too tight (which would result in your work becoming too small). Although you may knit to the perfect tension most of the time, occasionally a yarn may come along that you knit slightly differently with, for example some people knit looser than normal when using silkier yarns.
To find what the suggested tension is for your pattern, there is usually a tension section that tells you the tension you should be knitting up to. See our examples below:
To check your tension, you want to knit a swatch in the stitch stated in the tension section of your pattern (for this example we’re going to use stocking stitch) using the needle size that they have suggested. Make sure that your swatch is bigger than 10cm/4″ in width and height – we recommend knitting a square approximately 13cm square.
Once you have knitted your swatch, you want to place the piece on a flat surface, making sure not to stretch it as this could obscure your tension. Next, you want to mark out a 10cm/4″ square in the middle of your work. You will then count how many stitches and rows are within your square.
If your number of stitches/rows in your swatch is the same as the amount stated on the tension section, then your knitting should come out to the right size.
If the number of stitches/rows in your swatch is more than the amount stated on the tension section, then you are knitting too tight so you need to knit a bit looser so that your work doesn’t come out too small. Alternatively, you could try knitting with larger needles which could improve your tension.
If the number of stitches/rows in your swatch is less than the amount stated on the tension section, you are knitting too loosely so you need to knit a bit tighter so that your work doesn’t come out too big. Alternatively, you could try knitting with smaller needles which could improve your tension.