Do I need to check my tension?

Do I need to check my tension Loza Wool Dublin

Tension/Gauge….why it’s important to check it

Ask any knitter “do you check your gauge before starting a project” and a large number of them will say no. They’ve been knitting for years, their tension hasn’t changed etc. Yet we’re told on every pattern to check your tension before starting. Why?

If you’re making a garment, the last thing you want is for it to turn out too big or too small when you’ve put weeks (or even months) of work into it. Nightmare! Of course when we arrive home with the yarn to start a new project we want to cast on right away, not waste a couple of hours playing around with swatches and different needle sizes.

Recently a customer finished a child’s cardigan but it turned out much too small for the intended recipient. She thought there was a problem with the pattern but a quick calculation of the suggested tension and the number of stitches required showed that the pattern didn’t seem to be the problem. I asked her to go away and knit up two tension squares with two different needles sizes and we’d take a look at them. The photo below will show you the difference in size of the two swatches, one knit with a 4,5mm needle and the other with a 5mm. That’s 0.5mm in the difference but you can see how the two swatches turned out different sizes. Not a massive difference but that was over 30 stitches, so when you multiply that out across the actual number of stitches in your garment, that makes for a big difference.

But what if you have been knitting for years and everything turns out ok normally, why should you now start checking your tension. How would it suddenly make a difference?

Here’s just a few reasons why your tension can vary:

Time of day. Yes seriously. If you’re tired, if you’re watching TV at the same time, relaxed or concentrating hard on the piece you’re working on.

Needles – are you using a new pair of knitting needles? Maybe you’ve always used metal or aluminium needles but have used the same size in Bamboo this time, or you’re more used to straight needles but are using circulars this time. The size of the needle hasn’t changed but the material in the needle feels different in your hands and can affect the way you’re knitting. Some years ago I was commissioned to crochet two identical tops from a drawing by a designer. I designed the pattern and wrote detailed notes as I made the first top. About 4 inches into the second one, I realised it was turning out much smaller that the first one. I rechecked my notes, checked them against the first completed top and then checked the one I was working on again. Everything was correct but still there was a difference in size. After tearing my hair out for quite a while I discovered that I had two 3mm crochet hooks, both looked similar, but were giving me a completely different tension. Lesson learned, always take note of the needles or hook you’re using for a project, especially if you’re going to leave it aside for a while.

Yarn – if ever you use a different brand of yarn than the recommended one for your pattern, you need to check your tension. Different brands vary, different yarn qualities vary (cotton v acrylic for example).

Convinced? Great, if not, try it before your next project and see what happens.

Do I need to check my tension? Loza Wool Dublin

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