Sunday, 3 December 2006

A little help with tension

Do you suffer from tension problems while knitting?
I used to. My problem was that I never bothered to find out what my tension was. I just didn't want to waste time knitting stupid squares when I could have been getting right on knitting my mis-shapen outsize garment. That's what my mother taught me, anyway.

You'll be surprised to learn that I had quite a lot of bad experiences that way. Most garments I tried to knit came out much larger than the pattern suggested, because my tension is usually quite loose. And I mean really quite a lot. Six inches or so around a chest was not uncommon.

Some of you may have noticed a new item in the sidebar entitled "Needle Size Calculator". This marvellous little widget was created for me by Mr Knitbert, probably when he should have been putting up shelves or mowing the lawn, but I was so pleased with it I didn't mind.

When I began to read US authors on knitting, and read the term gauge, this made much more sense to me than tension, and also my mother had never given me any advice about gauge. I understand the gauge as being the density of my knitted fabric in terms of stitches, which of course is affected by my tension.

Wow, I thought, maybe this is a really important attribute of the knitted fabric, which I really need to know about if I want to be successful with my knitting. I decided that I would begin knitting tension swatches for garments where final size is important, and for new yarn or techniques which I hadn't tried before.

Hmmm, how does this work then? I knit a square with the recommended needles, measure the stitch density, if it's wrong, knit another square with different needles, repeat until square measures correct gauge or all hair is torn out.

Mr Knitbert's clever widget means that you only have to knit ONE SQUARE. I knit the swatch on the recommended needles. If you click on the button under the "Needle Size Calculator" heading you will see that there are some boxes to fill in. You put the size your swatch should have been for the number of stitches you have cast on, the actual measured width of the swatch for that number of stitches, and the size of needles used.

The widget then calculates the size of needles to use to get gauge. You might have to round up or down to the nearest real needle size, as the widget is very literal. I have had excellent results with this approach and I thought others might like to try it.

Let me know what you think and if you have any suggestions for improving it I'll be sure and pass them on to Mr Knitbert. He's got quite a few DIY projects to do in the New Year so he'll probably be in the mood for doing some displacement activities.


terri said...

The needle sizer is a brilliant idea knitbert!!!!!!!!! I'm guilty of neglecting to do tension squares on numerous occassions too:-)

Christina said...

that's a great idea. I'll knit a tension square before my next project and use your widget!!! ;)

Mr. Knitbert said...

G'day all you tense knitters
The needle sizer button does not seem to work using the FireFox browser (version This is under investigation. In the mean time use IE6 or 7.

Jacquie said...

What a clever widget!