It’s the topic of conversation at the store on a regular basis … tension squares? no, I don’t bother, I know that I am a tight knitter – I just make myself knit loosely. Can’t understand why my patterns don’t always turn out thought … or, I don’t have time for tension squares, I just hope for the best … Maybe you haven’t even heard about them, maybe you are in denial, maybe you are a dedicated tension square creator – whatever your relationship is to tension squares, they are an important part of knitting …
Creating a tension square and measuring your tension is not a complicated process, it just takes a little bit of time (precious knitting time I hear you say). And yes, I know that it may seem a waste of time, especially when it all works out perfectly, but which scenario would you prefer A: dive into your latest “OMG , I have to knit that” project without creating a tension square and finishing it only to find out that it is too big or too small … OR B: spend the first knitting session getting your tension right so that the beautiful yarn you have purchased especially for that OMG project isn’t wasted and when finished, it fits!
Firstly, what is tension? In knitting, tension (or gauge) refers to the number of stitches per 10cms horizontally, and how many rows per 10cms vertically, in a knitted fabric. Tension measurements as outlined in patterns and ball bands generally refer to tension required to create a medium density fabric.
Knitting the tension square
1 – Using the ballband or pattern tension measurements as guidance, grab the yarn you want to use and the suggested needle size outlined in the pattern. Whatever the suggested tension is, cast on 15 more stitches (this will allow you a good area to measure, and the edge stitches won’t skew your measurements).
2 – Knit the first 4 rows in garter stitch to give you a border that won’t curl, then start knitting your tension square as per the pattern guidelines (normally patterns refer to tension based on stocking stitch – sometimes a pattern calls for you to knit in a specific stitch, or a number of repeats of a lace pattern). Continue knitting until your piece measures more than 10cms, then finish off with another 4 rows of garter stitch. At this stage, you do not have to cast off if you do not want to, you can just pull the tension square off the needles (although, I prefer to cast off so as not to unravel my square as I am measuring it).
3 – You can hand block the square slightly to even out the knitting by giving it a gentle pull corner to corner, sideways and lengthways. Now lay it out on flat surface ready for measuring (you can pin it to make it easier to measure it you like).
Measuring the tension square
4 – Measuring in the centre of the square , line up your tape measure or a ruler (rulers are said to be better to use than measuring tapes, as measuring tapes over time can become stretched and therefore not give you absolutely correct tension – I have always used a tape measure, and never had any problems) to the left edge of a stitch. It helps you to visualise each stitch as a ‘v’, and measure 10cms and mark with two pins.
5 – Now count your stitches in between the two pins. It might help to use the tip of your needle of a pencil to trace the ‘v’s’ as you count. In the sample above, I counted 25 stitches inside the 10cms.
6 – Count the number of rows per 10cms by turning your tape measure 90° . Line up the tape along the left edge of a vertical column of stitches, and count how many ‘v’s’ are within the 10cms. In the sample above, I counted 34 rows inside the 10cms.
At this stage, there are three possible ways to complete this sentence: “The pattern tension is outlined as 25 sts & 34 rows to 10cm/4in square over stocking stitch using 3.25mm (US 3) needles, my tension is …
… the same stitches per 10cms
… more stitches per 10cms
… less stitches per 10cms
Here’s how to adjust your tension
7 – (let’s start with the easy one) … the same stitches per 10cms … That’s fabulous! Given your style of knitting with the yarn you have chosen and the needles you love, you can get cracking on that OMG project.
8 – … more stitches per 10cms … hmmm it’s a little tighter than expected. If you have more stitches, your finished project will be too small. Change to a larger needle and re-knit your tension square (sorry, I did just say re-knit your tension square)
9 – … less stitches per 10cms … ok, looks a looser than expected. If you have less stitches, your finished project will be too big. Change to a smaller needle, and re-knit your tension square (yes, re-knit your tension square)
10 – let’s talk about rows per 10cms … measuring stitches is the most important thing to get right. If the stitch count is right, the rows should be too different to the required tension measurement. Most patterns use measured length rather than rows to determine when you will perform an action (eg: “continue straight until work measured 15cm”). In this case, a slight difference in row count will not matter, jsut keep knitting until you get to the desired length. Some pattern instructions however, will say “continue straight for 20 rows”. If this is the case, you are going to have to calculate how many rows to knit based on your tension square. First calculate your tension v. pattern tension: Your tension is 33 rows, pattern tension is 30 rows, therefore the calc is 33 ÷ 30 = 1.1. Therefore, when the pattern calls for ‘x’ number of rows, you will need to multiply ‘x’ by 1.1 to create the same length of knitting the pattern is expecting. Be smart though … read the pattern and base your knitting actions on what the pattern wants you to do ie: you might need to finish on a right on wrong side row, or complete a pattern repeat before continuing.
So there you have it, my 10-step process for tension squares … if you would like to read more about tension squares, I found this post to be useful.