Friday, 22 June 2012

I've got a tension headache!

Are you one of those gang-ho type knitters? The kind who grabs any wool available and the indicated size of knitting needles and just gets on with it? I know I've often just ignored the tension square details given in the pattern, but to be fair this is only where the size of the finished article really doesn't matter. I tend to do this when knitting toys, as long as I know I have more than enough wool to complete the item. I do find them to be a tedious afair, rather dull, yet utterly essential in the knitting process. Ever wondered why that fabulous bolero, the one you spent so long knitting, doesn't fit? The answer my friend is in the tension.

Some of you may be wondering, what is a tension square? These are usually made up by knitting a 10cm square of the particular pattern stitch used in your project. The goal is to get the same number of stitches and rows in the 10cm square as indicated in the pattern. This is a sure fire way of ensuring that the completed article will turn out the same size as the designer intended. How to achieve this goal is the tedious part - it invloves possibly knitting a number of tensions squares until you get it right.

To get it just right, cast on the number of stitches required for the tension square plus 6 more stitches. Do this with the recommended yarn and needles as specified in the pattern. Make sure you knit as you would normally, not too tight and not too loose. This should result in you being able to maintain the correct tention throughout the project. Continue to knit in whatever pattern is given for the tension square(usually stocking stitch), and continue to knit for about 14cm and cast off. Now comes the measuring. If you find that the required number of stitches actually measures more than 10cm, your garment is going to turn out larger than you want. Change your knitting needles for a size smaller and try knitting the tension square again. If the number of stitches measures less than 10cm, you guessed it - that item is going to be too small. Increase your knitting needle size and start again. If you are lucky, you only need to knit two tension squares.

One more benefit of knitting a tension square is seeing how it responds to being washed. This will answer the questions that may plague your mind. Will the colours run? Will it shrink in the wash? Will it felt? A bit of effort required, but worth the peace of mind knowing all the hours spent will not be in vain when your item fits first time. Not only that, but you'll know how best to care for it to ensure it brings you pleasure for years to come.

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