Monday, 12 May 2014

Knitting Tension (Gauge) for the Terrified: Part 1

So you've spent hours seeking out the pattern of your heart's desire, you've found the perfect yarn to knit it with that you makes your heart sing (and your mouth water!), you've snatched the size needles recommended in the pattern from your stash, you sprint over to your fave knitting seat and just are about to rip that ball band off in joyous frenzy- STOP RIGHT THERE and read on !!!

I know I touched on this subject in my how to substitute yarns of a similar thickness tutorial, but as tension really is the keystone to knitting designs I feel a more in depth forray into this topic is warranted.

A surprising number of knitters skip the vital stage of swatching their tension before embarking on their knitting journey for a number of reasons:
  • they are impatient to to start knitting the actual project
  • it seems to be a mysterious and unfathomable process
  • they are not sure how to go about swatching for and measuring tension - knitted fabric is pretty wriggly isn't it?
  • they believe there is a RIGHT or WRONG tension, and feel defeated if theirs doesn't match, so if they don't swatch then they don't have to feel bad about their knitting ability
  • it can seem tricky to match the tension exactly and feels like they are fumbling in the dark.
  • they are worried about 'wasting' yarn, or running out of yarn if they've used some of it on swatching.
I'm sure you can think of  more reasons why folks avoid the tension swatch - if so, do share by making a comment below.

I can relate to all the above, and confess that in the early days of knitting I never swatched, and sometimes this works out just fine for simple projects, but it often leads to some disappointing results such as:
  • it comes out too small or too large
  • you can't get your head through the neck opening
  • the pieces don't fit very well together when you come to making a garment up
  • the resulting knitted fabric 'drops' because it is knit too loose
  • the resulting fabric feels stiff because it is knit too tightly
  • you run our of yarn before you finish and can't get more in the same dye lot
  • the yarn you chose doesn't actually look that good knit up to that pattern afterall.....
After weeks of slaving over a hot pair of needles this can feel disastrous, and all that hard work (and costly yarn) ends up relegated to the back of your wardrobe which is such a shame. For the sake of a couple of extra hours, the outcome could be very different, and a couple of hours seems a small investment of time  to make before committing to all those hours it will take to knit your project.

Now I know that some of you die-hard non-swatchers have heard all this before, but nothing convinces as much as a real example -  seeing really is believing. These two samples were knit with the same yarn and same number of stitches – the only difference was the needle size used – the smaller sample used 2.5mm, and the larger used 4mm. As I hope you can see this has made a huge difference to the dimensions of the finished samples, and should hopefully persuade even the most resistant amongst you to take the time to do that tension swatch.

Next time I'll show you how to measure the tension of your knitted swatch and, more importantly, what to do if yours doesn't match what the pattern is asking for.

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