Learn to Knit part 3 : what are tension squares?
how to make your tension square meaningful!
Here’s where we clear the myths, mists and mystery surrounding tension squares.
In our mini series ‘Learn to Knit’ we have mentioned tension squares quite a lot, so what exactly is a tension square and why do you need one?
On a classic Double Knitting Yarn weight the tension might be 22 to 24 sts & 30 to 32 rows to 10cms (4″) square on 4mm needles. Tension is the number of stitches and rows measured over 10cms.
A knitted garment is designed by a mathematical calculation or grading based on this initial tension, so if you are knitting to a different tention to that stated in your pattern, then you will eventually produce a garment that is not sized correctly. So tension is important in determining the finished garment size.
Many knitters disregard the importance of knitting up that first tension square, and then blame the pattern or the yarn for their over large (or too small) garment!
A tension square is worth the one evening to prepare and measure so that you can work on a garment over possibly several weeks or months that will be the right size for it’s wearer!
to work a tension square… 24 sts, 32 rows to 10cms stocking stitch on 4mm needles
Cast on the number of stitches stated in the tension part of the instructions, plus 6, keeping the first and last 2 stitches knit on every row, this helps the edges to lay flat.
In this instance 30 sts.
Work the square in stocking stitch until it measures 14cm.
Break off the yarn and slip it through the stitches and take them off the needle. Don’t cast off as this can distort the stitches. (As you will see below, for the purpose of photos, we left our tension square on the needle)
Lay the swatch flat and place a ruler horizontally on the square. Place a pin at the side of one and another pin 10cm away.
Count the stitches between the two pins, including any half stitches.
To count the rows…. As discussed, a stitch makes a v and it’s these v‘s that you count vertically as rows.
Lay the swatch flat and place a ruler vertically on the square. Place a pin at the bottom of one v and another pin 10cm away.
Count the v shapes between the two pins, including any half stitches.
For our example, if you have 24 stitches and 32 rows between the pins then you have the correct tension and can continue to follow the pattern.
To adjust the tension…. If you have too few stitches, e.g. 23, 22, or 21 etc, your knitting is too loose and the garment you knit will be larger than stated. to tighten up or condense your tension change to smaller needles, e.g 3.75mm.
If you have too many stitches, e.g. 25, 26 etc, your knitting is too tight and the garment you knit will be smaller than stated. You need to loosen or augment your tension, so change to larger needles, e.g 4.5mm.
(Jodie has never knitted with DK- she usually prefers a chunky yarn weight, and with this first tension square, she has achieved 22sts over 30 rows-perhaps a bigger needle if she ever knits with DK again)
If you are finding it difficult to obtain both the correct row and stitch tension together, then it is more important to achieve the correct stitch tension. This is because you can alway knit more (or less) rows at the end, but can’t add or take away stitches once you’ve knitted.
Actual measurement of garment should be 96cm(34″) 101cm(36″) 107cm(38″)
but if your tension is too tight, your garment will be 88cms 92.5cm 98cm
and if your tension is too loose, your garment will be 105.5cm 111cm 118cm
Finally, back to ball bands; spot the difference – here’s 2 slightly different approaches to tension square information
The lilac yarn which is Bergere de France Lima, is a lightweight DK. The photo just shows a tension square stating aig 3.5 which is short for ‘aiguille’ meaning needle 3.5m. It also states 24m horizontally inside the base of the tension square which is short for 24 mailles which is french for stitches and 30r is shown vertically which is 30 rangees or rows.
So hopefully now, you can see the use of spending the time prepping a tension square befor you start your next knitting project. For knitting yarns, pattern books, kits and tools, you can visit us in our lovely shop the-Stitchery in Lewes, upstairs at the Riverside.
There are sometime offers online that aren’t available in-store – don’t forget you can buy online and collect from the-stitchery for free! Delivery is free with orders over £25. How good is that?