martian mischief

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Location: Athens, Georgia, United States

Friday, April 27, 2007

knitting tension and gauge exercise

Get a piece of scrap knitting, like a washcloth or scarf and practice doing this for 10 minutes a day before doing your regular knitting.

First Principle: the needle size, not how tightly or loosely the stitches are made, should determine the stitch size.

Second Principle: tight knitters complete their stitches on the taper of the needle, then force them back on the shaft. Loose knitters on the shaft of the needle, leaving room to insert the next needle.

Third Principle: in addition to the stitch, pay attention to that little segment of yarn between stitches. It also affects your gauge.

At first, just try this: knit a stitch very slowly, but as you do so watch the yarn go around the needle. It should pass smoothly over the needle with a minimal gap where the two sides of the V come together. In order to get more room to insert your needle, you will slide that stitch down on the taper of the needle when it is time to knit it. Tip your needle vertically on its point. When made correctly your stitch will not slide, but when you need to move it, it will slide easily. Just keep watching the wrapping of the stich and the tension of the yarn. It becomes hypnotic.

Things to watch: Hold the tips of your needles close together. Loose knitters make grandiose movements with a lot of stretch between the stitches separating the needles. Tight knitters cramp everything up on the tapers of the needles. It is only necessary to pass the needle through until the stitch is on the shaft, extra inches on the shaft don't count.

Examine how you are holding your yarn. Loose knitters have almost no tension on their yarn. Tight knitters have it in a death grip. You should be able to pull the yarn through your fingers and feel the tension on it yet pull it through easily. Wrap the yarn through your fingers and pull on it slowly to feel the tension. Now loop it over your little finger again, pull it slowly and feel the tension.

Try different numbers of wraps with different sizes of yarn. Learning to control yarn tension with wraps will speed up your knitting and reduce the tension in your hands. Controlling the tension by gripping the yarn is unreliable because hands get tired and are very much subject to our own personal tensions and moods.

After you have passed your right needle through and the stitch is on the shaft, place your right index finger on it (or whichever finger is handy) to hold it in place. Large movememts would now loosen it up even further, but your finger will help hold the tension in place. When you have the stitch safely on your right needle, don't check it out. Check out the stitch that comes before it. The one you just made will still shift around until it is trapped by another stitch. The one before it is the one you may want to adjust.

Loose knitters want to be fast knitters; tight knitters want precise stitches. Don't worry about speed, it will come naturally. Tightness is hard to control, ease it up and let the yarn do its own adjusting. Just keep watching that smooth passage of yarn and the neat line up of stitches.

While you are in this learning process, your tensions and gauges will be constantly changing. Check them often. It is not necessary for your stitch gauge to match what is on the yarn wrapper, but when it does, you know you have your tension technique down pat.

I've been knitting for 58 years. I still practice my stitches every day, only now I am brave enough to do it on my project. Why do I do it? Because even when we have the technique down pat, we are subject to our own personal tensions, nerves, depressions, etc. This little practice also helps to even our lives.