How to make a tension square

tension square 3

Nearly every person has a slightly different tension, which affects the size of the stitches they create. Some knit tight, and some loose – all to varying to degrees.

Being slightly “out” on the tension (or gauge) required to make an item can be a problem especially in bigger items like jerseys, as the small difference adds up over the full width/length of a garment.

To measure your knitting tension you need to create a tension square. This is usually done in stocking stitch unless your pattern states otherwise.

Many modern day yarns come with recommended gauges and the needle sizes required to achieve the correct tension. If your pattern does not give a gauge, then use the one provided on your yarn.

Tension instructions will tell you how many stitches to cast on, and how many rows to knit to achieve a 10cm x 10cm square. Sometimes, you are given instructions for a 5cm x 5cm square but it is wise to make the larger version.

In order to ensure an accurate measurement, you should always cast on 6-8 more stitches than are asked for, and knit 4-5 more rows than asked for. This is especially the case for stocking stitch as the sides have a tendency to curl.

For example, if your instructions are to cast on 22stitches and knit 30 rows to achieve a 10cm x 10cm square, then cast on 30 stitches and knit 35 rows.

tension square 1

Once you’ve knitted all the rows, cut the yarn and thread it through the stitches and slip them off the needle. Do not cast off or measure the swatch while it is still on the needle as this can distort the measurements.

tension square 2

Then take your measurements, leaving edging stitches out of the measurement as shown in the image below. Place a marker in the center of the swatch and count your stitches and rows from there, placing pins on all the edges of measuring area.

tension square 3

If the measurement between the pins is greater than 10cm, then your knitting is too loose. If it is less than 10cm, then your knitting is too tight.

If your knitting is too loose, make another swatch with smaller needles and if its too tight, make another swatch with bigger needles. Repeat this process until your tension square gives you the correct measurements – and only then should you proceed to start making your garment.