Why should I do a tension square?

Starting a new knitting pattern is so exciting.  Sliding your needles out of their bag, breaking the ball band on the yarn and feeling it run through your fingers as you cast on.  But hang on a minute, haven't you forgotten something?  Before you cast on 100 stitches or more for the back of that jumper, isn’t there something you should do?  How about a tension square?  I can practically hear the groans.  I know it seems boring and you might think it a waste of time allow me to persuade you.

Pretty much every pattern you buy or download will have tension information on it which tells you how many stitches and rows make up a 10 cm or 4 inch square.  These are not random numbers, but rather an essential tool to help you complete the project successfully.  After all you do want a garment that fits and that you’ll want to wear, don’t you?

Think of a pattern as a recipe.  When adding salt or chilli powder you'd follow the instructions, wouldn’t you? Imagine if you added a tablespoon of one of these ingredients instead of a teaspoon!  Ok, so let’s show you what can happen if you don’t match the tension, if your teaspoon is a tablespoon. Your pattern calls for 22 stitches and 30 rows to 10 cm which is a standard DK tension.  What if your tension was 18 stitches and 25 rows, which means you are a loose knitter.  Because there are less stitches in your 10 cm it means your garment is going to be that much bigger.  In this case more than 20% bigger and longer.  That's pretty much 2 dress sizes.  Okay so I am dramatizing for effect but you can start to see why taking half an hour out to do a tension square is essential and can save you time and heartache later.

So what if your square is larger than it should be?  How can you remedy this?  You need to make your knitting tighter and you can do this by going down a needle size or two, repeating the tension square just to check.  If you're tension square is too small, you will want to go up a needle size.

Also don’t assume that your tension will always remain the same. Just because you are tight on one tension square don’t think you always will be. Using different needles has changed my tension and using different yarns can too. So always, always check your tension on every project.

Some knitters keep all their tension squares and knit them into blankets; one knitter I know uses the lining of pockets to check her tension, then there is no need to unravel it.

Doing a tension square is definitely not time wasted.  It is the building block for your pattern and is definitely a good investment of time.

We also have a handy tension square tool available to download for free from our website in the knitting tools section.