The tension! The tension!

One of my current knitting projects is the Paton winter wrap (the one Eleanor spotted in Wollongong Spotlight in previous years. I now have it and happy to share). It uses a Paton yarn called Zhivargo, which I don’t really like, so I bought some Jo Sharp Silkroad Aran (colour: cornsilk) off eBay. It recommends a 6.0mm with the Zhivargo but after doing a tension square, I thought 6.5mm would be okay with the Silkroad Aran (I don’t know what I was thinking!) …

So after having progress quite a bit, I measured the width of the fabric and it was way too wide – it really could not be rescued. The only thing to do is to get involved in this tension square business. I then saw the error of my way. When bigger needles are used, 1 stitch can be over 0.5 mm in width. So, say, over 125 stitches, that would be mean a difference of over 6.5 cm!

Jo Sharp recommends doing a tension square of 40 stitches by about 40 rows. The knitted fabric should then be laid absolutely flat when stitches and rows are counted (using pins, she said). So aiming for a 15.5 st x 21 rows of stocking stitch over a 10 cm x 10 cm, here are my results:

6.0mm – 14 st x 20 rows

5.5mm – 14.5 st x 22 rows

5.0mm – 16 st x 22.5 rows

So what do I do? The least difference is the 5.0mm needles, which over 125 stitches (width of back) will give me a difference of 2 cm. The style of the garment is loose and I reckon it could probably tolerate that resize. But can anyone tell me how might I have gotten such a discrepencies on the row count?

Here’s what I learnt:

  • do a big tension square (40 stitches by 40 rows, or thereabouts)
  • look at what stich is specified for the tension square
  • take the needle out and lie the fabric flat for counting
  • convert the dimensions of the finished garment from stitches to cm if these are not given in the pattern for reference

Does anyone one have any tips?

  1. eleanor11 said:

    Which of the tension squares did you do first and which last? I’m surprised that the 6.0 and 5.5 are so similiar and the 5.0 is different given that the needle increments are the same. It looks like the 5.0 might have been the first and so the tightest. If so, and if you were to knit it again, you might get 15/15.5 stitches.

  2. novice_knitter said:

    I knitted them in the order of 6.5mm, 6.0mm, 5.5mm, and 5.0mm. They were knitted at different sittings but none was that tight. Perhaps, 5.0mm was too loose to account for its closeness to 5.5mm. May be I should do it again?

  3. margmchugh said:

    What a very helpful piece of original research and write up. Now, with the benfit of hindsight, I can identify the problem with the too large Jo Sharp classic cardi I finished two weeks ago. I was assuming it was the pattern and all the time it was me. I generated an extra ten centimetres over the 200 stitches back and front! Not to mention the arms, especially the upper arms. I might have to find big person to give my cardi to, but at the moment, I wear it a lot since the temperature is not friendly. The weather broadcaster got very excited last night as today there was to be a possibility of it reaching 19 degrees in between squalls, downpours, cold fronts, high winds and heavy cloud. It is so uplifiting when the sun comes out.

    I took the Jox2 advice, somewhat belatedly, and knitted a 40 stitch x row tension square (after I read the research but not before I started the new project) with the new Louisa Harding gold tweed on 4mm needles. Two stitches too big. I am going to repeat the research with 3.75 and 3.5 to see what happens. Failure to observe due protocol, and assuming patterns just knit big (what was I thinking) I started a size too small, and as a result must unpick 5 days work on a herringbone welt. Herringbone. Ahhh! That will learn me. It has learnt me. I have learnt that I probably need to use 3.5 instead of 4 as a matter of course. I don’t have any theory about the unexpected research results. If I get an insight I’ll share it.

    • novice_knitter said:

      Mmm… yes, I find tension squares are very taxing. Although the patterns all say how absolutely vital it is to test the tension, it still feels like hard work when you do it – because you know have to rip it out afterwards. I recently bought Debbie Bliss’s pattern book, ‘Special Family Knits’ at a discount bookstore (couldn’t pass the bargain – will post notable designs), she recommends a 13cm square, so less work than what Jo Sharp suggests.

      Debbie Bliss also said that rows are perhaps not as important as stitches if one follows the dimensions in cm. I do find having the completed dimension of the garment in cm helpful. I do measure as I go – that’s how I discovered what I was knitting was too wide. But of course the measurement is not entirely accurate if the knitting is still on a needle.

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