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Thursday, 5 April 2012

Knitting causing you tension??!

Knitters tend to approach tensions in several ways. Some knitters never knit a tension square - whispering with a giggle that belies the fact that they know how naughty they are, but "I just want to get on with my knitting, it seems such a waste of time". Other knitters can get slightly obsessive about tensions, worrying that anything they are knitting, from a scarf to complex jumper, something to be felted or a hat can't possibly be attempted without a tension square.
At Toft we like to think that we fall somewhere in between. Yes, giving tensions in patterns is very important and most if not all of our patterns now have them, but whilst we tend to knit tension squares for garments quite religiously, we don't tend to follow this rule when knitting scarves, snoods and other accessories.
Now you may call us reckless but if you have been knitting for a while you probably know whether you have a tight or loose tension and you adjust your needles accordingly and when knitting a scarf for instance it doesn't matter too much if it turns out a little smaller or bigger than the sample piece that we have. There again if you are a newbie knitter, as many Toft fans are, we want you to feel comfortable that the first pieces of knitting you attempt are quite easy; they grow nice and quickly on large needles giving you lots of confidence to continue knitting and you shouldn't have to worry about getting too technical with tensions. In fact our beginner patterns are designed with this in mind.
When talking about knitting, tension covers not only the amount of stitches and rows within a given measurement, it can also refer to the weight of the yarn and therefore a measurement of tension or gauge. We occasionally get calls from worried knitters querying which needle size to use for their pattern because the needle size given on the yarn band is different to that given in the pattern. Again call us reckless but who doesn't love a beautiful lacy snood knitted in fine yarn on huge needles? This effect is very different to that you would achieve by sticking to the guide needle size of 3mm for instance. Likewise when knitting for something that will be later felted, like the Bulb Bag you need to use large needles (bigger than the 8mm indicated on the yarn band) in order that your bag will then felt correctly in the washing machine once completed.
You will find lots of references to the amount of stitches and rows per 10cm that should be achieved when using a particular yarn with a particular needle size in patterns books, magazines and on the web. These are very useful and all Toft yarns do knit to their given weight, Lace or 2 ply, Fine (3-4ply), Double Knitting, Aran and Chunky, but they shouldn't be taken as the complete gospel. Knitting would look very boring if we didn't experiment, use huge needles to knit a rib snood for example or a moss stitch blanket with several strands of chunky yarn.
Toft Tip: Some references and patterns class Toft Aran as Chunky and Toft Chunky as Super Chunky, if the needle size recommended is around 5-5.5mm then you need Toft Aran and above around a 7or 8mm you would need Toft Chunky - of course this all goes out of the window depending on the effect you want to achieve and the stitch you are using. Toft's Herringbone Blanket for example is knitted on 12mm needles (10mm needles recommended) because we found after experimenting that this size gave the best stitch definition in our Chunky wool alpaca blend yarn, we did start off with an 8mm needle!
The tension of a yarn weight is actually a very subjective thing, two DK yarns made by the same producers, in the same fibres, will have a slight variation in their knitted tension depending on something as small as the different dye colour used. Therefore it stands to reason that DK yarns of different fibres, dyes and even natural colours will also have a variation in their tension. It took a couple of years of spinning with alpaca (not to mention the sweat and tears) to know just how to spin the perfect Toft Alpaca Shop yarn for you and this isn't necessarily the same way that other alpaca yarns are spun.
I guess what we are saying is, don't let knitting tensions get you down.
We would recommend as a rule that you should knit a tension square definately for garments, but if you don't want to, or think you know your own knitting tension quite well then don't worry so much for accessories.

Some Toft Tension Tips
* If you are knitting with Toft yarn to a non-Toft pattern then work a tension square. You might need a different yarn weight to the one given on the pattern, yarn weights vary between producers as does the meterage of yarn, so worry less about the weight in grams and more about the meterage within your ball of yarn.
* If you are a knitting newbie your tension is likely to be either really really tight or really quite loose. Don't panic, with practise this will sort itself out and you will discover your actual knitting tension. Just be aware that your first piece might not be perfect - but it's your first piece of knitting so be proud of your achievement! You could always book on one of our beginner knitting workshops to hone your skills
* When knitting intarsia and fairisle your tension and something called yarn-dominance will be very important. If you have a loose tension definitely use smaller needles than required when knitting intarsia, you will probably also have to compensate for your loose tension whilst you are knitting between colours by tightening the yarn as you go, and fairisle, that a whole other story! Why not book a place on our colour workshop to learn more- we guarentee you'll love colour work.
* If you are going to knit a tension square, knit more than just the amount of stitches and rows stated in the pattern's tension square. Never be tempted to measure from edge to edge of your knitting. You should also, if you are being serious about this tension malarky, block (i.e. wash and press your little square) just as would do the final item. Knitting will relax and settle once blocked and this will affect your tension measurement. (A blocking blog post will be coming soon).
* Don't sweat it - to paraphrase knitting guru Elizabeth Zimmerman be the master of your knitting and don't let it cause you tension!
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