Monday, January 13, 2014

Tight Knitters, Let it GO!

tight, uneven knitting tension
No to knitters have the same natural gauge or
tension.  It would be great if we did, but we don't.  Instead we work to "get gauge", or make our swatch have the same stitch count per inch as the pattern recommends.  One type of knitter seems to have more trouble establishing gauge than others - the tight knitter.  This problem starts when you first learn to knit, and if you don't break it, it follows you for the length of your knitting life.

I'm talking to and about the knitters whose wrists hurt from trying to force the needles into each stitch.  The knitters whose work never slips off the needle because the stitches are strangling the needle.  The knitters who can't imagine how people perform the magic trick of cabling, because every time they try, they break the cable needle due to extreme stitch tension.  Does your stockinette stitch always look wavy, even after blocking?  Then this is for you.

wavy knitting due to knitting too tightly below,
 corrected tension above
Besides the fact that it's physically uncomfortable to knit this way, why stop knitting so tightly?  Well, it's definitely going to improve the look of your knitting.  Loosening up will allow you to explore a variety of stitches that have never worked for you before.  And knitting at an average gauge extends the life of the garment you create.  (Why?  We'll get to that in a minute.)

How do you stop choking the needle?  First, commit to breaking this habit.  Just take my word for it, this works.  In between every step of the stitch, let go of yarn and needle and put your hand in your lap.  Put your needle into the stitch- hand in the lap.  Wrap the yarn around the needle- hand in the lap.  Draw the new stitch through the old- hand in the lap.  And start again.  After the first couple of rows, it gets much easier. 

check your tension
Now look at the knitting you've created with the new method.  It's much looser, and it's very, very even.  Did you need to learn to hold your needles in a slightly different angle so the work didn't slide?  Did you see that holding on to the yarn for dear life didn't, in fact, create any benefits?  Great.  Now, slowly but surely, as you move forward in your swatch, you can return to holding your yarn, but loosely this time.  At the end of every row, assess the tension of the stitches on the needle.  If you see that you're tightening up again, return to putting your hand in your lap.  Cool, huh?

When you pick up your work next time, repeat the exercise.  Do this until you check the last row you've worked, and it isn't tightening up.  You'll see that it doesn't take too many sittings.  You're most susceptible to going back to tight knitting when you're on autopilot.  But after a few sittings, regular tension will become second nature. 

Why do your garments suffer when you strangle the needle?  Because all the added tension you put on the yarn stresses the fibers.  They no longer behave the way they were designed to.  Flexibility and loft are lost, and twist is exaggerated.  This exaggerating causes the knitting to twist or bias on the diagonal as the yarn tries to return to its relaxed state.  Everything you do to the fabric you've created after it has been knit in very high tension breaks down the yarn, causing pilling, more twisting, messy edges, and irregular wear patterns.  Enjoy the fruits of appropriate tension.  You'll find it's faster and much more satisfying.


Kati said...

That is great advice! I have been a tight knitter for years until I suffered from tennis elbow. I promised myself I would never give up knitting. So I started slowmotion knitting with a sticky note on my patterns -"Let go!".

Amazingly my elbow has never hurt again. And I took up designing.

Love your posts!
kmitsewcrochet on ravelry

Unknown said...

Thanks! It's amazingly simple, but it works! If you're susceptible, you may want to read my post on Knitter's Elbow. It's another nightmare that comes from tight knitting, and it didn't occur to me to add it to the article. Thanks for the reminder!