Wednesday, 13 July 2011

What's your quickest way of working the right tension out???

Hey everyone

Ive been flicking through some old Knitmaster patterns from the 70s and have come across a fair few that i wouldnt mind trying to knit. The only problem is Im not really that good at getting my tension to meet the tension stated in the pattern. Normally i use Knitware to design things according to my tension but when you read from a pattern you have to follow the set tension.

Im just wondering how people go about this? To do it properly do i need to choose a tension dial i feel is appropriate for the yarn and then knit a proper tension swatch as described in the instruction book and then measure the swatch?? What if this tension didnt match the one needed in the pattern? Would i then have to choose a different tension dial number and re-do the whole tension swatch again?

People's thoughts on this would be much appreciated, thank you



  1. Hi Phil, I to have lots of 60's and 70's patterns that the old lady sold me with the knitmaster 321 when I bought it years ago when I first started machine knitting.
    At the time they were the only machine knitting patterns I had so that all I could use so what I did about the tension was start with the suitable tension dial they told you and just knit a little 4 inch tension square that was the tension stated in the pattern either that or I would just pick a suitable tension with the yarn and just not knit a tension swatch at all, any way that was what I used to do and still do sometimes because it almost always came out correct and if it didn’t I would either lower the tension or do the next size in the pattern down. Hope this helps, and happy knitting.

  2. Thanks Alex, I may look into it more. :-)

  3. Hi Phil, just discovered your blog (thanks for commenting on mine). I've a very bad habit of never using the correct yarn for a pattern (and vintage patterns call for yarn that is impossible to get and probably long gone to the moths). I do my best to match the stitch count, because recaculating shaping is not easy. If the stitch count is close, it's easy enough to add or subtract rows (say you had to add a row every 11 rows to get gauge). The other method you might use is a knit contour device. Knitware makes a reasonable schematic you can copy onto the sheet - and then you can use whatever tension/yarn combo gives you the "handle" you like :)

  4. Just found your blog and have added it to my google reader! I've recently entered the world of machine knitting and already have 3 machines. hehe So i understand very much where you are coming from with the machine collecting! Just a thought on this post in case you actually read comments on your older posts.. I saw in an old book to knit a tension swatch it said to take the yarn and start on the lowest possible tension, do a few rows and then a row of wy, up the tension a few clicks, 1 row of wy, and then a bunch of rows of MY, 1 row wy, up the tension, 1 row wy, a bunch of rows MY etc. Until it gets ridiculously loose then you can measure each until you match it to the pattern. Seems like a quality idea. They also suggested pasting this tension swatch in a booklet with the yarn band and some notes written out next to it so that if you reuse a certain yarn type you don't have to do another tension swatch. Anyway, just something that I came across.

  5. Hi Phil,
    I've found through the years that I get the best results by knitting a tension swatch and designing my own pattern (whether using pen and calculator or software) just as you mentioned. I find that matching the tension in a pattern in a magazine never really works out perfectly and while I can match the sts called for, mostly I cannot get an exact match to the rows. I don't usually have the yarn called for in the magazine as I live in Canada and the magazine is usually British or it’s an old magazine or book, so I search around for a yarn that I think would be close and looks good and knit up a swatch and decide on the best tension. I think the important thing is to find the optimum tension for the yarn you are using and for the type of garment you are making – sometimes loose with drape, sometimes stiffer.

    If it's just a drop shoulder type of sweater or cardigan or a simple shape and there’s a schematic I divide by their tension and multiply by mine. In other words if they say cast on 180 sts, I divide by their stitch tension, say 28 sts to 4 inches and multiply by mine, say 32 and that gives me the number of sts to cast on. I do the same for rows. Where you run into problems is on sweaters that have raglan sleeves where the tension is really important on the angle. (I once made a yoke neck sweater from a pattern in a magazine and although I worked hard to match the tension, I ended up with a bit of a deeper yoke than called for, the rest of the sweater fit fine.) If there’s no schematic, I just get out paper and pen and draw it out from the written instructions in the pattern. I have quite a few of the old patterns from the 70’s too and magazines going back to the mid 80’s – good stuff in all of them!

    On tension swatches, larger is better – you get a more accurate reading – you can always pull it back later. Sometimes I decide on the tension after doing the swatch and then I cast on, do the rib and knit about 6 inches and then take it off the machine and look at it to see if it is going to be OK. You have to think differently with a knitting machine – you have to think “I can knit this again in no time” and throw the piece/swatch/whatever in the corner and start again.