How To...

Published on February 9th, 2017 | by Merion


Tension? Gauge? Change your needle, not your knitting!

Knit a tension square! Knit a gauge swatch! We hear it all the time, but what does it mean? Why does it matter? Merion is here to explain!

Tension guide

Tension, gauge – what is it, and why does it matter? We so often hear people talk about tension, how to get it right, how to change it, knitting a tension or gauge square – but why?

You’ll notice, on a ball of yarn (see image above), there is a little graphic square that shows you how many stitches and rows you will get when you knit a 10cm x 10cm (4″) square: this is the yarn’s recommended tension, for example, a 10cm x 10cm square knitted in a DK yarn on 4mm needles will most often have 22 stitches across, and 30 rows.

Every pattern has a recommended tension noted at the beginning, and this is to ensure that if you knit the specific sizes quoted in the pattern, using the pattern’s noted tension, the knitted garment will be the finished size indicated.

The reason this is importantĀ is because everybody knits differently. Some of us knit tightly, some of us knit loosely – some of us knit somewhere in-between – and this is why it is so important to knit a tension square before you begin knitting a garmentĀ so that you know how your personal tension measures up to the tension indicated for a pattern.

The first rule of understanding tension is this:


I have said this over and over again to knitters who bemoan their death-grip tight knitting, or those who woefully sigh over their “loose” knitting – the key to achieving the tension for a specific pattern is to know your “own” style, and move up and down needle sizes to make your knitting fit the pattern.

If you are a loose knitter, you’ll need to go down needle sizes to tighten up your knitted fabric. If you knit very tightly, go UP a needle size to make your stitches bigger.

So, if you knit a tension square in your chosen yarn with the suggested needles, and your square is bigger than 10cm x 10cm (or smaller), you’ll need to go up or down a needle size until your swatch measures 10cm square.

If you try to loosen or tighten your own knitting style, you may end up with uneven stitches, sore hands and be miserable! Knitters are forever trying to alter the way they knit but it’s much easier to simply change your needle size to accommodate a pattern tension!

Here’s an illustration from an earlier blog post about tension using Rowan Big Wool, which is a super chunky weight yarn. The top sample was knitted with a 12mm needle, and the second, using the same yarn, the same number of stitches and rows using a 5mm needle! Can you imagine the difference in a garment? This is why changing needle is so effective – even half a mm needle size can make a huge difference!

The message is clear! If you need to change the size of your knitting, change your knitting needle!

Obviously, there are some knitting projects where gauge is unimportant – for a scarf, for example, or a shawl, a blanket – but for garments, tension is everything! Want to learn more about tension? Why not read more on this essential topic in our blog posts about tension, tension squares and yarn weight!

About the Author

Merion admits that her stash is wildly out of control, but has many projects in dream-form! She loves knitting, crochet, Shire horses, cake and garden swing-seats.

Last updated: August 4th, 2017.

One Response to Tension? Gauge? Change your needle, not your knitting!


    Learning this was a game changer for me. As a loose knitter, I tried very hard to tighten my work until a lovely lady told me to ”be who you are as a knitter, just go down a size in needles”. So true.

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