A Matter of Tension

I’m not a trained designer as I’m sure you know but I am fascinated by graphics and the maths of knitting.  I am really not up to grading patterns, which is probably why my humble attempts are limited to hats, gloves and geometric accessories.  But as I go through the process of designing a special project for my trip with Stitchtopia to the Faroe Islands in July (more on this later) I suddenly realised something.  Doing a tension square is now less of a chore for me and has become a necessary way of accessing my creativity and feeling my way in to a design.


I don’t like doing tensions squares when I am knitting someone else’s design.  It feels like a waste of time when I just want to get into the pattern and find out it’s intricacies and it’s rhythm. No wonder then that I have had some spectacular disasters along the way . And when I have begrudgingly decided to check my tension,  I have been guilty of only doing a 5 cm square just to get it out of the way – what a cop out. On a DK yarn if my small tension square is hiding a discrepancy of 1-2 stitches and the bust of the garment is 90cm I could be up to 18 stitches out – that’s up to 8cm difference in the garment – HUGE!

2013-05-24 15.49.42


If you think of your garment as a building then tension squares are your bricks.  You need to know your bricks are the right size to build your house to the architect’s spec.  Am I labouring the point – probably.

So these days I will knit a tension square that is more than 10cm to give me the best chance of getting used to the yarn and the pattern before I commit all my time and effort to an entire project – almost sounds like a New Year’s resolution (gulp)

Maybe we should ban the term ‘tension square’ and call it swatching.  It sound so much more creative and worthwhile.


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