How to use Tension to Transform Your Knitting – Simple Sewing & More

Suzanne March 14, 2017 Knitting

If you’re new to knitting and struggling to create something that looks great don’t stress. We have all been there.

There are certain things that knitters take for granted more or less, and there are other things that are deeply held secrets. They are the things that separate sloppy work from masterpieces – and tension is the major one. If you haven’t been applying consistent tension to your knitting, then you’ve been doing it wrong. You may find that either the yarn is too tight to move on the needles or the opposite with the stiches so large they are falling off the needles or you might have a combination of the two.

Find out about why tension is so important and how it can help you perfect your technique below.

When your tension is correct the stitches fit the needles, move easily and your work is even and neat.  Incorrect tension will result in unruly uneven stitches that are difficult to manage and the overall look is very unprofessional.

What does tension mean?

Tension is about keeping control of the wool while feeding it through to the needles at a consistent rate.

How is this done?

Use your fingers to feed the wool through to the needles continuously and consistently; so an even quantity of wool reaches the needles and there is enough tension in the release to prevent loose stitches. You can do this by using your fingers to anchor the yarn by creating a funnel with the fingers of your right hand, trapping the yarn with your little finger and guiding with your other fingers and wrapping around your index finger (refer picture above).

How do you know you have the correct tension?

Most knitting patterns will provide the tension needed to complete the garment to the size specified.  Until you’re comfortable with your tension its worth knitting a patch of stocking stitch and comparing your tension with the recommendation.

Lets say the tension recommendation is 26 stitches and 26 rows = 4″ (10cm)  using Light Worsted, DK (8ply).  So we need to cast on 30 stitches (this will allow 2 stitches each side, as the edges of knitting curls and makes measurement difficult. Work 30 rows, allowing 2 extra rows top and bottom. Now measure across the required number of stitches and rows.   If your work has more stitches to make up the 4″ (10cm) your garment will be too small, likewise if less stiches make up the 4″ (10cm) your garment will be too large.  If too small try a larger needle size and if too large try a smaller needle size and repeat the process. The most important thing is the tension not the needle size required to produce the tension.  You don’t need to do this everytime you start a new project, after a while you will be familiar with your own style and will know to adjust the needles to fit you.


I began my sewing journey as child by making clothes for my teddy and dolls. Over the years I’ve dressed myself, my babies, my children, my grandchildren and my house. During this time I’ve worked the usual 9-5 grind as a Finance Manager but my passion and my pleasure is, and has always been found with material or yarn in hand and the expectation of the project ahead.