Monday, May 30, 2011

Tight Knitting isn't Knitting Tight

There is a common misconception among many knitters, especially newbees, that knitting tight is a good thing. I'm here to explain why "knitting tight" is NEVER good; but "tight knitting" is often very desirable. Confused? Then please read on.

It's an easy misunderstanding because they sound so alike. Here's my example of how the conversation goes....this happened yesterday:

Leslie to customer: Remember, when you knit this hat, you will want to knit it tight.

Customer to Leslie:
Oh, no problem, I'm a tight knitter.

Do you see the error in her thinking?

Being a tight knitter is never good. It means simply that your stitches are tight on the needle and this makes it difficult to knit. (check yours....can you move your stitches back and forth on the needle with very little effort? Or, do they grip the needle and have to be pushed with some effort?) If your hands get sore or tired when knitting, you are probably knitting too tightly. Knitting tightly slows you down and also can cause you to drop more stitches, split more stitches, throw more projects at the wall, and stab your knitting (never a good idea):

If you are a tight knitter, it is not a genetic malformation of your brain. It is happening for a reason, usually easily rectified once you figure out why.

Many people think that if they are a tight knitter the fabric they produce will be better - more even. This is absolutely not true. In fact, the opposite is probably more true. When you can knit relaxed and loose, you will get into a better rythm and begin to knit all of your stitches the same. When you achieve this, you will achieve a more uniform fabric. Fighting every stitch rarely gets you there - dare I say never?

So now lets talk about tight knitting - something completely different. There are many times when you want your knitting to be tight. I don't mean "knitting" the verb, I mean "knitting" the noun; the fabric you are producing. Now here's the tricky part, KNITTING TIGHT DOES NOT PRODUCE TIGHT KNITTING. If you want your knitted fabric to be tight, as you usually do for hats, mittens, and socks, then you need to reduce your needle size, NOT hold your yarn tighter. You see, it is the size of the needle that determinse the tightness of the fabric, not whether or not you have a death grip on the yarn. Likewise, knitting a loose fabric is achieved by increasing your needle size. This is often desirable for scarves, shawls, and blankets.

So to beat this horse a bit, regardless of whether you want your fabric to be tightly knit or loosely knit, you do not want to knit tightly. Get it?

If you are a tight knitter and regularly struggle with dropped stitches, split stitches, tired hands and general fatigue, have heart. You can be helped. Below I will describe some common reasons that people knit too tight. Please read through these and if you are still not sure what your issue is, then stop into the shop and I will help you. Yes, I have an ulterier motive. I want you to be a fast and fearless knitter so that you knit for the rest of your life and spread the joy as you go. Oh ya, and buy a lot of yarn on your way, of course.

Death Grip:

Look at your yarn and your finger holding the yarn as you knit. If the yarn is pulled taught (not relaxed) and if your finger is turning white where the yarn passes over, then you have the ugly death grip thing going on. This may be because you are scared of dropping a stitch and are just holding on too tight. If so, STOP IT. Relax your hands. Hold your yarn and your needles like you are holding a brand new baby chick that you don't want to hurt. Nothing in your hands or your yarn should be tense. Relax. I know that can be hard at first but now that you have the basic stitch down, try to sit back, lower your shoulders, breath, hold your knitting loosely and knit without tensing up. If the yarn still seems tight, try removing one of the wraps around your fingers. You do not need to wrap the yarn around your index finger three times. I use a simple weave through my four fingers and if its a humid day and things seem sticky, I will let the yarn drop from my pinky finger.

As you knit the yarn must feed gently through your fingers. Watch yourself knit for a minute. If you are using some sort of weave through your fingers to hold your yarn, then watch for the point where the yarn feeds through your fingers. Make sure that this happens unencombered. It should happen easily and at the same point every time. Try not to squeeze down here and let the yarn feel more freely. Watch this video for a demo.

If you do not weave the yarn through your fingers but, instead, pick it up every time you make a stitch (by the way, if you do this and are over the age of 7, please come see me - its time to learn to hold the yarn correctly), then watch and see if you are tugging it after every stitch. Many people do this. They knit and tug, knit and tug, knit and tug. STOP this. Do not tug. Let the stitch remain loose on the needle. Remember, a tight stitch does not improve the look of your fabric. I promise. Also, watch the part where you pull the new loop through the old. Make sure that you are pulling the stitch up a bit so as to loosen the loop (and then dont tug!). If you never pull enough yarn through in the first place then that may be your problem.

Finally, look and see if you are knitting really close to the tips of your needles. If you are taking the stitch off the left needle using the tip of the right needle (the part that is smaller), it is like knitting with a smaller needle in your right had. It will make smaller stitches, which will then be tighter as you push them down onto your right needle. To fix this, make bigger motions. Do not knit on the tips. Stick your needle into the stitch further, draw it up further, and push your right needle ALL THE WAY INTO THE NEW STITCH so that there is about an inch of your right needle protruding through the loop BEFORE you remove the stitch from the left needle.

If you have understood this conversation, tried it all, and still knit too tight. Please come in to the shop. We can fix this, it just takes a little one on one knit therapy, which I will gladly provide, gratis. Remember, I have an ulterior motive.

Happy loose knitting and remember to use your knitting power for good. "Just beause you can doesn't mean you should":