6 tips for tightening your knitting tension

When it comes to knitting tension, it’s best to go for something in the middle of the scale. 

When you have good tension, it’s easier to knit, and the fabric you produce will look nice and even.

Too tight tension makes it tiresome to knit, puts a strain on your hands and wrists, and make the fabric too dense. 

Loose tension causes too big stitches and loose fabric, and it’s harder to knit when your stitches get tangled in one another.

For tightening knitting tension you should change to smaller knitting needles, going down one size (5mm) will make a big difference. 

This post is all about tightening your knitting tension. If you just have a loose stitch or two, you should read this article instead!

1. My ultimate tip for tighter tension: Smaller needles

The easiest way to make your tension less loose is to change your knitting needles to a smaller size. One size (5mm) down does the trick in most cases. If it’s not enough, keep going down in size until it feels good to knit, and the fabric you create has a structure you like. 

This is the way to go if your knitting a pattern and your gauge are looser, (have a lower stitch count) than stated in the pattern. 

You can read more about gauge here!

Why does this work?

Needle size and tension are intimately connected as the loop that creates the new stitch is formed around the needle.

When you knit on smaller (thinner) needles the stitches also get smaller, and the tension gets tighter/higher.  

If it doesn’t work

Smaller needles didn’t do the trick? Well, don’t give up yet, there are some other things to try. I may be something in your technique that’s causing you trouble. If that’s the case, the tips below will help you figure this out. 

But it’s also possible that you just need a few more hours of knitting to allow the motions to set in your muscle memory. 

2. Make sure that you tension the working yarn

You have to tension your working yarn as you knit. (The working yarn is the strand of yarn that’s attatched to your yarn ball) If you let the yarn han g from the back waiting to be picked up (or thrown), the stitches that you form with the yarn will be randomly tensioned and very loose. 

But, if you hold the yarn wrapped around your fingers you’ll be able to control it, and your stitches will be even.

You may have to practice this for a while before you can perfect this, but it will pay off!

3. Stop pulling your needles apart

Some of us have a bad habit of pulling our needles apart for some reason. When we do this the yarn between the stitches is stretched, and if you do this often there will be an excess of yarn. This extra yarn makes your stitches loos. The solution, in this case, is simple: hold your needles together. 

Maybe easier to say and do, but if put some effort into making this a habit you will notice that your tension gets a lot more even! 

4. Try another knitting style

This can feel like a huge project, and it can be a big step to try a new knitting style, but it can also make wonders for your knitting experience!

(I love watching this video of Stephanie Pearl-McPhee aka the Yarn Harlot knit “Irish cottage”-style. I would like to learn this technique some day!)

I’m a continental knitter, which means that I pick up the working yarn with the needle tip instead of throwing it. I have always struggled with loose purl stitches, especially when knitting stockinette stitch flat, but switching to mirror knitting solved that problem for me.

Mirror knitting means knitting backward without turning the work instead of purling back. When I learned this technique it did cost me some awkward rows of trying to manage this new way of knitting (and maybe some ugly words too…) but when I had mastered it my stockinette stitch looked even and pretty, and it was worth it all!

If you want to try knitting backward, head over to this post. (There’s also a video guiding you through it all!)

You can actually purl backward too!

If your tension is all good, it feels nice to knit and your fabric looks and feels good but the edges are loose and sloppy, the following tips are for you!

5 Sloppy edges – tighten the first and last stitch

Those edge stitches can really mess things up! Loose and sloppy edge stitches look untidy and drag down the all over appearance and if you’re seaming pieces together it’s harder with loose edge stitches.

One way to solve this problem is to pull the working yarn a little extra before knitting the first stitch of the row. This helps tighten the last stitch if the previous row. Then do the same after knitting the first stitch to tighten that stitch. 

If you do this on every row your edge stitches (the first and last stitches) will look better and less loose. 

6 Loose edge stitches – slip the first stitch

This tip is another favorite of mine, I use this whenever I knit flat to get a neat edge! 

I start by adding two extra stitches at the cast on, to use as edge stitches.

When I start a new row I slip the first stitch purlwise with yarn in back, which means to hold the yarn in back of the work and insert the needle into the stitch as if to purl before letting the stitch slip of the left tip without actually knitting it. 

Then I knit across and the last stitch is purled.  

You’ll find more information and pictures of neat edges in this post!

Your next read!
––> Yarn Weights Explained + a free cheat sheet
––> Knit a baby blanket in any yarn without a pattern!
––> All about the stockinette stitch