Our most common piece of advice – do a tension square

Our yarn doctors are at the Knitting and Stitching Show at Alexandra Palace in London this week, along with our fabulous volunteer knitting and crochet teachers, to help all the crafters attending the show.

We know that a lot of the problems that knitters mention when they visit the UK Hand Knitting stand – this week it is at K33 in the Grand Hall – can be solved with by making a tension square. This includes learning a complicated stitch, yarn substitution and most importantly making your knits fit.

With this in mind we are republishing our top tips on tension:

We’ve all done it. Started knitting in the size we think will fit, followed the pattern and ended up with something that is completely the wrong size.

If only we’d knitted a tension square.

Knitting to the correct tension is essential if your piece is going to come out the same size as the pattern. This is because the tension stated in the pattern is the basis for how the pattern writer worked out all the sizes. And checking your tension is especially important if you are substituting a yarn – you might think two similar yarns might knit to the same tension but it isn’t necessarily so.

tension squares

DK squares (25sts x 30 rows) knitted on 4.5mm, 4mm and 3.5mm needles

Getting the right tension

In the picture the 4.5mm needles gave a tension of 20 sts x 27 rows, 4mm was 21 sts x 28 row and 3.5mm, 23 sts x 31 rows for a 10cm square. I lightly steamed the squares and pinned them flat before measuring

This means that 105 sts would give you 50cm using the 4mm needles but 45.5cm on 3.5mm and 52.5cm on 4.5mm – (stitch number divided by stitch tension) x 10 = width.

So if the tension for the pattern was 21 sts for 10cm on 4mm needles but your tension came out as 20sts because you are a slightly looser knitter you could end up wit a garment several centimetres too big. The same is true for differences in row tension

In that case you should go down a needle size and knit a new tension square. If you have too many stitches and rows to 10cm try going up a needles size. Sometimes you need to try a couple of needle sizes to get find the right tension but the hassle of knitting some extra tension squares is nothing compared to ending up with a useless garment.

Knitting a different size

This solution involves more sums and is riskier because you may need to use length measurement from your original size to get a good fit but I’ll give you a quick explanation anyway.

If your tension was 23 sts to 10cm instead of 21cm your piece would be too narrow.

You work out how many stitches that you need for the correct width as follows:

[Width divided by 10] x stitch tension = [50/10] x 23 = 115 sts

So if one of the other sizes calls for 115 sts you might try knitting that in the hope all the shaping works. However, it is usually better to try different needle sizes to get a close as possible to the pattern tension.


Machine washing your knits

A lot of people will tell you that hand knits should never, ever go near your washing machine and tell you horror stories if stretched or felted garments, but as with many things when it comes to modern yarns (and modern machines) there is more to your washing options.

There are reasons why you might not want to machine wash every knit you have. For example, putting your cashmere or mohair sweater in a hot wash with a pile of towels is never going to be a good approach – wet heat and vigourous rubbing (thanks to the towels) is how you make felt after all.

However, many yarns are washing machine friendly and there are some simple steps you can take to ensure you get the best outcome for machine washable knits.

Read the label

Before you do anything, read the yarn label or look the yarn up online to find any washing instructions. Just as with clothes, yarns come with washing instructions, generally on the ball band. These will tell you if the yarn can be machine washed and what temperature to set your machine at.

If the label says yarn is suitable for machine washing, do follow the rest of the washing instructions exactly.

Test wash

Remember the tension square you made for the sweater you are planning to wash?

Pop that in the washing machine at the recommended settings and see how it goes. This is a great way to assuage any worries about how the yarn will behave in your machine. You can also test stain removers on your swatch.

machine washing hand knits

While many hand knits can be machine washed, don’t just chuck them in willy-nilly

Treat your knits kindly

Pop the garment in a pillow case and tie the top, or in a muslin laundry bag, before it goes in the machine. This stops you knitted items twisting and rubbing during the wash which reduces the risk of pilling or felting. Also avoid washing them with items that might rub like towels or jeans.

Choose a gentle detergent or a specialist wool wash  – always make sure your wool wash is suitable for use in a washing machine.

Choose a gentle, delicate or specialist wool setting on your machine – modern machines have lots of options for temperature and how fast the drum turns which can treat your washing more gently.

To spin or not to spin

This is another area where you might want to use your swatch to test if your knit can be spun. If you decide a machine spin is ok, make sure they are still securely fixed inside the pillow case or laundry bag before the spin starts.

If you don’t want to use the spin cycle, roll your knit in a towel and gentle squeeze the water out. Never wring your knits.

Get your red yarn out this autumn

Pick up any fashion magazine or browse the trend blogs and your will find universal agreement on one thing: Whatever you do this autumn, wear red.

red 2017There are lots of pictures from the catwalks of head to toe red outfits, dramatic scarlet evening dress and brick red coats.

Plus the colour gurus at   have deemed “Flame Scarlet” one of the essential seasonal colours.

But don’t be alarmed and think this means dressing like a post box.

There are a wide spectrum of reds and it seems that the fashion gurus and designers have chosen a wide variety of shades from brick red to ruby and garnet – even beetroot which means there are subtler options if that suits you better.

And while some of us will reach for the needles to create a bright bold long line cardigan, others might go for a splash of a wine or burgundy in the form of a hat or scarf. Every option is open to you and with so many yarn shades on offer you are bound to find something that will work for you.

We’ve picked out a few options to get you started.

And if you want to pair your red with another colour here is Pantone’s full autumn fashion palette.

patone AW17

Trendwatch: Fluffy and furry yarns

From the catwalk to the High Street, feather, fluffy fabrics and fun fur are set to feature heavily in fashion for this autumn and winter – especially when it comes to soft trims, coats and accessories. And it is all about having fun with colour and texture as you can see from these coats by Shrimps and Preen respectively.

This is a trend that knitters and crocheters can have a lot of fun with using mohair, fluffy and faux fur yarns.

The trick with these yarns is to allow them to do the work – especially with the hairiest types – so avoid complicated stitch patterns and choose simple shapes.

Combine a fluffy or fur yarn with a regular smooth one to create a trim on a hat or jacket or go high fashion by matching a long fur yarn with a more fleecy type to create a look like the Shrimps coat.

Mohair yarns have a lovely drape worked on large needles so are perfect for soft scarves and shawls as well as for draping tunic type tops.

Here are a few yarns to get you thinking.


Kids knits for back to school

It is not that long until the end of the summer holidays and so our minds have turned to kids’ knits for the autumn. Among the great things about a child’s jumper is that it is relatively quick to make and there is less  to hold while the weather is still at least a little on the warm side. Another is the opportunity to try out different yarns or techniques on a smaller scale.

With this in mind we have picked out a few patterns for small folks to get you started.

Starting from top left. With kid’s knits, it is often worth looking at the patterns as unisex. The kid’s hoodie in this mother and daughter pattern in Sirdar Imagination chunky could also work for a boy – choose the right chest measurement and adjust the length.

Slipovers are a useful item for any wardrobe – adult or child’s – again this version in King Cole Luxury Merino DK could work well for boys and girls and is definitely a quick knit.

If you want to try out some cables, a child’s aran, like these from Wendy, is a great canvas.

This colourful hoodie in C+B Lolli is another unisex option. It will also give you the opportunity to try adding a zip to your knitting.

And if you want a go at stylish fair isle, these DK sweaters from JC Brett have a bit of colourwork.

But we mustn’t forget that sometimes what is needed is a straightforward school jumper, like these in Stylecraft Life DK. Perfect TV knitting on an autumn evening.

And finally, we can all fun with a stylish accessories for kids. A hat and scarf in Rico Creative Lucky Chunky will keep anyone toasty.

Do you have a favourite kids’ pattern for autumn? Let us know in the comments.

Join our stashbusting summer

There are so many lovely yarns coming out for Autumn, but we know some of you are saying that you don’t have room in your stash.

With this in mind, it is time for a session of summer stashbusting – that way you can make some room. Here are a few ideas and some pics to give you inspiration.

Stripe it

We’ve all had the frustration of not quite having enough yarn in the stash for a whole garment, hat or scarf. But as we know stripes and even colour blocks are very fashionable right now. Check your stash again to see if you have enough yarn in two or three colours to make a whole garment. Then pick a pattern you like and work out how your stripes or colour blocks are going to work. This is a chance to be adventurous with colour.

Inspiration from top left: Striped T-shirt from Wendy; Stripey accessories from James C Brett; C+B Lolli colour block sweater; Stylecraft Wondersoft baby sweater; Rico Essentials Super Kid Mohair Loves Silk stripes scarf

Stripes are something you can really go for in kids’ hats and mitts. Collect up all your odd balls of DK yarn, for example, and pick out simple beanie and mitten patterns. Then randomly pull out yarns work a few rows in each to create fun rainbow effects.

Sock heels and toes

If you have odd amounts of sock yarns to use up you could go down the stripe route or you could make socks with contrasting cuff ribs, heels and toes. A great choice for contrast heels is to use a sock pattern with an afterthought heel

You can also take a similar approach to the bands and cuffs of a sweater, think vintage sweaters and cricket jumpers for inspiration.

Inspiration from left: Hayfield baby cardigans with a contrast edge; Socks with contrast heels knitted by JuJu Vail; Wendy cricket slip over

Granny squares

Crochet squares are a great use of stash yarn and another opportunity to get creative with colour. You could go all out and feed as much of your stash as possible into a blanket but there are lots of smaller projects to contemplate – cushions, tote bags, pencil cases, scarves and gadget covers. Remember that if you go for a more lacy square pattern like the traditional granny square you may need to line your project.

Inspirations from left: Wendy Serenity blanket; Debbie Bliss Rachel bag; Sirdar Harrap Tweed DK blanket


If there are youngsters in the family why not turn your left over yarn into some fun friends for them, Toy patterns range from simple squares to elaborate families of costumed animals, there is something for everyone. And they are no reason not to have fun with colour – there are some very well loved multi-coloured dinosaurs and pink cats out there.

Stylecraft Crochet Dragon Heads; King Cole tortoises 

Charity knits

And if none of the above appeals, why not check out our charity pages on the website. There are free patterns and links to charities who use knitting in their fund raising appeals  – from helping refuges or the Grenfell Tower families to protecting animals and raising awareness of various health conditions.

And if you do decide to join in with a sport of summer stashbusting let us know on our Facebook or Twitter pages (tag #summerstashbusting ) and share pictures of what you make.


New yarns for all the family

August is the time of year where we start to see new yarns for autumn and winter appearing in our yarn shops. There are always interesting new offerings, colours etc so we will probably do several posts with new yarns that catch our attention over the next couple of months. However, we have already noticed a trend for new practical washable yarns suitable for knits for all the family, as well as being great options for youngsters to try a first project with, so we’re starting with those.

Clockwise from top left

Wendy Stella chunky

Stripes and ombre colour effects are still very popular and this yarn will give you that look on chunky garments and accessories. This soft yarn has colour tones that fade from solid into blended shades and back again giving a subtle stipe effect.

Sirdar No 1

This double knitting crepe yarn has been designed to be a classic DK with something for everyone in the family thanks to its wide colour palette. A practical go-to DK.

Stylecraft Tweedy DK

With 26% cotton Tweedy is a a good choice for autumn knits, especially with a collection of interesting heathered shades to create fun colour effects that will look good on garments and soft accessories to add an extra layer.

James C Brett Stonewash DK

This range of lighter-coloured variegated yarns incorporates the fading you see in stonewashed fabrics. The fresh range of colours should show stitch patterns well.

DY Choice Apollo

Another yarn offering stripe effects, this time in a DK. Apollo has long colour repeats giving stripes of vibrant colours. The 300g balls mean you could make a cheerful kids jumper from a single ball.

King Cole Big Value Baby 4ply Spot

This is a fun variation on a 4ply baby yarn, adding spots of colour. We don’t think it is just for babies though. Combine it with a toning solid colour to create interesting stripes or a different approach to colour block style garments.