A shopkeeper sitting outside her kitchen shop in Gamla Stan, Stockholm was knitting in the sunshine in December. I complimented her project and she asked if a) I knitted and b) was I an American? Yes to both. "The problem with American knitters is they knit too loosely," she said.
I think about her often. Whenever I notice someone's seed stitch pitted with holes, or a floppy, drapey sweater that doesn't hold it's shape, I remember her words. I too prefer the look and feel of a densely knit garment that behaves.
When "tightening up" your knitting, the tendency is for knitters to knit tighter. Tug the yarn after each stitch, scrunch the stitches across the needles, and hope that you can insert the needle tip into the next stitch without breaking something.
But after spending much time studying this "knitting too tightly" or "knitting too loosely" problem, I've discovered something. And I'll share it with you.
How you knit affects your hands, arms, fingers, and the ease or difficulty of the process of knitting. It rarely affects the finished product. Why? Because knitters are clever! Knitters adapt their tools to accommodate their knitting style. If you're a loose knitter you get in the habit of going down 1, 2 3 or more needle sizes before even beginning your swatch. If you knit tightly, a solid worsted yarn on a size 7 needle can turn into a swatch yielding 6 1/2 sts per inch instead of the ball band recommended 5 sts/1". If you're knitting tightly, and you're getting 6 1/2 sts instead of 5 sts / 1", you don't change the way you knit, you go up a needle size, and up another size, while still knitting tightly. If you're a tight knitter it is possible to knit a perfectly tensioned fabric on a size larger needle and a loose knitter can create the same exact fabric on a much smaller needle. So if the finished garment is the same, why should it matter?
It matters because tight knitters can experience pain in their fingers, hands, arms, shoulders, neck as they tense their muscles. It's harder to work decreases and increases when the yarn is too tight. Cables are near impossible. And don't get me started on attempting the Cable Cast On with yarn wrapped so tightly around the needle it is suffocating. But when tight knitters loosen up, they discover uneven tension, rowing out and gauge troubles. This is NOT because they are knitting too loosely, but because some stitches are loose and some are tight. It is the inconsistency in their knitting that is to blame.
The trick is to maintain even tension regardless of how you knit. Change your needle size! Tight knitters can go down 2-3 needle sizes and try to knit on the loose side. Loose knitters go up. This will feel weird. You might feel like the yarn is flowing through your fingers without you being in control. Be mindful of your tension and keep your purl stitches the same tension as your knit. Don't tug so hard after each stitch. Keep practicing and you'll be amazed at how your knitting evens out as your body relaxes.
Adopt an easy style of knitting that allows you to enjoy the process without fatigue, and at the same time produce a neat garment. By being aware of both process and finished product, you can achieve both.
* Find a style that feels good
* Experiment with needle sizes
* Choose your yarn carefully. 100% wool is wonderfully elastic and hold it's shape well.
In the end, the problem isn't that we're knitting too tightly or too loosely, it's that the finished garment wasn't knit to produce a well-behaved garment. Just like soft yarns aren't always better, floppy garments aren't going to be loved year after year. A garment can be knitted with a loose touch, on a much smaller needle to produce a tighter gauge and a firmer fabric. THIS! is what the shopkeeper in Gamla Stan was referring to. Holding a piece of dense knitting, with no holes and a firm feel, that stays put around the neck, doesn't slip off the shoulders and doesn't sag, without ladders to the left of the cables, messy ribbing, and uneven eyelets, is a wonderful piece of knitted fabric to behold. This piece of properly knitted fabric, will last for years. So go ahead and RELAX, just make sure your finished product doesn't look as easy-going as you are when you're knitting.