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How to Get Perfect Tension in Knitting

Do you ever get grooves between your purl rows? Or find big, oversized knit stitches randomly scattered throughout your stockinette?

Most of us have knit stockinette stitch and been disappointed when it didn’t look perfectly smooth. On the right side, it looks like every other row of knit stitches is oversized. On the wrong side, there are grooves between the rows. Oh no!

There’s a simple explanation: most of us purl more loosely than we knit.

The way to fix it is a little more complex. Sometimes, just knowing what you’re doing can be enough to make it change. Concentrate on keeping your tension tighter on the purl rows. (If you knit with the yarn in your left hand, loose purls are more likely to happen to you.)

Ways to tighten up those purls

  1. Some knitters find that wrapping the yarn under the needle (instead of over the top of the needle) when purling tightens the stitches up. What’s actually happening is that because the yarn is wrapping with less distance, the bagginess of the stitches disappears. Good, right? Yup, totally fine. But just watch out if you do this because wrapping the yarn the opposite direction means that now all your stitches are mounted backwards. So, on the knit row, you’ll have to knit into the backs of the stitches to straighten them up. Otherwise, you’ll end up with every other row of stitches being twisted.
  2. Try purling with the other hand. It’ll feel incredibly awkward at first, but it could work. (I first learned to knit as a “thrower” with my right hand, and my purl tension was perfect. Now that I mostly knit continental with my left hand, I have to really tighten up my purls, and they still don’t look quite right half the time. I’m tempted to switch back to the English method just for flat stockinette projects.)
  3. Purl onto a smaller needle. You’d have to switch needle sizes for every row, but it might make all the difference.
  4. Knit looser and purl the same.
  5. If you just can’t knit looser, or you’re concentrating so hard on tightening your purls that now your purls are too tight… Do what I did and just knit AND purl really tight. It was a weird fix, but for me, it worked. The key is to pay attention and adjust what you need to adjust in order to make it work for you.


Now, if your problem isn’t lines of large stitches, but bunches of them scattered all over the place, that’s something else entirely.

Random, large, loose stitches scattered throughout your stockinette are caused by the way you move your stitches along as you knit them.

If you tend to knit a whole pile of stitches until they’re all bunched up together on your right-hand needle and you absolutely must push them along so you have more space to knit… well, you’re creating a tension problem.

If you knit with your stitches spread so far apart that you can barely slip them off the left needle tip because they’re so far away… you’re creating a tension problem.

Those bunched-up or spread-out stitches are giving more and less yarn to different stitches as you knit them. The goal is to give every stitch the same amount of yarn.

To fix this, keep your stitches comfortably moving along at a steady pace. Don’t stretch them apart. Let them stay at a relaxed, easy distance. Don’t bunch them together. Keep them moving.

I use my right thumb to push my stitches along the right-hand needle after they’ve been knit, and my left thumb to move stitches up to the left needle tip to be knit. You might choose to use your fingers or whatever. Just keep them shuffling along at a steady pace. It’s okay to do this every 3 or 4 stitches or so, but every 10 stitches is too many. Make sense? Your hands will find a nice rhythm after a little while, and before you know it, you won’t even have to think about tension anymore.

You may also need to make sure you’re keeping your working yarn (the strand in your hand that’s attached to the ball) at an even tension. Every knitter tensions their yarn slightly differently. Some of us loop it around our little fingers, some hold it between fingers or clench it in a curled-up finger… Just be aware of what you’re doing so you can troubleshoot and see if you need to try a new method for tensioning your yarn. Like any new skill, it might feel awkward at first. But if it gets you nice results, keep doing it until you develop your muscle memory. Then, your fingers will do it for you.

What do you think? Does your tension need work? What has worked or not worked for you in the past? Leave me a comment and let me know.

How to Get Perfect Tension in Knitting. #knittingtips

This post is part of my 31 Days to Your Nicest Knitting series. Every day, I’ll post a new tip or trick to make your knitting nicer. You can follow along easily by subscribing. If you have any knitting problems you’d like me to fix, let me know and I’ll try to answer your question as part of the series. You can find all the posts in the series here.

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How to Get Rid of Ladders and Wonky Edges in Knitting

I use this trick all the time when I’m knitting in the round. It is my number one, always-given bit of advice in my classes, too. I learned it from Cat Bordhi originally because she’s awesome.

Here it is:

Every time you change needles (when using DPN’s, 2 circular needles, or Magic Loop), work the first 2 stitches, then give the working yarn a good tug to tighten them up.

Tugging after working just one stitch doesn’t help. It’ll just get loose again. But if you tug after knitting two stitches, they keep each other snug.

Ladders (loose, horizontal bars of yarn between columns of stitches) are formed because gravity pulls on the needles, which pull on the knitting where they meet and loosen things up. Even if you knit with a constant tension, the needles will make the ladders happen if you don’t do this extra step. Giving the first two stitches a tug is essential. It won’t make your knitting too tight unless you go crazy with pulling. A nice, quick tug on the working yarn will do the trick.

This technique also works great when knitting flat. Work the first two stitches of the row, give the yarn a tug, and keep going. Your edges will be nice and neat and even from now on.

I also do this when I’m working short rows. After doing the wrap and turn (or whatever method I’m favoring that day), I work the first two stitches, then give them a tug.

It’s also perfect for making tidy I-cords.

Basically, every time you turn your work or start a on new needle for any reason, give the first two stitches a tug.

How to Get Rid of Ladders in Circular Knitting. #knittingtips

This post is part of my 31 Days to Your Nicest Knitting series. Every day, I’ll post a new tip or trick to make your knitting nicer. You can follow along easily by subscribing. If you have any knitting problems you’d like me to fix, let me know and I’ll try to answer your question as part of the series. You can find all the posts in the series here.

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31 Days to Your Nicest Knitting

31 days to your nicest knitting series. #knittingtips

If you’re a knitter who loves little tips that make your knitting look better, or that make your life easier, then I hope you’ll join me for this new series: A tip a day for the month of October to get you to your nicest knitting possible!

I don’t know about you, but I love knitting. I knit every day. But I hate it when I spend a ton of time time on a project and it ends up living at the bottom of my sweater drawer. It’s so disappointing, and I feel so guilty about wasting all that pretty yarn, and yet the thought of ripping it all out makes me cringe…

But, I’m happy to say that that hardly ever happens to me anymore. I’ve learned so many great tips from books and teachers and friends over the years. What I want to do this month is send you one of those little insights every day. One tiny tip in your inbox (if you’re a subscriber) or here on the blog that will help you take your knitting up a notch. Maybe even relieve a little frustration. Knitting should be fun and relaxing, after all.

What inspired this sudden series? Well, I have writer friends. And a bunch of them are participating in this “Write 31 Days” challenge, so of course I went and read all about it. And it sucked me right in. I’ve been meaning to compile all my favourite tips and tricks for knitting in one place, so why not do them one at a time, every day, for the month of October? The point is to write every day, but to make it short and sweet. So that’s what I’ll be doing.

You can expect to learn about things like sewing in ends, joining new colours, eliminating ladders and weird tension, getting gauge, choosing increases & decreases when the pattern is vague, and more.

You’ll be able to find all the tips together in one place right here for a while. (I may eventually put them together into a handy ebook. One thing at a time, right?)

So here’s where we can have some fun. If you have any knitting woes, questions, conundrums, or favourite bits of advice, send them to me. I’ll include them in the series. By the end of October, I want you to feel like your knitting has improved and you’ve learned at least one good thing that you didn’t know before.

So, what problem do you want me to fix for you this month? Leave me a request in the comments.

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How You Can Learn to Be the Best Knitter Ever

Okay, maybe that’s a slight exaggeration. 😉 But seriously, I’m teaching knitting classes! And in each one, no matter what the topic, I want my students to learn all the little tips and tricks that have taken my own knitting to the next level. I want them to know that they can knit anything. So far, we’ve been having a ton of fun together.

So what does this have to do with you? Well, if you’re in the Ottawa area and you’d like to hang out with me and learn some really cool stuff, you could join me for a class or two. If you’re not in my area, I’m also toying with the notion of teaching private lessons via Skype or maybe Google Helpouts. My specialty? Fixing mistakes and learning to read your knitting. I am the master of dropping stitches and reconstructing knitting messes. Just ask my students. 😉

I’ll also be posting more tutorials here as I create them for my classes. Upcoming topics will be some of my favourite specialty cast ons, picking up and knitting in various places, and perfect double-knit thumbs. I don’t want to reproduce the basics that are already out there on the internet. I’m going to aim for some more specialized techniques that you may not have heard about yet.

I’m also available to teach workshops and give private lessons. If I still have your interest, here are the classes I have available so far. Some of them are running at Yarn Forward on Bank Street, and I’m happy to teach them in other places, too, if you’re looking for a knitting teacher. I’m constantly developing new courses based on my students’ interests. If you don’t see what you want in this list, ask for a new one!

How to Design a Hat

4 Sunday afternoons: September 7, 14, 21, & 28 from 12:30 – 2:30 pm at Yarn Forward on Bank Street.

Learn basic hat constructions, how to modify them, and how to add your own design elements to them. Hats are a great first designing project. They’re small, simple canvases on which to begin getting comfortable with customizations. We’ll be putting your favourite stitch patterns or colourwork patterns into a hat construction of your choice.

Super Adorable Baby Knitting

6 Sunday afternoons: September 7, 14, 21, 28, October 5, 12 from 3 – 5 pm at Yarn Forward on Bank Street.

Are you, or do you know, a cloth diaperer?  Well, let’s knit some wool soakers and longies!  As you may know, wool is one of the best fibres for soaking up moisture while still keeping baby warm.  And the wool you can buy nowadays is far from scratchy; in fact, it’s gorgeous.  We’ll talk about the various parts in a wool soaker’s construction and why they’re there.  We’ll knit one (or two… they’re addictive) up for ourselves.  And then, since this is Canada and winter is coming, we’ll knit a pair of wool longies, too.  What better way to keep babies warm and dry in their cribs?  During this class, you’ll learn all sorts of interesting techniques, like my favourite provisional cast on, increasing and decreasing, practically-invisible short rows, a perfect way to sew in ends, Kitchener stitch, and I-cords, to say the least.  Whether you’re a parent, a grandparent, a friend whose friends keeps having babies, or just a person who loves quick, adorable knitting projects that make perfect gifts, this is the class for you.
Baby soaker pattern in the Super Adorable Baby Knitting Class by Amanda Schwabe.

Double Knit Hat and Mittens

8 Thursday evenings: September 11, 18, 25, October 2, 9, 16, 23, 30 from 7 – 9 pm at Yarn Forward on Bank Street.
Let’s make the coziest winter set you’ve ever seen: woolen, double-layer hat and mittens.  Wool has incredible properties — absorbing up to 30% of its weight in water while retaining warmth — and the new 100% wools are far from scratchy.  So let’s take advantage of that, and take it to the next level with some double knitting.  We’ll start off with the basics of double knitting in the round, and then we’ll move on to shaping a hat and then some mittens.  They will be reversible!  You’ll have the choice of making one or both sides patterned.  
perfect thumbs in double knitting. a new class with Amanda Schwabe

How to Cable and Knit Mittens

6 Sunday afternoons: October 5, 12, 19, 26, November 2, 9 from 12:30 – 2:30 pm at Yarn Forward on Bank Street. You can book your spot at
This class is brought to you by special request.  Would you like to dive into cabling?  Let’s do it together on a small, cozy project: mittens!  Whether you have knit mittens before or this is your first time, this is the class for you!  We’ll take our time and learn all about cabling, and then we’ll knit a cute pair of cabled mitts in the round.  I’ll walk you through the thumb and finger shaping as we go.  At the end, you’ll also receive a bonus matching cabled hat pattern.  What could be better?

Beginner’s Knitting

6 Sunday afternoons: October 26, November 2, 9, 16, 23, 30 from 3 – 5 pm at Yarn Forward on Bank Street. You can book your spot at
Is learning to knit on your bucket list?  Then you’re obviously very smart.  Studies are showing that knitting reduces tension, increases creativity, and helps us focus.  In this relaxed, friendly class, you’ll learn all you need to know to get started.  My goal is to give you the confidence and skills to not only knit, but knit well for a lifetime.  We’ll learn about all the basics, answer all your questions, and make some cute things, too.

Knit Your Own Project

6 Thursday evenings: November 13, 20, 27, December 4, 11, 18 from 7 – 9 pm at Yarn Forward on Bank Street. You can book your spot at
This is a class for knitters who know how to knit and purl and need to move on to the next stage. You select and work your own project at your own speed, and I’m there to help, encourage, and facilitate your work. I can’t wait to see the projects you’ll bring!

How to Read Your Knitting and Fix Mistakes

One 4-hour workshop: Sunday, December 7, 2014 from 1 – 5 pm at Yarn Forward on Bank Street. You can book your spot at

Have you ever looked at your knitting and thought, “Something looks wrong.  But I don’t know what happened!”?  If you’ve ever wondered how your stitch count went off, where that extra stitch came from (or disappeared to), or why your lace looks all wrong, then this is the class for you.  We’ll look closely at our knitting and get to know it in a new way.  Then, we’ll make some mistakes on purpose — don’t worry, I’ll be holding your hand the whole way — and we’ll fix them like superheroes.  Never let a dropped stitch or mis-crossed cable scare you again.

How to Not Hate Finishing

One 4-hour workshop: Sunday, December 14, 2014 from 1 – 5 pm at Yarn Forward on Bank Street. You can book your spot at

Have you ever groaned in fear at the thought of sewing seams or working a button band?  So have I.  But I’ve learned a couple tricks over the years that have made my fear a thing of the past.  Join me for this afternoon seminar where I’ll teach you the four most important finishing skills I know.

Knit a Beautiful Lace Shawl

Six 2-hour classes
Lacy shawls are in style!  We’re going to knit a simple, triangular shawl, with the kinds of techniques you’ll find in many patterns online: garter-tab cast on, a simple increase pattern that creates the shape, and a beautiful-yet-simple allover lace design.  We’ll talk about placing stitch markers, how and why to use a lifeline, how to read your lace and avoid making mistakes, and then how to fix your mistakes when they happen.  We’ll finish up with a simple and stretchy lace cast-off technique.  Then, we’ll wash and block our shawls together and sew in our ends.  When we’re finished, you’ll have something absolutely beautiful to wear and the confidence to make something more complex.
Scintillate Shawl pattern by Amanda Schwabe. #knitting  #shawls #cozy

Two-at-a-Time Toe-Up Socks

Six 2-hour classes
Are you looking for a different way to make socks?  There are so many fun methods to try!  With the two-at-a-time Magic Loop method, never suffer from Second Sock Syndrome again.  In this class, we’ll learn a special cast on for starting at the toes and a couple ways to increase them. We’ll talk about sock construction and how to modify it.  We’ll talk about toe-up heel methods and how to choose a favourite.  We’ll knit the legs, and then we’ll learn some stretchy bind-off methods so we can actually put our socks on.  We’ll also talk about knitting socks that fit and how to measure feet.
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How to Sew Invisible Vertical Seams in Knitting with Mattress Stitch

Anybody else here hate finishing?  Sewing up?  Yeah, me too.

Until recently, that is.

I always dreaded it because I didn’t know what to do.  And I didn’t want to mess up my beautiful knitting with crappy sewing.

The solution was staring me in the face, but I didn’t want to acknowledge it:

Learn to sew.

Now, I will be the first one to tell you that I’m a knitter, not a sewer.  But sewing with yarn?  I guess I can accept that.

I’ve learned a couple sewing techniques that have made finishing my knitting practically stress free.

Some of them can be applied in most, if not all, finishing situations.  The first and favourite of mine is Mattress Stitch.

Mattress stitch is also called Ladder stitch.  You can find it in any good knitting reference book, but they don’t always tell you when to use each stitch.

Mattress Stitch is perfect for sewing invisible side seams in sweaters, for sewing in sleeves (especially raglans), and for sewing amigurumi.  It forms a beautiful, invisible vertical seam, and it’s really easy to do.  (To connect a vertical seam to a horizontal seam, I usually use a hybrid of Mattress Stitch and Grafting, which I’ll show you in a future post.)

Because Mattress Stitch is sewn with the right side facing you, you can easily tell that your stitches are lining up — or notice quickly that they’re not and fix them.

Let’s get started.

Mattress Stitch connects running stitches.  Those are the little horizontal bars of yarn that join two knit stitches together at their feet (on the back side).  In this picture, I’ve picked up every other row of running stitches.  If you look closely, you can see they connect to the bottoms of the V-shaped knit stitches on either side.

Running stitches -- the "feet" that connect knit stitches.  How to: Mattress Stitch.

To begin Mattress Stitch, grab a running stitch from bottom to top and pull your sewing yarn through.  Make sure that you’re picking up the running stitches from the same column each time.  Notice that the running stitches are actually hiding behind and between two columns of V knit stitches.  Don’t grab the horizontal bars that are in the middles of the V’s themselves.

(You can use a tail already connected to the project, or a separate pieces of waste yarn. You’ll need it to be about 12″ longer than the seam you want to sew. If you’re using a separate piece of yarn, leave a 6″ tail at the beginning for sewing in ends later.)

With a blunt darning needle, sew through one running stitch on one side of the seam, then on the other.  Like so:

Why I Love Mattress StitchBegin by sewing into the very first running stitches in the column above the cast-on edge.

Why I Love Mattress Stitch: A How To

Continue sewing into the running stitches, alternating sides, until you’ve reached the last ones.

2014-03-15 001 2014-03-15 010

You might notice that your seam is a little loose at first, like this:

Mattress Stitch: Invisible Vertical Seams! #sewknitting #finishing #knitting #tutorialsAll you need to do to fix that up is give the sewing yarn a good tug from both ends.  (If you’re sewing with the tail from the cast-on edge, then just give the one end a tug and it’ll do the same thing.)  Then, voila!  It will look like this:

2014-03-15 001 2014-03-15 011An alternative way of working Mattress Stitch is to catch two running stitches at a time on each side of the seam instead of one.  It sews up a little faster that way.  There is a small risk that it could pull the rows off a bit so they don’t line up as perfectly, but I haven’t found that to be the case so far.  Just keep an eye on it as you go, and if you’re not satisfied, switch back to picking them up one at a time.

2014-03-15 001 2014-03-15 015

Mattress Stitch: An Invisible Vertical Seam for Knitting. #tutorials #knittingYou can also begin and end the seam by sewing one at a time while picking up two at a time in the middle.  It’s your knitting.  It’s your choice.

When you’re all done, the right side will look like this:

Mattress Stitch: An Invisible Vertical Seam for Knitting. #tutorials #knittingEven though I used bright coral yarn, you can’t even see it on the right side!  I would, of course, use the same colour yarn as my project if it were a sweater and not a sample swatch.

And here’s the wrong side.  Notice:  you still can’t see the coral yarn!  It’s like magic.

Mattress Stitch: An Invisible Vertical Seam for Knitting. #tutorials #knittingWhen you’re all done, just sew in your ends on the wrong side.  I use duplicate stitch to sew in all my ends now.  It looks fantastic.

What do you think?  Will this help relieve some of your finishing stress?  Feel free to pin this post or share it if you find it useful.


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8 Tips for Knitting Lace

Does lace intimidate you?  It certainly looks complicated — but the good news is that if you can follow directions, you can knit lace.

And we already know you can follow directions.  That’s how you learned to knit, right?

But there are some extra things you can do to make knitting lace easier.  So, here are my tips for knitting lace.  There happen to be eight of them.

8 Tips for Knitting Lace.


Tip 1

Use stitch markers.  Mark off the edge stitches (which lace shawls usually have), the centre stitch(es), and even mark the places where the lace patterning repeats itself in a row.  That way, if you forget a yarnover, it will be so much easier to find your mistake.

Don’t like the feel of hard, plastic stitch markers?  I use little loops of knotted yarn in a contrasting colour.  They’re nice and soft, and I don’t freak out when I lose one because I always have more waste yarn.

Tip 2

Avoid making mistakes by counting, double counting, and triple counting.  Why count like an obsessive lunatic?  Because then you’ll notice a missed yarnover almost immediately — soon enough to fix it easily and continue knitting happily.  Remember those stitch markers from Tip 1?  If you know how many stitches should be between each one, and you double check that none are missing each time you reach a marker, your knitting will get ten times easier.

Tip 3

Look at the chart.  It should show you how the stitches will relate to each other once they’re knitted up.  See that line of stacked centre double decreases in the chart?  That means that those decreases will stack neatly in the knitting, too.  And see how those yarnovers form a diagonal line?  That means they’ll form a diagonal line in your knitting, too.

Now, some patterns are too weird to fit neatly into a chart like that.  That’s why designers sometimes have to use those weird, dark-grey “no stitch” squares.  In real life, lace curves and bends… but graph paper does not.  We do what we can with what we have.  But a good designer will always try to show you how the stitches relate to one another.

A tip about reading charts:  Think of each square as an instruction, not a stitch.  If you follow the little line of instructions across the chart, one by one, you’ll do fine.

Another bonus tip about reading charts:  Make sure you’re reading them in the right direction.  Flat charts get read from right to left on right-side rows, but from left to right on wrong-side rows.  Circular charts are read from right to left on all rows.  If in doubt, start at the side where the row number is written and work away from it.

Tip 4

If you really hate charts and absolutely refuse to use them, or if you just want to know your lace on a small scale before casting on 300 stitches, try knitting a small swatch across just one or two pattern repeats.  That way, you’ll get a feel for how the stitches will interact, and you’ll be able to spot mistakes more easily later on when you start your big project.

I did this when knitting some Estonian lace with nupps, and boy, am I glad I did.  The lace repeat was long and two-sided, and I made some mistakes the first time I tried it.  It went much better the second time.  I knew what I was doing by then, and I could spot my mistakes as I made them… instead of 3 rows later.

Tip 5

Keep looking back at your knitting to make sure the stitches are lining up consistently.  In fact, every time you knit a new row, make sure it’s lining up properly with the stitches underneath it.  Are those decreases stacking or lining up the way they should?  Are the yarnovers in the right place in relation to the ones below?

Tip 6

Knit under good lighting.

Tip 7

Don’t knit lace when you’ll be too distracted to pay attention and count your stitches.  TV and knitting groups are great, but they can wreck your lace before you notice a thing has gone wrong.  Ask me how I know this.  Now, I keep at least two projects on the go: I work on my lace shawl during quiet times or boring shows (Formula 1, anyone?), and I have a mindless project I can work away on during good shows like Call the Midwife or The Big Bang Theory.

Tip 8

Yarn matters.  Especially if this is your first lace project.  Avoid fuzzy yarn, dark yarn that’s impossible to see even under good lights, and clown-barf yarn that will draw attention away from your stitches.  Seriously, do you want to knit an intricate lace pattern that no one will notice because the ten different colours are all yelling, “Look at me!  Look at me!” ?

Just so you know, I’m currently knitting a lace shawl with black yarn, and it’s going to be gorgeous.  But on the needles?  It’s impossible to admire, I can’t get a good photo of it for my Ravelry project page, and it can be tricky to see the stitches.  I sit directly under a lamp to knit this shawl.  It’s not impossible.  I just don’t want you to knit your first lace shawl ever in black and then wail, “But Amanda didn’t warn me about this in that post of hers on lace knitting!”  So now — count yourself warned.

Also on the subject of yarn mattering, make sure you use yarn that you can block.  Acrylic yarn?  No matter what you do to it, it will always spring back into a crinkly blob.  When knitting lace, always use something lovely that has memory, like a type of wool or other natural fibre.  Merino is my favourite.  But superwash, even merino, won’t remember the blocking as well as a plain old non-superwash wool.  It’ll be okay, but not awesome.  Trust me on this one, too.

So, how about you?  Have you had troubles with lace knitting in the past?  What were they?

Are there any tips for knitting lace that I’ve missed?  If so, share them in the comments!   I’d love to hear from you.

Sea Glass Shawl by Amanda Schwabe #summerknitting #Cotlin #KnitPicks #aknitica

If you’re looking for an interesting lace shawl (not necessarily a beginner’s one), check out my newest pattern release, the Sea Glass Shawl, now available through Knit Picks!  And come join us for a knitalong over on Ravelry in the Aknitica Designs group.