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Crochet tension (gauge) explained

Updated: Nov 15, 2023

I'm asked a lot about crochet tension (gauge), so I thought it would be helpful to follow this up with a dedicated blog post.

Getting your tension (gauge) right is just as important in crochet as it is for knitting, because if your tension (gauge) doesn't match the pattern instructions, then your project will turn out too large or too small, and all your beautiful crochet will be wasted.

I hope my step-by-step guide helps you to achieve the perfect tension.

What is Tension (gauge)?

Tension can also be referred to as Gauge - particularly in US patterns.

Tension (gauge) is the number of stitches and rows of a specific stitch or stitch pattern, in a defined square of crochet fabric, usually 10x10cm (4x4in).

Tension (gauge) is determined by the size of hook and yarn you are using, and can even be influenced by the way you are sitting, or by your mood. So if you're feeling stressed, for example, you're more likely to crochet tightly which can affect the size of your stitches, and make them smaller.

Where will I find the information I need for my pattern?

The tension required for a pattern will usually be listed in the information section at the beginning, and you need to match it to make sure that your project turns out to the correct size.

It's important to remember that every crocheter works to their own tension (gauge), so there's no guarantee that yours will match that of the pattern. This would mean that if you crocheted a jumper without checking your tension (gauge) first, it could turn out too big or too small, and all those hours of crochet would be wasted.

It's essential therefore to check your tension (gauge) before you start your project – otherwise your finished item may be too large or too small and you will have to unravel your work and start again. However, for some accessories, tension isn't crucial as it doesn't matter too much if a flower or a bag isn't quite the right size.

What do I do next?

First, you will need to crochet a square of crochet in the main stitch pattern being used. A tension (gauge) square should be slightly larger than the area you are going to measure. So, for a 10x10cm (4x4in) square you should make a square measuring at least 15x15cm (6x6in).

To make a square, make a foundation chain of the length required and then work in the specified stitch or pattern until your crochet piece measures the same height as the width (so that you have a square).

Fasten off the yarn, then spray the square with water to dampen, and pin in out flat to dry (also known as blocking). Blocking the square will relax the stitches for more accurate measurements.

How do I measure my tension?

On a flat surface, with the right side facing you, and using a hard ruler or metal tape measure, measure 10cm (4in) across a row of stitches. Mark each end with a pin.

Next, measure 10cm against the vertical rows, and mark each end with a pin.

Now count the number of stitches (and half stitches) between the two sets of pins to obtain the number of stitches and rows within the 10cm square.

The tension (gauge) of some patterns is measured by the number of pattern repeats in a 10cm (4in) square. In this case, count the number of repeats, not the number of stitches and rows.

What if my tension doesn't match the specified tension?

If you have too many stitches and rows then your tension is too tight (and your stitches are too small). Make a new tension square using a hook one size larger than recommended in the pattern. So if the pattern recommends a 4mm hook, try 4.5mm instead.

If you have too few stitches and rows then your tension is too loose (and your stitches are too big). Make a new tension square using a hook one size smaller than recommended in the pattern. So if the pattern recommends a 3.75mm hook, try using 3.5mm.

You may need to work up a few tension squares with different hook sizes until you ultimately achieve the correct tension to match your pattern.

The main thing now is to keep your tension square and label it so that you can use if for reference in the future - this is really useful if you use the same type of yarn regularly.

I hope that helps you to work out your crochet tension.

Happy crafting,

Lynne xx

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