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For a while I had a theory that tight knitters kept perfect houses, offices, desks. If you tweak every stitch an extra time, it would make sense that you'd also take the time to snatch each bit of clutter off any surface. I'm not a tight knitter and my house and office look, well, lived-in. But one day I took a poll of my knitting students. They laughed at me. "I wish," said one. "Give me fair warning before coming over to my house," said another. A third nodded in agreement, but she's got five children and, as she said, if she doesn't keep up she'd be buried in mess.

What all these tight knitters did have in common was their assumption that knitting tightly was just their way. They reminded me of my former college writing students who would proclaim blithely, "I can't spell." As if it was genetic, like height or shoe size, something with which you're either cursed or blessed. And something you certainly can't change. But you can, and should, loosen up your knitting.

If you:
1) really care about needle tips because certain kinds make it easier for you to ooch your way into the next stitch,
2) have to move up two or more needle sizes in order to get the right stitch gauge,

3) notice that your finished knitted fabric never feels as soft as the yarn did in the skein, and 4) find yourself buying two or three times more yarn than the pattern calls for...

pay attention. One of my students who had used up three $20 skeins of yarn to knit a scarf that called for one skein learned how to fix her problem. Now she's knitting more, spending less money per project, and her hands aren't so tired.

The whole tight-knitting problem can be traced to one wrong move. Well, all right, it's a move that tight knitters make after each stitch, but it's just one itty bitty thing.

If you knit American or English style, the four steps to making a knit stitch are:
1) place the needle in the stitch,
2) wrap working yarn around right needle,
3) pick up stitch, and
4) move the finished stitch from the left needle to the right needle.

Tight knitters add a fifth step, as shown in the first photo: pulling the working yarn tight. They probably aren't even aware that they do it.

Why don't you need to add this final little tug? Because when you do step 2 of the next stitch, i.e. wrap the yarn around your right needle, the very act of wrapping tightens the previous stitch, the one you just made. See the second photo.

If you knit Continental style and suffer from tight stitches, chances are that you hold your working yarn taut just before scooping up the new stitch. See the third photo.

In either case, if you're adding that fifth step, that extra tug, you are in fact tightening your new stitch twice.

To break the habit, try concentrating on your knitting process for 20 minutes or so. Go to a quiet place, away from phones and conversation, and watch yourself knit. When you finish step 4 of your knit stitch, you'll have the urge to tighten. Ignore it. Watch as each succeeding stitch neatens up the preceding one. Let the physics of knitting do the work for you.

Do one row this way, then another row. After the first row, you'll notice how much easier it is to place your needle in each stitch. After a few more rows, touch the finished fabric. Notice how much softer it is. Not only is it all right to knit more loosely than you have been, but doing so allows the yarn to show all its beautiful texture.



A confirmed knitting addict, Lisa Kartus is an escapee from national journalism and college teaching. These days she writes and teaches knitting in suburban Chicago.

Her idea of nirvana, besides an endless yarn stash, is eavesdropping as one student shows another student how to fix an error, try a new cast on, and generally take risks.