Why is Tension so important in Crochet Projects?

Why is Tension so important in Crochet Projects?
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If you’ve started your journey of crochet, chances are you’ve heard about the term “tension” before. You might be confused by the role of tension in crochet projects and even underestimate its value. Hopefully I can demonstrate why this is important.

In the world of crochet, the term “tension” carries significant weight—pun intended! Often discussed but sometimes misunderstood, tension plays a crucial role in the outcome of any crochet project. So, what exactly does tension mean for a crocheter, and why does it matter?

But what is tension really? And how can it affect your projects?

In simple terms, it’s used to describe the tightness of your crochet stitches and directly impacts the overall gauge (size) of the item you’re making. Specifically altering tension can alter the height of your stitches but may also affect the width of your stitches too.

Essentially, tension is the force applied to the yarn as stitches are created. This tension directly affects the size, appearance, and overall quality of the finished piece.

Let’s take a deeper look into how tension plays a vital role in your crochet projects and how to alter it if needed.

What is Tension?

Tension is the amount of pressure that you use when pulling yarn through each stitch. Not only does it affect the size of your stitches, but also the overall drape and shape of your finished piece.

The Role of Tension in Crocheting Projects

  1. Consistency: Consistent tension ensures that all stitches in a project are uniform in size and appearance. Irregular tension can lead to uneven edges, distorted shapes, or an overall sloppy look.
  2. Gauge: Tension affects gauge, which is the number of stitches and rows per inch in a pattern. Following the specified gauge ensures that the finished project matches the intended size and proportions. Deviating from the gauge can result in a piece that is too small, too large, or misshapen.
  3. Yarn Usage: Proper tension also impacts yarn usage. Tight tension requires more yarn, while loose tension uses less. Understanding one’s tension helps in estimating the amount of yarn needed for a project, preventing shortages or excess yarn.
  4. Fabric Drape and Texture: Tension influences the drape and texture of the fabric. Tight tension creates a dense, sturdy fabric suitable for items like bags or amigurumi, while loose tension produces a more flexible, drapey fabric ideal for garments or shawls.
  5. Comfort and Ergonomics: Maintaining appropriate tension contributes to a more comfortable crocheting experience. Overly tight tension can strain the hands and wrists, leading to discomfort or even injury. Conversely, overly loose tension can result in dropped stitches or difficulty controlling the yarn and hook.

For example, if you hold your yarn too tightly when crocheting, then you will end up with smaller than expected stitches and a very stiff fabric that keeps its shape. On the other hand, if you don’t hold it tightly enough, then you may end up with larger than expected stitches and a looser fabric that could easily be distorted or stretched out. Some pieces, especially where there’s color changing, will have specific instructions on how you should hold your yarn.

See how your stitches are aligning with each other, the spaces in between, and whether they’re wonky or symmetrical.

The final look depends on the look you’re going for. If you’re making stuffed toys and amigurumis, where you don’t want holes and want the shape to stay, you will crochet with a tighter tension. However, if you want drape-y fabrics and / or positive ease, you might opt to adjust your tension accordingly.

When does tension matter?

Most crochet patterns will contain a gauge measurement. This will tell you how many stitches you should have in a certain measurement as well as how many rows.

However, I am a realist and in many projects meeting gauge, although preferred, is not essential. Often simply having a consistent tension works well! Crochet projects where I don’t worry about tension per se include:

  • washcloths
  • scarves and cowls
  • corner to corner squares
  • a lot of market bags (e.g. lacy ones, but not tapestry crochet versions)

Projects where tension is important include:

  • Garments (sweaters, tees, skirts, cardigans, vests etc). After all you want these to fit properly and look great!
  • Hats – if your tension is too loose you will find that your hat is too long so you will have to roll up the brim to get it to the correct length. Too tight and your hat will be too short.
  • Tapestry projects – With all of the colour changes you will want to ensure that your tension is consistent and tight enough to hide any carried yarn. An incorrect tension may also distort the pattern or the picture on the project.
  • Stitch sampler blankets – While you can block blankets as you go there are some stitches that just do not play nice with others and can wreak havoc on your project if the tension is not correct. You may find that you need to adjust your tension for each section.

As I have mentioned, it is sometimes more important to be consistent and enjoy making the project than worrying about measuring your gauge regularly.

How to Alter Tension

There are several different ways to adjust tension while crocheting so don’t worry if you think your work isn’t turning out the way you wanted it to.

  1. One technique is to simply change the size of your hook – using a larger hook will result in bigger stitches while using a smaller hook will create smaller ones. But be careful to check your gauge if it is important for the project! You still need to match the number of stitches in the width as well as the height.
  2. Another method to alter tension is by changing the way you grip your yarn while crocheting – this can be tricky as it takes practice to find the right balance between too taut and too much slack! This is a tricky one to show you because people hold their yarn in many different ways. So you will have to work this out. For me when I want to tighten the tension I raise the finger that is holding the yarn. When I want to loosen the tension, I lower the finger. See the photo below for how I hold my yarn. This works well for me, but is very much trial and error according to your own crochet style.
  3. Finally, some people choose to use stitch markers or other tools such as row counters or tape measures to help keep their tension consistent throughout their project by regularly measuring their gauge. This all depends on what you’re comfortable with and how important tension is for you and the project that you are working on.

Other things you can do:

4. Practice: Like any skill, achieving consistent tension takes practice. Experiment with different yarn weights, hook sizes, and tension levels to find what works best for you.

5. Relax: Relax your grip on the hook as well as the yarn. Holding them too tightly can lead to tight tension. Focus on maintaining a comfortable, relaxed grip while crocheting.

6. Check Tension Regularly: Periodically check your tension throughout a project, especially when switching yarns or stitch patterns. Adjust as needed to maintain consistency.

7. Swatch: Always make a gauge swatch before starting a new project, particularly when working with unfamiliar yarn or stitch patterns. This allows you to adjust your tension if necessary to achieve the desired gauge.


Tension plays a key role in how your crochet project will end up, from determining its final size and drape to affecting its overall appearance. If there’s a slight difference in tension throughout, you can get away with blocking your project and symmetrically aligning everything.

When starting any crochet project, especially as a beginner, be sure you understand how tension works so that you can make adjustments if needed for different types of fabric or gauge requirements. It can get confusing when your progress doesn’t quite look like the crochet designer’s.

The tension that you placed on your yarn, if not correct, can create several issues:

  • Your project may be too big (loose tension) or too small (tight tension) so may not fit properly.
  • It can affect the drape of your project. If you want something that is flow-y and not heavy to wear then a loose tension helps with this. You don’t want to create wearables that are too stiff and therefore uncomfortable or look boxy because there is no movement to them. Equally, you don’t want to create a wall hanging that waves and bends like tissue paper in the wind.

As mentioned above, there are many simple ways to alter tension, including changing hook sizes and holding onto yarn differently, to using tools such as stitch markers and row counters. Experiment with these, or maybe discover something new that works for you!

With practice, patience, and attention to detail, anyone can achieve perfect tension in their crochet projects!

Want to know what else you should keep in mind when starting your crochet journey? Check out 10 Mistakes Every Crocheter Should Avoid.