Thursday, October 27, 2011

Ways to Improve Your Knitting - Get the most out of the upper tension unit!

Yep, I'm talking about that rabbit-ear thing.

Machines that have a proper upper tension unit are much easier to use than the ones that need the yarn hand-fed or only have a short post and eye to hold the yarn.

Imagine trying to sew without the tensioning device that approaches the needle.  It would be a disaster, wouldn't it?  I don't know about you, but my machine has been threaded wrong a few times, and having poor tension on the incoming thread makes the job impossible.

Your knitting machine's upper tension unit has a very similar function to the tensioning device in the treading area above a sewing machine's needle.  It has the following important jobs:
  • Hold the yarn up high enough so that the yarn travels a long way from the cone or ball.  This distance helps the yarn to feed well. 
  • Feed the yarn through a pressure dial to apply a little even tension to the yarn.  These are the little tension wheels at the base of the rabbit ears (take-up springs).  You can tighten or loosen the tension here.
  • Provide an device to apply some wax to the yarn.  (I use wax to knit most of the time.  I cut up candles and make my own disks.  'Nother blog post, 'nother day.)
  • Feed the yarn through the take-up spring, which swoops down as you pull the carriage across and pops up at the end of the row.  That popping up is critical - it helps to avoid the dreaded edge loops!
Okay, so I exaggerated - edge loops aren't exactly the black plague, but they aren't fun, either.  I get lots of emails about miserable edge-looping problems.  Once you have looseness at the side of the knitting, you've got yarn catching on the brushes and getting tangled up, you've got dropped stitches and all sorts of frustration. 

So, what can you do to make your upper tension unit work better?
  • Observe the yarn traveling through the unit.  Tighten the tension enough so that the take-up springs (previously disrespectfully referred to as "rabbit ears") have a little tension on them, but not so much that the yarn doesn't feed smoothly.
  • Consider replacing your take-up springs.  I have replaced mine when they lost their bounce, and the difference in the functioning of the machine was just wonderful.  As knitting machine parts go, the cost wasn't terrible.  Check with a dealer about getting new springs. 
  • Clean out yarn fuzzies that get caught in the springs or tension unit.
  • Use yarn in cones or rewind your yarn properly.  To me, it's done right if there is virtually NO tension on the yarn when you lift some out of the ball.  It also means that I am careful to not wind knots into the ball - I untangle anything that needs untangled as I wind, and I cut the yarn if I get to a manufacturer's knot.
  • Do use wax.  Almost all the time!  I put the yarn in place first, so it runs over the wax holder, then set the wax on top.  The wax ring rotates as the yarn goes over it and applies a little wax as you knit.
Well!  I'm off to pack for the DFW seminar.  I'm so looking forward to the weekend, to seeing my friends, to seeing a teacher I haven't seen before.  My girlfriend and I are leaving right after work tomorrow, so I need to be completely ready tonight.  The girls will have fun, and our hubbies will probably eat pizza.


  1. Most important part of the knitting machine, in my opinion. Also, the triangular portion of the tension mast where the yarn is first threaded is an ideal place to clip on a dryer sheet during the winter. I then run the yarn through one of the natural folds of the sheet as it runs up and through the rest of the tension mast, and voila! No static problems!

  2. Oh, you forgot to mention that by turning the dial on the tension mast you can control the number of stitches per row. The manual simply states that it's there for different thicknesses of yarn, but as you turn it toward the + the tension is looser, making the stitches longer, or fewer rows, and vice versa, towards the - makes the tension tighter for shorter stitches, and more stitches per row. This is also essential for determining gauge.

  3. I am in need of help fixing the tension mast of my Brother KH 890. The tension mast is no longer springing up after each pass/row.

    This machine is in brand new condition. I am the second owner of this machine, the first owner having tried to knit once and then left the machine in her attic for twenty years. I am a beginner at hand knitting and at working a Circular Sock Machine, and brand new to flat bed knitting. When an experienced flat bed knitter, Marcia, came over to help me get it set up, the tension mast was working, springing up nicely after each pass (feeding yarn smoothly and correctly). But now, while trying to learn the basics of the machine on my own, the yarn is not longer being fed through the rollers smoothly. The rollers seem to pinch the yarn. The rollers do respond to the knob settings (plus or minus), but it is barely perceptible. The tension between the rollers and antennae is tight, while the tension between the rollers and the yarn cone is VERY loose. I am threading the machine correctly. While some yarn trickles through the rollers, I have to pull the yarn manually to get enough for another pass. It just won't do the springing action anymore, and I can't figure out why. I've taken both knobs/rollers apart, and everything seems to be in order. Since my experienced teacher hasn't encountered this problem before, I am wondering if I've done some newbie/novice error somewhere. Please help me fix my machine!