Sometimes I think every time a needle is involved in a craft, the whole thing becomes all about tension. The artisan has to know when to pull tight, when to pull tighter... and when to slack off.

It’s definitely true in knitting and crochet. I once knew a knitter who knitted so loosely that she could get stitches on 3mm needles — 3mm! — that were the same size as I would make on 6mm needles. She tried knitting a baby sweater as a shower gift for a friend. Her mother-in-law, a master knitter, finally had to hold up the sweater to her own body and show that it was too big for her, never mind a little baby, before my friend was ready to admit that maybe she should learn to tighten up a little.

Then there are the knitters and crocheters I’ve met who seem to think they’re engaged in knot-making, rather than loop-making. I’ve always wondered how they ever get more than one row done.

The secret, it seems to me, is to work with the materials, not against them. Yarn and thread do not have a will of their own. That means that they cannot be allowed to run all over the place as their structure would allow them. It also means they don’t have to be beaten into submission. The artisan guides, and only has to push until the materials fall into place. Once they do, the artisan has to back off and let them be.

I am starting to appreciate how especially important this is with beading, where you can have a mix of wildly different tensions in a single piece. I just finished this necklace (another Rypan kit) for the ever-stylish J-A. She bought it to make herself, then took one look at her cat when she got home and realised she could never leave half-finished beading and him together in the same space. So I said I’d do it so long as I got to keep the needles and leftover materials, and she readily agreed.

The chain on this necklace is a diagonal stitch I’ve never seen before. The pattern warned that it can be sloopy at first (look at the chain to the left of the clasp and you’ll see what they meant), but once you get going it makes a beautiful, supple, and perfectly flat set of links. If I’d had more practice with it I’m sure I could have fixed the first part. The trick is, and again the Rypan pattern is specific about this, that you have to pull tightly, more tightly than one would think one could get away with in a stitch like this. The truth is, though, that the beads just don’t sit right until they’re firmly told where they need to go.

The swags were the opposite. Here, the trick was to keep a looser than normal tension, because swags that are pulled tight don’t hang and flow nicely. I used gravity, letting the beads fall along the thread until they met up with the last-stitched bead, to make sure there were no gaps, and then stitched. It was only when I had gone around the right-angle-weave posts (the larger, vertical strips of beads between the swags) once that I pulled tightly.

Really, the importance of tension shows the benefits of knowing how to do multiple types of needlework. Anyone who’s done crewel embroidery, or knitting, or tatting, or any number of other ways of manipulating stringy bits will recognise what needs to be done for the finished work to be successful.