I get the impression from the classes I teach that a lot of knitters think that, with the pattern open in front of them and yarn and needles in hand, a garment should appear stitch-by-stitch aided and abetted only by the steady transfer of information through the eyes. If only it were that simple! But the wailing that eventually sets in proves otherwise. I lost my concentration and can’t remember if I just purled or knitted! I put it down and don’t remember what row I’m on. Is this the side I’m supposed to do an SSK or a K2Tog? What do they mean AT THE SAME TIME?!?!
The fact is that for projects more complex than a basic scarf, following a pattern requires a strategy. Working a knitting pattern is not like reading a book, where you proceed word-by-word and line-by-line from beginning to end. The best patterns provide resources beyond the row-by-row stitch directions, including photographs and schematics. There are bold headings for each separate garment section which give you an indication of how the garment will be constructed. Any unique terms or stitch patterns will be defined somewhere. You do not get knitting bonus points for attempting to work a pattern while ignoring these aids.
Once you have used all the clues provided to get at least a partial sense of what you will be trying to accomplish, it can often be useful for you to come up with some aids of your own. If it seems like cheating, then fine! Cheat without shame! Anything you can do to reduce frustration and wasted energy and the likelihood of mistakes so you can focus on the joy of creating something beautiful has my blessing.
Stitch markers of various sorts have often been used in knitting. They are a well-established form of cheating which can free you from some of the burden of having to keep track of where you are. Sometimes patterns will tell you when to place markers, slip them and remove them, but I encourage you to look for your own opportunities to use markers to make your job easier. Mark transitions between borders and main pattern sections. Place markers between each repetition of a cable or lace motif to help you keep everything lined up right. Place a removable marker into the end of a key row (say a cable cross row or the beginning of a pattern repeat) to help you keep your place as you go. You can also use a removable marker to mark the right or wrong side of a piece, if there is any chance of confusion. (Be sure to insert the marker through two stitches, to make sure it STAYS on the side it is supposed to be marking. If you put the marker around one stitch, it can swing to the other side.)
Some of my favorite knitting aids don’t come from my local yarn store, but from the office supply store. Sticky notes are great to use to keep your place in a written pattern or chart, not only to keep track of where you are but to help guide your eye in reading for less stress and greater efficiency. If a particular set of directions isn’t clear to you, you can write them in your own words on a sticky note and stick it onto the pattern. But my very favorite trick is to use price tags, key tags or cut-up hole-punched bits of index cards to tag my project with reminders at crucial places.
Let’s say you are working a pattern where you are decreasing every so-many rows on the armhole edge while decreasing at a different rate at the neckline….while working in a pattern that has cable crosses every x-number of rows. Write each different shaping instruction on a little tag and pin it with a removable marker to the appropriate section of the project. That way, when you get to the neck edge, your little reminder will tell you exactly what you are supposed to do there. Your tag on the armhole edge will tell you what to do at that side. And in between, your tag telling you to cable every 8 rows (or whatever) will keep your stitch pattern on track, especially if you think to move the marker each time you cable to keep track of where your last cross was. Another example I have used tags for was in making socks when I was first getting the hang of heel shaping. I put “k2 ssk” on one tag and “k2tog k2” on another and hung these on the appropriate sides of the gusset area. Each time I came to these markers I knew just what to do, without having to think about it (until eventually I could do it without having to think about it).
Sometimes I photocopy smaller stitch charts and “laminate” them with clear packing tape. By pinning them as tags to my project, I don’t have to keep looking away from my work to see what I need to do next. This was especially useful when I worked on Oblique from Knitty, where each row is broken up into several sections each with different lace stitch designs. I pinned the appropriate stitch chart to each section so I could work without distraction.
I don’t know about you but I want to enjoy the process of knitting. I want it to be challenging, yes, but also relaxing. And productive! Ripping out (while sometimes unavoidable) is not an efficient or pleasant use of my time. Anything I can do with materials at hand to help keep myself on track with less effort, I will do. And you should, too!
I CHEAT AT KNITTING! WILL YOU JOIN ME?