This post is written by a knitter who loses count, who forgets where she is in the pattern, who can’t recall what size needle was used for the lump of knitting in the Knitopia tote bag in the bottom of her closet.
I write this from a place of great humility.
It’s a simple question, really: how do you keep from pfaffing up your knitting?
I have a few tried-and-true tips to share.
Tip Number 1: Read the pattern all the way through.
I mean: really read it. Don’t fakeyskim it the way you slogged through all that crap about Huguenots and the Magna Carta—really dig in and imagine what the hell all those instructions are telling you to do. Elite athletes spend a fortune on sports psychologists who teach them how to visualize success. Well, knitter, visualize that buttonhole band! It makes a huge difference.
Tip Number 2: Write stuff on the pattern.
I used to make a copy of a pattern to work from if it appeared in a book or otherwise seemed precious and rare. At this point, I don’t really care—what am I, the Library of Congress? Mark up your size, cross out all irrelevant sizes (very satisfying), and be sure to say what size needle you’re actually using.
Write out those vexing combinations when you’re told to, say, throw a cable every 8th row AND AT THE SAME TIME increase every other row for 12 rows. I don’t know who can keep that all in mind, but it’s definitely not me.
Cross off the thing you just did. This isn’t necessary for simple patterns, but there are definitely times when Row 14 looks a lot like Row 13 but in fact is not the same.
Use all the technology available to you to aid in your navigation of the pattern.
Write free and unsolicited advice to the pattern designer when you’re really irritated.
Tip Number 3: Love your chart.
For lace and colorwork, be a weirdo and spend hard-earned, after-tax money on a chart holder. The knitting is trouble enough—at least let yourself get a clear view of the chart. And if you want to put yourself in a special category, laminate your chart so you can knit your laceweight shawlette while slurping spaghetti, and your chart will stay pristine.
Tip Number 4: Respect lace.
Use stitch markers for each repeat when you’re learning a new lace pattern.
Learn how to insert a lifeline so that you can rip back to a safe row. Here’s a great little tutorial from Very Pink’s Staci Perry, who gets an Academy Award for Best Manicure in a Knitting Video.
If a stitch or lace pattern has no chart, ask yourself why you want to make that pattern. At this point I can’t work lace without a chart. Most people are visual learners, so if a pattern has no chart, I honestly think the easiest thing is to go find another pattern that does. Why make yourself crazy from the get-go?
Miscellaneous Other Tips
Don’t knit hard things when you’re sleepy. That’s the beauty of having a pile of projects going at once: there is knitting for when you feel brilliant, and knitting for when you’re one nostril above the muck.
The three-strikes-you’re-out rule. When I make the same mistake three times in one day, I stop knitting. It’s not going to get any better. And if I continue, it may drive me to take up some other craft, like stock car racing.
The Most Basic Tip of All
It’s the skill that that takes practice to master: read your knitting. When I learned to knit, I never really understood the relationship of the rows of stitches I was working. I just knit. And purled. When I screwed up, I had no idea what I had done wrong. I think this may be the single biggest impediment to a new knitter: those first mistakes. It’s make or break, really—if you don’t get back on track, fast, it all seems sort of impossible.
Reading your knitting means understanding what your yarn is doing in each row. I can’t teach you how to do this in the confines of this post, but know in a deep way that if you can understand the relationship of stitches to each other, you will spot mistakes much faster.
Wishing you perfect knitting, or perfectly imperfect knitting, or just adequate knitting.