Reading your knitting

This post is part of a series about the basics of the not-exactly-knitting parts of knitting.

Well, it’s been quite a while since I posted! I’d been intending to save this topic for one of the last posts, but it’s something I think is really important, and hopefully that will help give me a kick to get this started again.

Reading your knitting is perhaps not something that would be considered ‘basic,’ but I think it is one of the most important skills to change knitting from a finicky, frustrating process requiring extreme concentration to a fun hobby. Reading your knitting means using previous rows to figure out where you are and what you should be doing in this row, instead of thinking about every row in isolation and and figuring out what you should be doing now by just counting the stitches in the pattern. I’m a very visual person, so this works pretty well for me. If you’re perfectly happy counting, far be it from me to say you’re doing it wrong! But I personally enjoy knitting a lot more when I’m reading my knitting.

Essentially, reading your knitting requires that you know what the stitches look like after you’ve made them. This will take some experience, but you’ll learn faster if you pay attention to what’s coming off your needles. So as you go, stop occasionally and try to match up the stitches you’re making with the symbols on the pattern. Most charted patterns will use symbols that look at least a little bit like the stitches they make. Once you figure this out, you’ll be able to tell more quickly if you’ve make a mistake. You’ll be able to stop obsessively counting stitches and rows. You’ll be able to just knit.

You can read your knitting to determine relatively simple things:


Am I on a wrong-side row, or a right-side row? Right side – with the yarn on the right of my knitting, I’m looking at the right side of the work. Knit stitches look like Vs, purl stitches look like bumps. So I must be about to start a right-side row.

Or you can avoid counting:


These are 8-stitch repeats. But once I have the pattern established, I can just knit to one before the previous purl instead of counting to 7 over and over again.

You can avoid looking at the pattern every row:


Where is this cable is going? The cable is pretty obvious here. Since the cable moves over two stitches every right-side row, I must be cabling over two this row.

You can even avoid looking at the pattern every couple of rows:


When do I need to start moving this cable over? On previous repeats, it moves over on the 5th YO next to it. Since I have 4 in this repeat, I must need to cable this row (when I’ll make the 5th YO). If your pattern is predictable enough, you could eventually do without the pattern altogether, and just follow the previous repeats.

And (possibly most useful) you can even find mistakes. In the purple picture, if I’d done too many or too few stitches in any of the pattern repeats, the slant of the stitches would be off and I could notice by just looking back at what I’d done.

One thing that illustrated to me how important reading your knitting is was my one and only attempt at illusion knitting. This is a really interesting technique with an spectacular outcome, but not one I will do again. I never figured out how to read my knitting with this technique, so each row of the tiny project I made was constructed only through intense and precise counting, which I didn’t find enjoyable at all.

As a bonus, you can use this skill to try to figure out how finished objects were constructed, or to try to change patterns to fit your tastes better.

Happy knitting!

For other posts in this series:


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