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!

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Keeping tension, or how to hold your yarn

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

Once you start to get a little more comfortable with making stitches, tension will start to be important. This is the way you keep your working yarn consistently tight so that all your stitches come out the same size. Most knitters have some way or other they always hold their working yarn. (I’m not talking about picking vs. throwing here – which hand you use to hold the yarn. That’s a different post.) I use the same way as my mother, mostly because she was the one who first taught me about fiber crafting: over my index finger and then looped around my pinky. To move the yarn along, I do a little pinky-flick. But you can also wrap the yarn around your fingers in any number of other ways. If you have someone teaching you, they may have some specific method they showed you. But really, it doesn’t matter how you do it, as long as you have some way that works for you. So this is basically several example pictures of some ways to hold your yarn.


Don’t be afraid to modify your technique if you need to! As you gain experience, you’ll be able to tell if things feel a little loose or tight. I sometimes have to change based on the weather, or the kind of yarn I’m using. If things are feeling tight (humidity can do this to me), I sometimes drop my pinky wrap. If it’s feeling loose (especially if I’m using a really thin yarn), sometimes I double up.


Doubling up on the pinky wrap for thin yarn

It’s generally very hard to change your tension on purpose – to knit more tightly or more loosely than you generally do. For me at least, my hands have figured out how it works, and keep tension without any interference from my brain. If you need to change your tension for some reason, it’s much easier to change your needle size. You may need to experiment a tad to figure out exactly which size you need (this is called swatching, which will be the subject of another post), but it’s much less tedious than trying to remind yourself constantly to knit tighter or looser, and then ripping it out when you forget.

Happy knitting!

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Starting out – advice for your first attempt

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

So you’ve decided to start knitting! Maybe you have a handy friend to teach you the basics, or maybe you’re teaching yourself from videos and instructions online. Now you’re wondering exactly which of the various choices of yarn and needles to start with. Or maybe you’ve already tried, but it’s just not working! What to do?

Apart from how you’re learning, there are some things to do that can help you – namely, yarn and needle choice. For both, there are two things to think about: the thickness, and the type of material.

Yarn weight – you want something thick enough to see what you’re doing. Yarn comes in varying weights (or thicknesses), from cobweb (crazy thin) to super bulky (really thick).  I’d advise something in the DK/Aran area – thin enough so that the yarn itself doesn’t get in the way, but thick enough so you can easily see what you’re doing.

Yarn composition – the material your yarn is made of (or fiber) will make a big difference. To start out, a grippy yarn will serve you best. Wool is my choice, but acrylic* would work too, and is more easily available in a local hobby shop. Avoid slippery yarns. They’re harder to manage on the needles, and may slip off. If the stitches do fall off, slippery yarn has a bigger tendency to run away from you and unravel. A grippy yarn will probably stay where it is if you drop a stitch, unless you pull at it. So avoid silk, or anything that feels slick. Also avoid plant fibers for your first try. They naturally have less stretch to them, and so are a little less forgiving to work with.

More yarn composition – you want something with good stitch definition, meaning that you want to be able to see what’s going on with your stitches. Again, wool and acrylic are good choices. Avoid mohair or alpaca, or anything really fuzzy. These yarns have a ‘halo’, or a tendency to fuzz out, which makes seeing your stitches themselves very difficult.

The other part of knitting equation is your needles. You want needles that are the appropriate size for your yarn. Like yarn, standard needles also come in a range of sizes, from 0 (very thin) to ~15 (as big around as my pinky)**. (There are needles both thinner and thicker than this, but they’re more for novelty things.) You want something that goes with your yarn. Something in the 6-9 range will probably be just fine. Your yarn may have a recommended needle size on the band, and that will work too. If you have too big a needle, you’ll have loops everywhere and it’ll be hard to see what’s going on. Too small, and your fabric will be very tight, and again hard to see.

The material of the needles also matters. Again, you want something grippy, so the stitches don’t slide around when you don’t want them to. Bamboo or wood needles are a good choice. Avoid metal, it’s much slipperier.

With helpful choices of yarn and needle, hopefully that first knitted square will happen a little more easily!


Happy knitting!


*I never use acrylic if I can avoid it. I really don’t like how it feels to knit with. But it is easily available, cheap, machine washable, and pretty easy to work with.

**These are US sizes. UK sizes are specified in mm. 2.00mm needles are the same as US 0, and 10.00mm are US 15.

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Knitting or Crochet?

This is the first post in a series I’m doing on the basics of knitting. I’m not discussing the actual techniques of knitting – that has been covered much better and more thoroughly than I could. Instead I’ll be talking about some related-but-not-technically-knitting aspects of the craft.

“Is that knitting or crochet?” seems like a good way to start. With no experience with either, the fabric produced looks pretty similar. They’re both variously-looped yarn made into fabric. So when presented with a loopy fabric, how do you tell what you’ve got?

Well, here are some pictures.

Knitting is made up of columns of stitches. Each stitch is anchored by the stitches directly above and below it. There are two basic knit stitches – ‘knit’ and ‘purl’. They’re the opposite of each other – the front of a knit stitch is the back of a purl stitch. The ‘front’ side of a knit stitch looks like a V. The ‘back’ gives you kind of a bump.


Crochet always seems to be more row-oriented to me. Working crochet flat gives you fabric that’s the same on both sides.

That’s well and good if someone’s demanding that you identify the mode of construction of a sweater, but doesn’t help so much with deciding which one you want to try. So what are they actually?

Knitting is generally done with two needles. All of the stitches in the most recent row are ‘live’, or sitting as loops on your needle. Each stitch relies on the stitches above and below it. If something happens to one stitch, an entire column can unravel. This makes knitting a little more precarious than crochet. If you accidentally drop a stitch (let a loop fall off the needle somehow), it can run away and decimate an entire column of the fabric if you don’t stop it. There are lots of techniques for knitting – lace, cables, intarsia, fair-isle colorwork, to name a very few. Knitting is usually  pretty stretchy.


Crochet is done with a single hook. You only have one live stitch at a time. Crochet fabric is generally more secure than knitted fabric, but less stretchy. A hole in a crochet piece won’t expand like one in something knitted. An explanation I heard once for why old-time crafters would choose one over the other (I have no idea whether this is true) has to do with a balance of durability and reusability. If a crafter wanted something strong and stable that could deal with a few holes, go with crochet. If you needed something stretchy and wanted to be able to reuse the yarn, go with knitting.

In addition to equipment, there’s also aesthetics to think of, and how much you enjoy each process. I personally enjoy knitting much more, both the process and the finished product. I think a lot of crochet looks a little clunky, and maybe a little 80’s. Which is not to say that’s bad, or that there are not some absolutely breathtaking crochet patterns out there – my personal tendency is just for knitting. Crochet (specifically, tapestry crochet) is great for pixelated two-color pictures. There are a lot of traditional lace doilies that are crocheted. Crochet is also way better for amigurumi. Crochet increases and decreases just lend themselves better to shaping these kinds of projects. I’m not sure why.

Really, though, go for what seems interesting to you! If you don’t already, I strongly recommend getting an account on Ravelry (it’s free!) and browsing through some pictures. See what speaks to you, and go for it! Ravelry is also a great place to ask questions and get advice. My Ravelry username is eigenknitter, if you want to ask questions there. For instruction on how to do the various techniques, I highly recommend searching for youtube videos. There are a lot of them out there. Some terms to get you started: creating the first stitches of your project is called ‘casting on’. The basic stitches are ‘knit’ and ‘purl’. To finish, you’ll ‘cast off’ or ‘bind off’ (two terms for the same thing).

Hopefully this has helped you decide if you want to pick up knitting or crochet! My other posts will go into more detail on various helpful knitting techniques and ideas. If you think crochet is for you, you’ll have to look elsewhere – I’m just not a good enough crocheter to try to help with that!

Happy knitting!


(All of the knitting pictures I posted (but not the links) are done by me. Most of the crochet is done by my mother, who is a MUCH better crocheter than I.)

For other posts in this series: