Tips Tuesday: How to read a knitting pattern … so you’ll always get the results you want!

reading a patternWhether you’re a beginner knitter or an experienced knitter, chances are you’ve worked a pattern that just didn’t turn out the way you thought it would. Whether it was the fit wasn’t quite right … the yarn worked up differently than in the sample shown … you kept making errors on the stitch pattern … or for a multitude of other reasons, it just didn’t work.

Maybe it was your “fault” … maybe it was the designer’s “fault” … maybe it was the publisher’s/editor’s “fault”. It doesn’t matter whose fault — the piece is still not right and no amount of blocking or washing or pinning is going to fix it.

Here are my top 10 tips for ensuring you’ll get the results you want:

  1. Read through the entire pattern BEFORE starting to knit. One of the biggest mistakes I see happening is that a knitter jumps into a design, casts on, and merrily works away not taking advantage of all the notes, suggestions and other tidbits the designer has included in his/her pattern. Read all of it — it was put into the design for a reason. You should read it through to ensure you understand the construction, techniques, abbreviations and other bits in the pattern.
  2. Check all the abbreviations used in the design.Don’t assume that the abbreviations mean what YOU think they mean. Check for a key (for a design in a magazine or book, the key and definitions are usually at the very beginning or very end; for a self-published pattern, the abbreviations are usually defined somewhere within the design). If there is an abbreviation you don’t understand, check online or contact the designer/publisher to find out exactly what is meant. Don’t assume. I once test-knit a pattern that used CO to mean both cast-on and cast-off — I ended up having to remake the vest because I cast-on instead of binding-off the stitches necessary for shaping (there was no accompanying photo to check).
  3. Check YouTube videos or your knitting reference library for techniques used that you may not understand or haven’t done in a while. Practice these techniques with scrap yarn while watching and re-watching the tutorials to ensure competency with the technique. You don’t want to be half-way thru a project only to find that the technique you’re using isn’t working right.
  4. Double-check that you have all the necessary bits and pieces (usually listed under “materials” or some similar heading) or at least know to be on the lookout for them. There is nothing worse than bringing your knitting to a meeting, on a road trip, or settling in front of the tv only to find that you, in fact, don’t have the right-sized needle … or cable needle … or can’t find the zipper length required.
  5. When substituting yarns from the one used, make sure the new yarn is the same weight and blend of fibers as the original. You can check Ravelry for yarn information for just about every yarn available. The designer used the yarn mentioned for a reason — drape of the garment, stitch definition, etc. Fibers act differently — 100% cotton acts very differently knit-up than 100% wool. When a pattern says “x number of skeins” go ahead and find out how much yarn is on the original and do the math to see how much you’ll need of the yarn substituting. Always buy a little more than you THINK you’ll need — you can always add it to your stash or make an accessory (or use it for swatching … see below).
  6. Check the pattern schematic and/or finished measurements to ensure that you choose the right size. Altho most designers use the CYC’s standards for sizing, the amount of ease is up to the designer … in other words, just check to make sure you’re making the size you’d like. With a schedmatic, you can also see if there is any shaping or if it’s a big block of a piece. Do NOT rely solely on the photo in the book or magazine — these samples may be pinned in the back or there’s a reason the models hair covers the neckline shaping! If there is no schematic, create your own using graph paper and the finished measurements in the design; do not assume that a medium will always fit the same.
  7. If, after reading through the entire pattern and trying to find videos/tutorials and answers online, you still have questions, contact the designer directly. Most of us have a Ravelry contact or group where you can ask questions. I can’t speak for other designers, but I try to answer right away with clarification or whatever. As a designer, I WANT people to enjoy knitting my patterns … so that they’ll buy more and tell their friends. Customer support is a win-win. And sometimes it’s not the designer’s fault that the pattern is confusing; often publications edit the design for editorial/advertising concerns and may edit out important information. Check the pattern on Ravelry and see if there are notes or errata that you may not have seen.
  8. SWATCH to obtain the gauge the designer obtained. Make sure to notice if the designer is giving gauge AFTER blocking or before blocking and work accordingly. Make a large swatch, incorporating at least two repeats vertically as well as horizontally … or a swatch at least 6 inches x 6 inches. You want a large swatch to get into the rhythm of the pattern, as this will give you a better idea of what your gauge will be over the course of the item. Measure gauge over the center four inches width and length — use pins to mark exactly four inches either way and then count, including partial sts. It is important that you get the gauge the designer got …or you’ll have to do the math to obtain the measure you want. Make sure you get BOTH row and stitch gauge as stated in the design. Once you get gauge, see if you like the feel, or “hand”, of the swatch; if not, try a smaller (if too floppy) or larger (if too stiff) needle and see if you can still obtain gauge but with a better “hand”. BTW, you could always use the swatch as a coordinating cap or bag … Throughout the project itself, check again for gauge to make sure you haven’t gotten too relaxed; change to a smaller needle (if too loose) or a larger needle (if too tight) as necessary.
  9. SWATCH to practice the stitch and see if you’re really going to like making an entire sweater of the stitch. By practicing the stitch before actually making the garment, you not only get a good gauge swatch you also build muscle-memory so that when you’re doing that 4×4 cable with a twist every 8th row, you can “feel” when the twist is coming. Another benefit to practicing the stitch pattern is that your stitches on the garment are more even and your knitting speed will increase.
  10. SWATCH to keep a record of the yarn, needle used, stitch pattern worked so you can build your own reference for what the yarn does and looks like knit-up. A swatch with notes attached goes nicely in a plastic sheet-protector and you’ll soon have a reference binder full. These make great memories as well as reference if you want to remake the garment or use the same yarn for another project. Keep notes on how much you used for the design and keep a copy of the design with the swatch. I find that I have a few yarns that I really like to use often … with these “pre-made” swatches, I can get a good estimate on the actual gauge (as well as amount of yarn needed for any project).

I hope these tips help … honestly, the more you knit the more you learn (which, for me, is a great part of the fun). The more you do before starting a major project, the more likely you’ll enjoy the process as well as the finished product!sig block

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