Crafting · knitting

Decoding knit patterns


If you are a Knitter (with a capital K) you probably familiar with these abbreviations. As with most things, we Knitters have short-hand for our patterns that is universal among designers. In fact, if I find a non-standard abbreviation in a pattern, the entire pattern becomes suspect.

However, recently I began thinking about other parts of pattern instructions that may not become clear until you are deep into the knitting, even if you use the tried and true method of reading the entire pattern before beginning.

If you’ve been knitting a long time, that initial read through may be more cursory than detailed. For example, I read through and highlight my stitch or repeat counts based on my size but I may not read the pattern for comprehension. This usually leads to unpleasant surprises, frogging, or a project time-out while I wrap my brain around a concept.

Let’s start with a gauge swatch. I take for granted how to do one, having done dozens, but this week my friend, D, who had never done one before, came up with a novel interpretation of the pattern instructions. The instructions read gauge: 18 stitches x 24 rows = 4″. To her, this meant: cast on 18 stitches, knit 24 rows and make sure it measures 4″. Honestly, looking at it from her point of view, this made perfect sense. Just to be clear, we want to knit a swatch at least 5″x5″ (I usually shoot for 6″x6″) and then measure a 4×4 square. Knit your swatch per the pattern instructions; if it says stockinette, or lace, or whatever. Sometimes it will says “with larger needle” – if the pattern calls for using more than one needle size. The only time I break this rule is when making the swatch calls for “in the round”. If someone can give me a no fuss away to do this measurement without casting on the full sweater, please share. Until then, all my swatches will be flat. I like to soak and block my swatches before measuring, it not only gives you the truest measurements, but also allows you to see what the drape of your finished fabric will be like. Afraid of running short of yarn? You can always frog the swatch later.

My current project (and my lack of attention to the pattern detail) had me enjoying some challenges.
Gotcha #1: when the instructions say wet block the pieces, this is code for “you are going to have to block this within an inch of its life”. While working on my Low Tide by Tin Can Knits, the front and back lace bodice pieces looked very small as I was knitting them even though I was making a size Large. Although I believed I had read the pattern through before beginning, I had glossed over this part. An hour (and a bucket of sweat later) I had wet blocked the 3 lace pieces. They had to grow at least 2″ in every direction to meet the measurements in the schematic.

Don’t throw away those random, mismatched straight needles!

Gotcha #2: I hadn’t taken the wet blocking into account was when I placed these the live stitches on stitch-holders. The pattern instructions said to place the stitches on waste yarn. I thought it would be better to place those stitches on proper stitch-holders. Wrong. When you are aggressively blocking knits, those live stitches have to stretch too and when on an inflexible stitch-holder, how far they will block is limited (duh). Not wanting to move the, now wet, stitches to waste yarn, I pulled out some small diameter long aluminum straight needles and moved the stitches to them. This had an unintended benefit; it kept the blocked pieces very straight. I will definitely use these needles for this purpose in the future (I also knew there was a good reason I saved these single needles that I never, ever used before now. My hoarding is therefore justified).

Lastly, an oldie but goodie: one of my favorite sweater pattern instructions that I always seem to overlook is “at the same time”. This is usually used during garment shaping. For example, “knit straight seed stitch for 27”, at the same time…k2tog every 2″ (10)”. Oh, bloody hell, at this point I’ve probably knit 5″ without decreasing at all or I’ll forget the do the decreases midway through the body. My best practice is to make sure I highlight, in RED, instructions like these before I start knitting.

What pattern gotchas get YOU every time?

*knit one purl two, pass slipped stitch over, knit through the back loop, center double decrease

This week’s new resource: Orcas Island Knitting – a weight chart for holding 2 yarns together (aka marling)

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