A Knitter’s Guide: How to Read Your Knitting

In her excellent article on fixing common mistakes in lace knitting, Roxanne Richardson talks about the importance of learning how to “read” your knitting. What exactly does this mean? And why is it so important?


Reading the Knitting

Newer knitters often concentrate so intently on the pattern instructions that they don’t notice what’s happening to the stitches on the needles as their work progresses. This narrow focus on following the pattern to the letter is perfectly understandable for those just starting out. Eventually, however, all knitters need to master a second skill: being able to tell what type of stitch has been worked just by looking at it. This process of identifying stitches by sight is called “reading the knitting,” and it’s important for a few reasons.

First, knowing what a stitch should look like makes it easier to spot knitting errors. Experienced knitters regularly examine their work so that mistakes can be fixed as soon as possible after they occur.

Being able to read your knitting also makes it possible to follow abbreviated pattern instructions that assume a knitter has a certain level of experience so that each row isn’t spelled out explicitly. For example, the pattern may provide the sequence of stitch patterns only for the first row¬ and the knitter is then expected to be able to work the pattern based on this foundation row. Typically, the instructions will say something like “Continue in pattern as established” or “Work the stitches as they appear.”

Another advantage of being able to read your knitting is that you can easily figure out where you left off after putting a project aside and returning to it later (and, if you’re like me, having forgotten to make notes). You can easily get back on track by comparing the last row you worked to the chart or written pattern.

Below, I’ve provided a couple of swatches that will test your ability to read knitted stitches. Compare the last row worked on each needle to the related charts and see if you can figure out what pattern row should be worked next. If you’re not sure how to do this, I’ll give you some clues.

But first, here’s a list of some common stitches and identifying characteristics for each:

Knit Stitch

When a stitch is knitted, a new loop is drawn from back to front through another loop, which creates a V-shape in the stitch below the stitch on the needle.

Purl Stitch

When a stitch is purled, the new loop is drawn from front to back through the old loop, which creates a horizontal bump below the stitch on the needle. A purl stitch is the exact reverse of a knit stitch.

Twisted Stitch

Knitting a stitch through the back loop (k1tbl) twists the stitch below the one on the needle so that the right leg of the stitch twists to the left. (Note that the new stitch itself isn’t twisted.)

Yarnover

A yarnover (yo) is worked by laying the yarn across the top of the right needle from front to back, creating an eyelet hole below the yarnover.

K2tog Decrease

Knitting 2 stitches together (k2tog) causes the 2 stitches in the row below the stitch on the needle to overlap, with the leftmost stitch crossing over the rightmost stitch. This single decrease can be identified by its right slant.

Ssk Decrease

A left-slanting single decrease can be achieved in different ways, but one of the most common methods is worked by slipping 2 stitches knitwise one at time to the right needle, then knitting these 2 stitches together through their back loops. The abbreviation for this type of decrease is “ssk.” The 2 stitches in the row below will overlap in the opposite direction from the k2tog, with the rightmost stitch crossing over the leftmost stitch. Thus, the ssk decrease can be identified by its left slant.

Use the Stitch Charts As a Guide

Stitch charts can be tremendously helpful when it comes to reading your knitting because their symbols resemble the stitches.

It’s important to remember that a stitch chart shows what the knitted fabric looks like as it’s viewed from the right side of the work, so all the symbols represent how the stitch appears on the right side, not how it’s worked on the wrong side. For example, a knit stitch that is worked on a wrong-side row will look like a purl stitch on the right side of the work and will be represented by a purl symbol. Conversely, a purl stitch that is worked on a wrong-side row will look like a knit stitch on the right side of the work and will be represented by a knit symbol. In most charts for patterns that are worked flat, odd-numbered rows are right-side rows and even-numbered rows are wrong-side rows.

Test Your Skills: What Was the Last Row Worked?

Chart 1 has 8 rows.

Look at the photo of the swatch below and try to figure out which of the 8 chart rows was worked last.

There are several clues that will lead you to the correct answer.

1. The location of the working yarn.
The working yarn is located on the right-hand side of the swatch, near the tip of the needle, which means that the last row worked was a wrong-side row and the yarn is in position to work the next right-side row. That narrows the choices to just 4 chart rows: 2, 4, 6, and 8.

2. The location of the purl bumps just under the needle.
Remember that a purl stitch can be identified by its horizontal bump. Also remember that a knit stitch that was worked on a wrong-side row will look like a purl stitch on the right side of the work. Looking at the chart, we can see that Rows 2 and 4 begin and end with 2 purl symbols, and Rows 6 and 8 begin and end with 5 knit symbols. Now, look at the swatch to see where the purl stitches under the needle are located. On each side, there is a cluster of 3 purl stitches that is located 5 stitches from the edge, so the last row worked has to be either Row 6 or Row 8.

3. The number of purl stitches in a vertical line.
Each cluster of purl stitches in the pattern repeat has 4 rows of 3 stitches. Since there are only 2 rows in each cluster of 3 purl stitches under the needle, we know that the last row worked was Row 6, not Row 8 (which would have all 4 rows).

Bonus Question

Can you spot the sssk’s and k3tog’s in the swatch?

An sssk is worked the same as an ssk, except that it’s worked over 3 stitches instead of 2 stitches. The rightmost stitch slants to the left over the center stitch, and the center stitch slants to the left over the leftmost stitch. The k3tog is the mirror image of the sssk, with all the stitches slanting to the right. Remember that the actual decrease row is identified by the single stitch that draws all 3 stitches together.

Chart 2 has 12 rows.

Look at the photo of the swatch below and try to figure out which of the 12 chart rows was worked last.

Here are the clues that you should look for.

1. The location of the working yarn.
This time, the yarn is on the left-hand side of the work, so the last row worked was a right-side row and the yarn is in position to work the next wrong-side row. That narrows the possibilities down to Rows 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, and 11.

2. The slant of the decreases on each side of the swatch.
On all 6 right-side rows, the first 3 and last 3 yarnovers are in the same place, so they won’t be of much help in identifying the last row worked. But the decreases between these yarnovers are a different matter. On Rows 1, 3, and 5, the decreases are ssk’s, and on Rows 7, 9, and 11, they are k2tog’s. We know that an ssk slants to the left, and by looking at the row below the needle in the photo, we can see that there is a clear left slant to the decreases on each side of the swatch. Therefore, we can eliminate Rows 7, 9, and 11 as possibilities, which leaves us with Rows 1, 3, and 5.

3. The location of decreases inside the repeat.
On Rows 1, 3, and 5, the first 7 stitches before the repeat are identical, so we have to look inside the 14-stitch repeat to see if we can find differences between the rows. Counting the stitches from right to left (both on the chart and in the photo), the 7th stitch is a yarnover and is the last stitch before the repeat. The 8th stitch on the needle is the first knit stitch of the repeat, but all 3 rows begin with a knit stitch, so again that won’t be of any help. The next symbol in the repeat is an ssk on Rows 1 and 3, and an sssk on Row 5. On the swatch, the corresponding decrease (the 9th stitch on the needle) is clearly worked over 2 stitches, not 3, so we can eliminate Row 5, which leaves us with Rows 1 and 3.

4. Continue reading the stitches inside the repeat from right to left.
The 3rd stitch of the repeat is a knit stitch for both rows, so we have to go to the next stitch, which is a knit stitch on Row 1 and a k2tog on Row 3. Looking at the 11th stitch on the needle, we see that it is a k2tog, so we know that the last row worked was Row 3.

It will take a certain amount of practice to become proficient at reading your knitting. Knit a couple of swatches using the charts above and look closely at how the stitches are formed. It may help to work some of the rows using a contrasting color so that you can see the stitches more clearly. Before you know it, you’ll have mastered another knitting skill!

—Joni Coniglio


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