Staying Sane When The Instructions Get Crazy

Note from Sandi: Welcome to my little corner of Knitting Daily! Every Thursday, I'll be sharing stories of my knitting adventures, as well as some tips and tricks I've learned along the way. Thanks for coming by!

Reader comments: I loved the comments from last week! You all made me smile with stories of your own mistakes and how you dealt with them. Many of you also wrote about the tradition common to many cultures of putting a "deliberate mistake" into the work as a sign that "only God the Creator is perfect." In this day of factory-produced everything, sometimes it is reassuring to see a mistake–because a mistake means a human being, with actual hands and a heart, created that piece with intention and thoughtfulness, instead of a mindless machine. What a reassuring thought: Mistakes can actually connect us together in our creativity and humanity…


Twenty-Two Reasons to Let Your Husband Drive:

Row 1 (RS): Knit.
Row 2 (WS): Purl.
Repeat Rows 1-2 until 22 rows have been worked.

Hee! We're doing lots of long drives back and forth to the new house, which is an hour away, and I love those times. We get to be together and chat, I get to knit on the Star Light, Star Bright blanket, and poof! All those boring stockinette rows get finished before I know it. On to the next row of stars!

And now… Back to the little black Bolero from Interweave's lovely book Feminine Knits:

I thought I'd dive into the right front of the Bolero, since it was small and didn't have  a zillion rows of 2×2 ribbing to start off with. Good knitting after a long day of packing, right? I got all comfy in my knitting chair, got out a fresh ball of the lovely yarn, read through the instructions…and oh, rats.

I had forgotten that the instructions for the fronts of this bolero are rather intense. In order to achieve the graceful curve at center front, and the raglan shaping, and the side shaping, the instructions have you doing several things at once. You know that tricksy phrase "and at the same time"? It's in this one piece THREE times…"Do X, and at the same time, do Y, and when the front becomes Z inches long, do another thing, and at the same time as that, do A"… And Uh-Oh.

These sorts of instructions show up all the time in patterns, so many knitters have concocted ways to keep track of all this. I use my trusty Knitting Notebook (ta-da!) and usually I make little check boxes and whip through all that shaping in no time, enjoying the rhythms of the knitting as they change from row to row.

However, I'm in the middle of packing to move. I'm also going to Sock Summit this week, and a few little check boxes aren't going to do it for me this time.

Tips for dealing with "multi-tasking" knitting instructions

Maybe some of the following will seem obvious to some of you…but maybe not. If you have a method for dealing with complex pattern steps, share it with us in the comments! Meanwhile, here's how I go about making things a bit more manageable.

First, I write the pattern name and the pattern piece at the top of the page, and row numbers down the left side. It's a small thing, but it forms a structure for what comes next.

Then I start matching actions in the instructions with the row they are supposed to happen on. Example: If the pattern says: "Work an increase on the first row and every 4th row thereafter" then I write "incr"  on Rows 1, 5, 9, and so on.

It is important to note down each action on all indicated rows through the bind-off row BEFORE moving on to the next phrase and the next action. That way, you know you aren't missing something critical…like an armhole. 🙂

I continue noting down each subsequent action on the appropriate rows, adding rows numbers as the pattern requires. I keep track of right-side and wrong-side rows carefully, just in case I space out and miscount my rows (as I did with the stars on the baby blanket).

All of this takes a great deal of time and concentration, but I end up with specific row-by-row instructions for working the entire right front. And since I did the same thing earlier for the left front, I can compare the two row-by-row patterns to make sure the pieces are the same length, and to ensure that I have placed the increases and decreases correctly so that the pieces properly mirror one another.

And then…I sit back and knit away, not a care in the world…until I lose the notebook.

Rule Number One: Never Lose Your Knitting Notebook.

(I found it. The kitten had taken the spiral binding in his teeth and dragged it off to his lair, where he proceeded to curl up and take a nap on it. Very adorable. Very annoying, but very adorable.)

What knitting am I taking with me to Sock Summit? I am not taking the baby blanket, because it's white and I think six days and five nights with a bunch of sock knitters is just asking for Trouble Spilled on All Things White. I am not taking the Bolero, because there is no way I can follow all those intricate instructions while listening to Barbara Walker talk about her life. I'm taking a simple little project with me…that I haven't decided on yet. I don't know…what do you think? How about…a sock? 🙂



Knit with joy,
– Sandi

Next week: I'll give a little report from Sock Summit–I'm taking classes from Judith MacKenzie McCuin and Abby Franquemont, two Interweave authors; plus there's going to be Famous Knitters there, such as Barbara Walker, Meg Swanson, Cat Bordhi…and oh, yes. Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, our beloved Yarn Harlot. Stay tuned!

P.S. Let me know what you think! You can leave a comment below or even email me at

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