A Knitter’s Guide: Stitch Markers Can Be Helpful—Until They’re Not

Some knitters place stitch markers (affiliate link) between the pattern repeats when they knit lace because they find that dividing the stitches into smaller, more manageable groups makes it easier to keep track of stitch counts and to spot knitting errors more quickly.

There are times, however, when stitch markers are more of a hindrance than a help. Take, for example, the following lace pattern:

The lace pattern is worked over a multiple of 6, plus 7 stitches. The extra 7 stitches are divided into 2 groups: 3 stitches are worked before the 6-stitch repeat, and 4 stitches are worked after it. On the needle, markers would be placed after the first 3 stitches, then after every 6 stitches to the last 4 stitches.

One of the problems with using markers to denote stitch repeats for this lace pattern will become evident when working the first row.

Yarnovers Next to Markers

On Rows 1 and 3 of the chart, yarnover symbols fall next to the vertical repeat lines. This means that, on the needle, the yarnovers will be right up against the markers. Yarnovers are created by looping the yarn over the top of the needle. Because the yarnovers are not secured by stitches in the row below, they have a tendency to slide over the top of markers, which will affect the stitch counts between the markers.

In the photo below, there are only 5 stitches between the first pair of markers and 7 stitches between the second pair of markers because the yarnover from the first 6-stitch repeat has slipped over the marker into the second repeat. The errant yarnover will need to be lifted back over the marker into its correct position, which can be done as the next wrong-side row is worked.

For some patterns, it is possible to adjust the placement of the repeats so that they don’t begin or end with a yarnover. However, that won’t work with this lace pattern because moving the repeat to avoid the yarnovers on Rows 1 and 3 will place it either next to other yarnovers on the same 2 rows or next to yarnovers on Rows 5 and 7.

Lace Patterns Can Be Pretty Shifty

Another problem with using markers when working a lace pattern such as the one shown here is that the decreases don’t stay within neat, vertical columns. Instead, they encroach on neighboring stitch repeats and “borrow” stitches from them. And because a repeat can’t begin or end in the middle of a decrease, the repeats (along with the stitch markers) must be moved before or after the decreases.

Repeat Lines Can Be Deceiving

From time to time, I’ll receive an email from a reader asking if there is an error in a chart because they have reached the repeat line and there is 1 stitch remaining on the needle before the marker (and up until that point, the repeats and the markers have matched up perfectly). Furthermore, there is no indication on the chart that the repeat has shifted.

But repeat lines on charts can shift in relation to the stitches on the needles and still look perfectly straight on the chart. For example, at first glance, the repeat lines on the lace chart look as though they stay in the same position relative to the stitches on the needles for all 8 rows, but they actually shift to the right by 1 stitch on Row 7. Thus, the markers will need to be moved on that row.

When one looks at a chart, it’s tempting to equate each square with a single stitch on the needle. However, it’s important to remember that a chart symbol represents an action, not necessarily a single stitch worked from the left needle. For example, a decrease is worked over 2 or more stitches on the left needle, but the symbol for the decrease only appears in 1 square because that is the number of stitches that will remain after the decrease is worked. A yarnover symbol represents a single stitch that is added to the right needle without using a stitch on the left needle.

Moving the Markers on Row 7 of the Chart

The first 3 squares on Row 7 of the chart indicate 1 knit stitch, 1 yarnover, and 1 knit stitch. There are 3 stitches on the left needle before the first marker, and the 2 knit stitches will remove 2 of them, leaving 1 stitch remaining on the left needle before the marker. The yarnover that is worked between the 2 stitches on the right needle will add a third stitch to that needle.

The stitch that remains on the left needle before the marker is the one that needs to be borrowed to work the sk2p decrease that starts the repeat. But first, the marker needs to be moved 1 stitch to the right so that all 3 stitches that are needed to work the sk2p decrease are on the left side of the marker.

If the marker is a closed ring, such as the one in the photos, the stitch to the right of it will first need to be slipped to the right needle so that the marker can be removed from the left needle.

After the marker is removed, the stitch can be slipped back to the left needle and the marker can be placed on the right needle in its new position.

Now the first 6-stitch repeat can be worked, starting with the sk2p decrease. Note that the repeat ends 1 stitch before the next marker.

Since the first marker was moved 1 stitch to the right, the process of moving the marker must be repeated across the row.

After the last marker is moved, there will be 5 stitches remaining on the left needle, instead of 4 stitches, as for all the other rows.

The last sk2p decrease will eliminate 2 of these 5 stitches, and the yarnover will add 1 stitch, bringing the count back to 4 stitches after the last marker. Thus, the extra 7 stitches will be divided as they were for the other rows.

Checking a Lace Pattern for Accuracy

When checking a lace pattern for accuracy, you need to take two things into account on any given row: the number of stitches that are worked from the left needle and the number of stitches that you are supposed to end up with when the row is complete. In patterns where the stitch count should remain consistent, there must always be a balance between stitches that are added by yarnovers and stitches that are removed by decreases. But make sure to check the row in its entirety—not just in one section—because, as we have seen, the decreases and increases may shift from row to row.

Moving the markers frequently as you knit can be a bit of a pain. The other option for keeping track of your lace pattern is to learn how to read your knitting. The more you knit lace patterns, the more you will begin to get a sense for how the stitches should be aligning.


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