Stitches and Swatches and Multiples, Oh My!

Gathered Stitch from The Harmony Stitch Guides

Look at the work of any of the top knitwear designers, from Shirley Paden and Mari Lynn Patrick to Mona Schmidt and Evelyn Clark, and one thing soon becomes clear: These folks really know how to use a stitch dictionary. Yes, they know how to design graceful silhouettes or socks that sing, but they can do things with a book of stitch patterns that would frighten fish (as the characters in Steel Magnolias might say).

Their "secret" (besides the fact that designers like Shirley, Mari Lynn, Mona, and Evelyn have talent running out their ears!) is that they know how to read a stitch dictionary like a cookbook, and how to adapt those little recipes to the larger canvas of a sweater, or the tiny, in-the-round canvas of a hat or a sock. With a few basic skills, you can start using the spice of stitch patterns in bags, hats, socks, sweaters, and any other knitted thing you can imagine.

So: Let's get started on building those "few basic skills."

What does THAT mean?

"Multiple of X plus Y" You will usually see this notation at the beginning of a stitch pattern, after the stitch name, before the actual row-by-row instructions. Those words can look a bit cryptic, especially if you are just starting out in the world of stitch patterns. What it means: It means that one full repeat of that stitch is X stitches wide, plus Y stitches "extra," outside of the stitch repeat, to balance out the design in a piece of flat knitting. Example: In Mona Schmidt's Tweedy Vest, the notation for the rib stitch pattern says "multiple of 8 sts plus 9." Thus, you can work a single repeat of this pattern over 17 stitches (8 + 9), two repeats over 25 stitches (8 + 8 + 9), three repeats over 33 stitches (8 + 8 + 8 + 9) and so forth. Want a matching scarf for the vest? Choose a multiple of 8 stitches, add 9 to that, and maybe add a few border stitches on each side in garter stitch so the sides don't roll in. Cast on!

What stitches do I repeat?

Look for the asterisk and the semi-colon.

The asterisk marks the beginning of the repeat section; the semi-colon marks the end. The stitches from asterisk to semi-colon are the ones you repeat, over and over again, to form an overall multiple of the pattern. Anything outside of the repeat section is there to balance the pattern. The "extra" stitches are sometimes called "edge stitches."

On Monday: Converting flat stitch patterns for working in the round. Hey wait…what about Friday? Friday, we say goodbye to someone very special, someone who has been part of Knitting Daily from the very, very beginning. Come join me in wishing him well!

Creative Swatchery

Creative uses for swatches: So far, some of your oh-so-clever ideas for using swatches include: doll afghans (Tara R.); patches on torn jeans (Lisa B.); sewn and stuffed as cat toys (Kerri M.); sewn into fingerless mitts (Coral B.), tiny gift bags (Ann R.), or sachets (Glenna E.); squares for charity afghan projects; and mug rugs (Martha S.). And I was very impressed by Wendy H., who puts her swatches into a book made of handmade paper, complete with notes on gauge, needles, and yarn—what a wonderful "knitting journal"!

Stitch of the Day page

Coming Up on Knitting Daily

It looks like you all are enjoying our new Stitch of the Day feature! I'm glad you like it. Next week we'll continue talking about ways to incorporate these stitches into your knitting. Near future: I'm also putting together a poll for you…here's a hint: Start counting your UFOs now.

Sandi Wiseheart is the editor of Knitting Daily.

What's on Sandi's needles? I finished a UFO! Whoo! Done are the Waving Lace Socks that are destined for Michelle (shhh, don't tell her yet!). The yarn for Nicholas' cabled pullover has been delivered—double whoo! So I guess now I will be swatching…

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