The Most Useful Office Supply to Prevent Knitting Mistakes

There are 2 types of common knitting mistakes. Massively oversimplified they are 1) there is no stitch where one should be, or 2) there is a stitch where one should NOT be. No matter how long you’ve been knitting, or how many skills you‘ve amassed, or how complex you like your projects to be, adding 2 and 2 and getting 7 haunts us all.

If you’ve struggled with either of these problems, Kate Atherley can help. Managing Technical Editor at knitty.com, Kate is the doyenne of deconstructing knitting instructions and fixing mistakes. She firmly believes that a good understanding of knitting patterns is the key to successful knitting, and she’s got plenty of experience teaching people how to add and subtract properly.

Kate recently visited our video studio to tape several new courses, among them Math for Knitters. During the several days we spent together, we talked about math a whole lot, on set and off. I recall the first time I make the inevitable “math is hard” joke, only to be put squarely in my place. Kate is rather birdlike, with quick movements, a small frame, and delicate build that does not inspire fear. You say “math is hard” to her, though, and you get the glare of an osprey as it eyes its prey. “Math is NOT hard,” she huffed as we had dinner one evening. “I hate it when people say that. They set themselves up to be afraid of something when there is no reason to be.” I was startled at her vehemence, but she is 100% correct. Knitting math ain’t difficult once you break it down.

Take the following example: I have a ton of stash yarn. While it’s all fingering or lace that knits up at the same gauge, it’s also nothing but random single and partial skeins. When knitting a stash-buster sweater, I want to avoid the “contrasting-hem-and-cuffs-because-I ran-out-of-yarn-but-I’m-sure-people-will-think-I-totally-meant-to-do-this” solution, and have something rather more thought out. I could look at my stash, throw up my hands, and play yarn chicken with possibly disastrous results. Or I could bring out my kitchen scale and a calculator. If I weigh a skein, knit a few rounds with it, and weigh the skein again, I know that a 1 inch, 6-round stripe takes, say, 3 grams of fingering-weight yarn. Depending on how many colors I want to use, I can easily estimate how many grams of yarn of each color I need (I fudge a bit when calculating the sleeves but you get the general idea.) Similarly, if I know I need a certain yardage for a project, and have only partial skeins, I divide the original yardage by the original weight: 450 yd / 50 g = 9 yd/gram. Then I multiply that by the weight of my partial skein: 9 yd x 23 g =207 yd total. This is the sort of “yarn shop” math we all engage in when substituting yarns or using partial skeins and something that Kate covers in depth.

Yarn substitution by the numbers

Then there is pattern math itself. Think about it: ANY pattern, no matter how simple, contains a whole lotta numbers. Stitch counts vary depending on what size you knit, as do the number of repeats you need to work. Yet we generally don’t blanch. Palms get sweaty, though, when the instructions get more complex: “at the same time, do X and Y”. Even worse are the evil words “reversing shaping, knit left side” of whatever it is. It’s easy to get flummoxed, but as Kate says, “When in doubt, write it out”. If you are doing one thing every 4th row, and another thing every 10th row, write what you do on rows 4, 8, 12, 16, and 20. Then write out what you also do on rows 10 and 20. If you need to reverse shape, drawing a little diagram gives you a map of what to do, both where and when.

When in doubt, write it out.

In her course, Kate shows how to break down any set of instructions—no matter how complex–into manageable portions and understand exactly what needs to happen. And her tools are not fancy apps or formulae, but paper, pen, highlighter, ruler, calculator, and sometimes a scale (which my non-knitting friends think is hardcore, but c’mon.) When the keys to the most complicated patterns you can imagine are found at Office Depot, you realize that there is nothing to fear but fear itself.

Math for Knitters is a new streamable course you can watch at your own pace, anywhere, any time, on any device.

Happy watching!
Allison

Want to learn more? Check out these resources!

2 Comments

1. Karin R at 8:19 am August 4, 2017

I love the way you wrote this course description!!! It was a very enjoybale read.

“Kate is rather birdlike, with quick movements, a small frame, and delicate build that does not inspire fear. You say “math is hard” to her, though, and you get the glare of an osprey as it eyes its prey. ”

“When knitting a stash-buster sweater, I want to avoid the “contrasting-hem-and-cuffs-because-I ran-out-of-yarn-but-I’m-sure-people-will-think-I-totally-meant-to-do-this” solution, and have something rather more thought out.”

2. Karin R at 8:19 am August 4, 2017

*enjoyable