Learning how to read your knitting is an important skill to develop as you continue to grow into your craft. One of the main advantages in learning how to read your work is that you’ll be able to make the connection between how your project is constructed and the fabric that grows on your needles in real time, whether you’re following written instructions or a motif in your imagination. You’ll be able to readily catch and problem-solve mishaps in your work, like a dropped stitch, an off-kilter stitch pattern, or a wayward cable. You also won’t have to rely solely on written guides or notes to keep track of your work.
In other words, to progress independently and confidently in our craft, developing knitter’s intuition is key, and it comes from realizing that your fabric can become an additional map in navigating the journey to a project’s completion.
Practice is the best teacher and here’s where to get started: learning how to read the knit stitch and the purl stitch, the two basic stitches upon which all other stitches and techniques are based.
Reading Your Stitches
In the simplest sense, knitted fabric is made by interconnected loops (i.e. stitches) that are formed using knitting needles and a continuous strand of yarn. When you create a knit stitch, you get a loop that looks like a “V”. Others may also say it looks like a chevron or a heart — the top of the stitch is wider compared to the bottom of the stitch.
When you create a purl stitch, you get a loop that looks like a horizontal dash. It is also slightly raised and “bumpy”.
How do these stitches then interact to create knitted fabric? These interconnected stitches create horizontal rows for width. Then, these rows build on top of each other to create length vertically. The stitches and rows line up in a grid-like fashion, which is why knitting charts (visual representations of knitted fabric) are often presented in a grid or graph format.
Now, how does being able to tell your knits from your purls assist you in your knitting?
As an example, if a pattern instructs you to work even in stockinette for ten rows, you wouldn’t need to keep a tally whenever you complete a row or a repeat because you can simply take a look at your work, find your Vs (or chevrons, or hearts) and count them! Counting horizontally, V next to V, tells you how many stitches you’ve worked. Counting vertically, row of Vs by row of Vs, tells you how many rows you’ve worked. (Replace “Vs” with bumps if you’re working in reverse stockinette.)
This quick visual tracking can be particularly helpful when working say, a corrugated ridge pattern like the one shown below:
For a knit and purl textured pattern like the one below, you can make your knitting process more efficient by taking a mental note of how the stitches visually interact with each other. For example, you may see that, vertically, the diagonal lines are created by staggered columns of two knit stitches. You may also notice that, horizontally, the diagonal lines of knit stitches are separated by groups of five purl stitches.
Keeping mental notes like these can help you catch mistakes as you work and also help you repair them without having to refer back to the written instructions to see how many stitches or rows you need to tink back (or unknit and reknit). If you find a column of Vs that has one V too many, or a stretch of purl bumps that has one more bump or one less bump, then you know that your pattern of Vs and bumps has been interrupted.
When it comes to developing our skills as knitters, we don’t envision avoiding mistakes altogether as the goal — we’re all human, after all! Rather, the goal is to build a certain self-reliance that allows us to tackle projects assuredly, knowing that we have the resources within ourselves to proceed without panic and solve issues as they arise.
Join us again when we continue the conversation in our next Foundations installment on reading your increases and decreases.