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5 Ways to Improve Your Knitting

Updated: May 21

Learn a few tips to make your knitting more enjoyable

garter stitches up close
Garter Graffiti Shawl

Knitting is a wonderful pastime and can help keep you calm by slowing you down in this fast-paced world. But if you are struggling with dropped stitches, mistakes on every row, and constantly having to rip your work out and start over, it can be very frustrating. Learning a few simple things about your knitting and yourself will keep you calm and keep your project on the right track.

Let's take a look at 5 ways to improve your knitting experience today!

Tip #1 - Learn to Read Your Stitches

There is nothing worse than looking back over your last row of knitting and having no idea if you did it right. Here's what to do: Watch what happens when you make a knit. What does the stitch look like? It should look like a little v. What happens when you make a purl? See the bump it makes? Watch what happens when you knit two together or make a yarn over. Follow your yarn through the loop and see how it sits on your needle. Now turn your work and you'll see the opposite side. Each previous knit stitch will look like a purl bump and vice versa. If you see the bump when you turn your work, you'll know that you did a knit stitch on the previous row. You need to know what your stitches look like from both sides so that you can tell where you are in your pattern and if you've done it correctly.

Each pattern you create will have its own story to tell in stitches. You need to familiarize yourself with that story each time. If you get lost in the middle of a row and aren't sure if you've just purled two stitches or knit two together, you want to be able to recognize what your stitches look like after you've done them so you can locate them and move forward instead of starting the entire row over.

Tip #2 - Learn About Your Yarn

Not all yarns are created equal. You need to know if you are using wool, acrylic, cotton, bamboo, silk, alpaca, or a mix of fibers. Wool can "bounce back" which is great for ribbing on socks and clothing but cotton does not which will give you a flimsy cuff that stays stretched out...unless it's got some nylon in the mix! Silk, alpaca, and bamboo have a beautiful drape which makes them perfect for shawls that glide over you. Acrylic is nice and sturdy but don't try to steam it or put direct heat on it or it will "melt" and lose its squishy factor. Many yarns are blends of several fibers to give you the best experience for your project. Every yarn has its place, we just have to know how it behaves and what its best attributes are. I recommend reading The Knitter's Book of Yarn: The Ultimate Guide to Choosing, Using, and Enjoying Yarn by Clara Parkes.

"I believe each of us has the potential to be a yarn whisperer, to hold a skein in our hands, look at it, touch it, listen to it, even smell it, and instinctively know what the yarn wants to become." – Clara Parkes

Tip #3 - Learn About Yourself

Has anyone ever asked you if you're a tight or loose knitter? Tight knitters tend to have closer tension in their work, squeezing in as many stitches per inch as they can and winding their yarn tightly around the needle. I have a cousin we affectionately call "Squeakers" because her yarn squeaks across the needles as she knits, it is so tight! Tight knitters produce tight fabrics that are almost solid. If you're a loose knitter, then you probably hold the working yarn loosely draping your stitches over your needle, and your fabric may be more open and even a little messy on the edges.

A lot of things can affect tension, and some people are a mixture of both depending on how they feel. If they are angry or nervous, their stitches become tight, but if they are knitting and drinking, their tension tends to loosen up a little too much.

The yarn you use can affect tension as well. "Slippery" yarns like silk will be looser and "sticky" yarns like wool will be tighter. Needle choice will also affect tension: wooden needles hold onto your yarn while metal needles provide no friction.

The goal is to create a fabric that is not tight or too loose. Work on having even tension with each stitch, pulling the yarn through each loop the same way and with the same amount of tension on the working yarn. Learn what affects your tension, try to breathe deeply, and calm your mind with each stitch. Your fabric will be smoother and more professional. The Garter Graffiti Shawl (pictured above) is a perfect pattern to practice your tension.

Tip #4 - Learn About Your Needles

Just as all yarns are created differently and for different purposes, so are knitting needles. There are metal, bamboo, wood, plastic, and carbon fiber, just to name a few of the most popular ones. Each one feels different in your hands. Some are "warm" and some are "cool." If you pair a slippery yarn like bamboo with metal needles, your stitches will be flying off your needles. Pair it with loose tension and you'll be dropping stitches all over the place. Wool yarn and bamboo needles may need extra help to move across the needle and seem a little "sticky." Pair it with tight tension and you'll have "squeaking" stitches in no time.

There is also a variety of tips on knitting needles. Sharper points may help with lace knitting but might split a yarn that is plied. Duller points sometimes make it harder to decrease as you attempt to lift several stitches at a time - Pair them with tight tension and it is not going to be fun or calming for anyone.

The key is to pair the right yarn with the right needles and in the right tension. Once you know yourself, your yarn qualities, and the attributes of your needle, you can have the perfect combination for your project. Remember that every knitter is different so find what works best for you and don't let anyone convince you to buy the big set of metal needles if you hate them and love wooden needles best because they give you the perfect tension and you love the way they feel in your hands.

I don't like using metal needles because I don't like the "scritching" sound they make when I am knitting. I mainly use wooden needles with a medium sharpness, like Knitter's Pride. I also mainly use merino wool yarn. This combination gives me the best knitting experience.

Tip #5 - Learn How to Pick Up Dropped Stitches

Learning to fix our knitting mistakes is going to make everything more enjoyable. I have heard many panicked voices exclaim despair over a dropped stitch. "Oh no! I have to start over!" Not at all. You just have to learn how to pick up that little stitch and loop it back into place.

Remember when we learned how to read our knitting? This will help immensely in identifying how the dropped stitch will be fixed. Was it a purl stitch? You need to make sure that it has the bumps facing you when you fix it. Was it a knit stitch? It should look like every other v in the row when you are done. You can even fix a dropped yarn-over if you know which way to lay it across the needle.

Many YouTube videos show how to fix a dropped stitch. There are several ways to do it including using a crochet hook, using your knitting needle, or using a cable needle. Depending on what stitch you are working on, the method will vary slightly but they are all simple and easily learned. Just remember, do not panic. Never pull at your stitches. Simply catch the top loop of the dropped stitch with your needle and proceed to work on your repair.

Here's a helpful video from WEBS to get you started:

A Little Learning Goes a Long Way

The best way to enjoy your knitting is to do a little learning. Take a few minutes to watch how your stitches are formed. What does your fabric look like? Is it tight or loose? Read about the fiber content of your yarn and its qualities. Test out different needles to see what works best for you. Invest in yourself by learning how to fix your mistakes. You will be amazed at how your confidence grows and your knitting skills improve.

Have a knitting tip to share? Leave a comment!

~ Ester Puente

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