Ask Patty: Sweater Better

September 23, 2020

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60 Comments
  • This is brilliant. Thank you. A vast array of sweater patterns has suddenly moved from the “Oh no — Never Never” column to the “Let’s Make That One and That One” column. Oh, the pleasure I will have envisioning all those sweaters!

  • An outstanding way to start the day. I have a swatch blocking and yarn on the way for a sweater.

  • What an excellent tutorial on reversing shaping! I really resent designers who write a pattern stating that you should simply reverse all shaping for the other side. Lazy pattern-writing!

    • Amen!

      • Amen, amen! But this schematic is fantastic!

    • Or saving $$ in tech editing?
      I would honestly probably go line by line for the other side to check it to understand it anyway!

  • Mapping is a great idea, will have to read a few more times and wrap my brain around it. However, it’s a lot more work than I feel I should do for a paid pattern. Freebie, sure.

    • I think there are *reasons* though. Why mess it up? Why specify the pattern in reverse and make it seem like it’s a different piece, when it’s just the first in mirror. If you adjust the first, then you are doing YOUR same in the second, instead of re-inventing. Except I have just taken about 2 months off a thing that I REALLY want to finish, because it will require mapping it all out, so… Yeah.

    • Sweater mapping will help you get a full understanding of the pattern. It’s how Japanese sweater patterns are written. It’s not just to fill in blanks, but rather so that with one page you have the entire pattern and can, in essence, throw out the words. It also helps you see where you might want to alter the pattern for your body. It’s an incredibly valuable tool that will make your knitting life easier and better.

  • Mapping! Who knew? Thank you so much.
    This is going to be so useful!
    Knitting for more than 60 years and there’s always more to learn..

  • More confusion here.
    So if, in the first item, there is no bind off at the beginning of the row you don’t work that row? I’ve always taken that to mean that there is no shaping in that row, the zero for the size is a place holder in the instructions.
    The instructions shown are for shaping. So there is no shaping for those rows for some sizes, but the rows still exist.
    I have seen instructions that say “repeat last 2 rows 0(0,1,2,3) times. I take that to mean don’t knit the rows.
    Row instructions versus shaping instructions.
    I don’t think that I’m overthinking. My knitting fits as expected,

    • I would interpret the same. Don’t do the bond offs but still work the row.

      • I would love to tackle Japanese patterns where it’s all about the pattern map and a key; sometimes less is more. Otherwise I’ve been mapping my patterns after I learned from your method. Got my giant graph book to chronicle WIPs; also makes it easier to see where I left off. Love it!

    • I agree. I’ve seen patterns say “BO –, (–, –, 2) sts” and to me that means don’t work the row if there isn’t a number. But, as my algebra teacher taught me, zero is still a number. For Patty’s example I’d work the rows even.

      • Take a look at my answer later in the thread. Although a – is clearer than a 0, understanding what comes next is key. In the case of an armhole, what comes next is, now work even, so you are skipping to the next instruction. However, there are many pattern examples where doing something 0 times does not mean replace those rows with working even. Read example below.

        It’s important to step back and ask yourself, what comes next and if my assumption makes sense.

    • I agree too – I’d work the rows but without decreasing/shaping.

    • I have also worked the row without doing the bind off but my understanding of Patty’s lesson is that I was doing it wrong. This makes sense to me since I want the arm scythe for the smaller size to be shorter. I am not sure why I did not think of that before (I sew and should know better). I also do not knit the rows if I see the instructions to “repeat last 2 rows 0(0,1,2,3) times.” Patty, please let me know if my interpretations are correct.
      I will try my hand at pattern reversal once it is fully light out and I am fully caffeinated. I have done something similar before but agree with others who feel like the pattern author should write this out – they and the test knitters had to figure it out to knit the sweater so why not include it!

    • That’s such an awesome question. I had to read the pattern several times to make sure I wasn’t missing something. I would read this as bind off 4 stitches at the beginning of the first two rows, then two stitches of the next two rows then no stitches fir the last two rows. So, my question would be, we know how many stitches we should have on the needles but we don’t know how many rows we should have.

    • Aren’t you saying the same thing as Patty? You do the shaping for your size, and when it says your size does a decrease 0 times, you knit the next rows for your size specified in the pattern, probably to work even for so many rows/inches to the shoulder. Different sizes will have narrower or deeper armhole shaping, but all sizes will work even for so many rows/inches above the shaping.

      .

    • I agree, if it said to do zero rows for her size, then you knit nothing, but if it says that you do 2 more rows with zero decreases, then you knit 2 more rows, you don’t just skip.

      • Doing something zero times, means you are not doing it, so go to the next instruction for your size.

        In this person’s example, it is an armhole, so the next instruction IS to work straight until armhole measures x number of inches. Therefore, SKIPPING an instruction that doesn’t apply to you (meaning doing something 0 times or – times) is the SAME as working even, since this is the next instruction. However, that’s not always the case.

        Although I personally would use a – rather than a 0, to avoid this confusion, MANY older patterns use 0 to indicate you don’t do that. So, this does not mean you would replace each 0 row with an even row of knitting. I means that instruction doesn’t apply to you, for instance:

        Say it was about shaping and the (totally made up) pattern said:

        (RS): Shaping row K2, k2tog, work straight to the end of the row.
        Rep shaping row every 4th row 0 (0, 2, 3, 4) times followed by every 2nd row 2 (2, 1, 2, 3) times followed by every row 1 (1, 2, 0, 0) time, then work even for 9 rows.

        That does NOT mean:

        -The smallest size works the shaping row, then works a row even, then works the shaping row every RS row twice.
        or that
        – The largest size works even for 10 rows

        It DOES mean:

        – The two smaller sizes would skip the rows that said to shape every 4th row and START the shaping every other row.
        and that
        – The two largest sizes would be DONE with the shaping in the every other row instruction and skip to now work even for 9 rows.

        • 100% agree with your example above Patty, that you would not knit if it says “Rep shaping row every 4th row 0 (0, 2, 3, 4) times” however, that is not what the pattern in your example says. It has “and then 0(0,0,0,2,3,3) sts at beginning of foll 2 rows —” which means that you knit the next 2 rows, you just don’t decrease. This could be key if the instructions continue with more decreases and not just “knit even”.
          The difference is between a pattern that says
          Repeat 0(0,0,3,3) more times and
          Bind off 0(0,0,3,3) stitches at the start of the next 2 rows.
          In the first case, you would not knit the rows with 0, however, in the second, you should knit the 2 rows and just not bind off.

        • Thank you. That now makes perfect sense to me.

    • My interpretation of the pattern was also to bind off none, but work the two rows. My mind is blown. I’ll have to keep an eye out for this in the future!

    • Respectfully disagree with Patty on this one. 0 means don’t do the bind-offs but you still knit those rows. You have a 0 because you started with fewer stitches on the needles in the small sizes but you still need to knit the full length of the armhole.

      • In the example of an armhole, the next part is “now work even”, so you are in fact, skipping to the next instruction, even if you don’t think of it that way. But there are many times in a pattern when you would not replace instructions that don’t apply to your size by working a few more rows even (see example below).

        This is why I prefer using – to using 0, however many older patterns do use 0 when they mean, “not you”.

    • Take a look at my answer later in the thread. Although a – is clearer than a 0, understanding what comes next is key. In the case of an armhole, what comes next is, now work even, so you are skipping to the next instruction. However, there are many pattern examples where doing something 0 times does not mean replace those rows with working even. Read example below.

      It’s important to step back and ask yourself, what comes next and if my assumption makes sense.

    • Agreed

    • Same here too, I would still work the rows but with 0 shaping.

  • Perfect wake up knitting whimsy for my morning prep before an all distance meeting/teaching prep day.
    I love it Stabby Alice…tee hee.
    And THANK YOU for “if it ain’t on the page, it ain’t on the stage”: I will SO be using that paraphrased wisdom today if need be.
    Gracias!

  • Wow Patty, thank you!!! After years of failed attempts at knitting set-in sleeves that I couldn’t make to fit properly into the armholes, I gave up and started knitting only sweaters top-down in the round, to avoid the whole issue. I think Patty you’ve just given me the solution to why I could never get them to work! I may even find the courage to tackle a set-in sleeve pattern one more time, just to see!

  • Wow! Another fantastic article. I got so much out of this. Thank You a Bunch Patty, Ann and Kay.

  • I’m confused by Patty’s response to the first question. I would interpret the instruction as working 2 rows even. The instruction is phrased as cast off 0 stitches at the beginning of the next 2 rows, so I would do just that. I would only omit the rows if the instruction was to cast off x stitches at the beginning of y rows, where y is a range of numbers relating to different sizes, and for my size, the number y =0.
    Have I been doing this wrong for years!?

    • Doing something zero times, means you are not doing it, so go to the next instruction for your size.

      In this person’s example, it is an armhole, so the next instruction IS to work straight until armhole measures x number of inches. Therefore, SKIPPING an instruction that doesn’t apply to you (meaning doing something 0 times or – times) is the SAME as working even, since this is the next instruction. However, that’s not always the case.

      Although I personally would use a – rather than a 0, to avoid this confusion, MANY older patterns use 0 to indicate you don’t do that. So, this does not mean you would replace each 0 row with an even row of knitting. I means that instruction doesn’t apply to you, for instance:

      Say it was about shaping and the (totally made up) pattern said:

      (RS): Shaping row K2, k2tog, work straight to the end of the row.
      Rep shaping row every 4th row 0 (0, 2, 3, 4) times followed by every 2nd row 2 (2, 1, 2, 3) times followed by every row 1 (1, 2, 0, 0) time, then work even for 9 rows.

      That does NOT mean:

      -The smallest size works the shaping row, then works a row even, then works the shaping row every RS row twice.
      or that
      – The largest size works even for 10 rows

      It DOES mean:

      – The two smaller sizes would skip the rows that said to shape every 4th row and START the shaping every other row.
      and that
      – The two largest sizes would be DONE with the shaping in the every other row instruction and skip to now work even for 9 rows.

      • I get that you wouldn’t work an entire shaping row, but it doesn’t make sense that you’d skip an instruction for treating a *portion* of a row – if the instruction only applies to the first 0, 2, 4, whatever stitches, shouldn’t the rest of that row be unaffected by the instruction? In this case, the “next instruction for my size” would be the remainder of the row.

        • For an armhole, the next instruction for your size is to work even.

  • Patty might be a genius. Thanks.

  • Wonderful article. Such clear explanations! I am feeling my age though, being a knitter for 58 years, when sweater patterns more commonly were written just this way – the second side almost always just said to “reverse the knitting”. Because of this, more detailed explanation was not expected, until pattern writing (for the most part) changed. I appreciate the details included in newer (past 15-20 years?) patterns but am also grateful for those early knitting years of trial and error as patterns written that way don’t put me off.

    • TOTALLY agree!! I started knitting in the age of “Reverse Shaping” and “At the same time”, and I felt figuring these things out is why I grew confident and not afraid of, knitting patterns. My sadness about every step being written out is that for everything it “clears up”, there’s something else that in confuses. Even the example of when a pattern means to work a row even, rather than skipping to the next instruction (if it says 0) is totally cleared up by understanding the full pattern by stepping back and thinking through logically what would be the result. That thinking comes from those 1/2 page long patterns of my youth!!

      • Yes, this. Exactly. I’m really mailing myself to the paper to do the one I’m working on, just trust the page. I used to be a “wish-they-spelled-it-out” but then it’s hard to tell what is going on when you mess it up (or they did). Now, if I just follow. the. words. I find the understanding IN the knitting and get it much more deeply than if they had also explained it.

  • Patty is the best best best! Thanks for sharing your knowledge and making the light go on for lots of us. Those Ah Ha! moments bring the joy back to knitting.

  • Love the first paragraph! Thanks for this helpful article

  • I like the mapping idea … helpful.
    My mother taught me to knit both fronts/sleeves at the same time … so all your increases/decreases ‘match’ i.e., are done t the same time. It helps also that you can see how you create the reversal.
    That being said … I hate the recent patterns that knit sleeves in the round … as though people are afraid of seaming and forget that seams do serve a structural purpose.

    • PREACH!!! Did you read Kate’s amazing article on seaming – https://www.moderndailyknitting.com/why-try-seamed/

    • I always try to knit 2 of anything that needs to match, sleeves, pockets, collars, etc at the same time. I’ll even try to do 2 sleeves in the round together by alternating working on first one than the other.

  • THANK YOU, Kay, Ann, and whoever you have writing your computer programs.

    Maybe this change has been here awhile, but today I went up to bookmark/save this great article and discovered no bookmark. Then I looked at the top right corner, and sure enough, my name wasn’t next to the little person. This now makes it so clear that I wasn’t logged in and therefore can’t save something. Again, thank you.

    Patty, this is a great article. So helpful. But I also like Mary’s comment to “…drop it and run. Right now. Do not pass Go. Save myself. There is too much good, easier stuff out there to do to put myself through the frustrations and mistakes I would make.”

    Unless I want to make that particular sweater and want the mental challenge (which might be the case), then I’ll pass on that one and go to one of the many other great patterns out there which might be more relaxing and fun to knit.

    • You’ll find ALL knitting relaxing when you own your knitting. Pattern reading only seems complicated because patterns are now spoon fed to us. When you see how totally simple (really, moments that map took me) it is to throw away the words and OWN your knitting, then you can knit any pattern and be relaxed.

  • PS; Hey, how about a Sweater Map App? Just saying…

  • Never done a sweater. Been thinking about trying one for a year! But what’s a good beginner sweater!?!

    • Anything you really really want to wear

  • I have read almost all the comments, and while I’m positive Patty is right, I have a problem with the way each example was written. In the ‘asker’s’ example, I would definitely have knit 2 plain rows because the instructions only pertain to, as someone down in the comments said, “a little bit of the row at the beginning/end” and not to the entire row. Whereas Patty’s example is written differently so one’s understanding of what to do is somewhat more clear, but not entirely. I’ve seen patterns take the time to say “For sizes a, b, c… do THIS; for sizes x, y, z do THAT” which I think is completely clear. I do not think using a dash “-” is any more helpful than using a “0”, though it isn’t a number as someone else below pointed out.

    I believe the problem is with the writing of the pattern, not missing or mis-understanding what’s on the page. I do agree that one should step back and think about the goal towards which one is working, but for a beginning or even intermediate knitter who has not had a more advanced knitter of whom to ask questions, both sets of instructions are problematic.

    • I completely agree with you here, and no matter how many times I read Patty’s reply, or her other replies in the thread, I just can’t help but see the two examples as completely different.

      The opening letter example says, in my mind, and quite specifically, don’t bind off the stitches, *not* don’t knit the rows…”bind off zero stitches for the next two rows” is not the same as “skip this and go to the next instruction”. Whereas the other examples are referring, it would seem to me, quite specifically, about the rows.

      Essentially, stitches happen within rows, and rows are complete units- so stitches can be moved, changed, adjusted, etc. within rows, without impacting the row count. Telling you to not move, change or adjust those stitches, is not the same as don’t knit the row.

  • The sweater mapping schematic is fabulous. I once knit a SKEINO Miss Grace shawl and the instructions were in color and just mimicked the shawl so you’d just knit the shawl.

    I do have one question about your indications: when you write “2 R” for example, does that mean every other (2nd) row on the RS? Is that what the “R” is for?

    • Yup. I don’t really use any symbol on my map, just the number – 6 for every sixth row, 2 for every other row, I just added an R for the column to stand for row.

  • The sweater mapping is brilliant! So useful, so clear. Thanks for removing the “I need to be a math genius in order to understand what to do” stigma for not understanding “what does the designer mean.”

  • Oh, how very extremely timely you are. I am meaning and meaning to get back to the lovely and massively cabled Martin Storey sweater I am making for the Mr. The cables, so many. I have come a long way, and then I hit… the beginning of shaping. I have been meaning to sit down and really map it out and haven’t made time. But I think if I read it all up, write it all out, I can give myself a row-by-row instruction and manage. Right? Totally. For certain.

  • Patty you are a goddess…..and I decided a while ago that it is completely unnecessary to waste any of one’s precious time in life in knitting patterns that are not written clearly. Designers — theres no excuse! There are so many better written patterns available.

  • I love the way you explain stuff Patty, you’re always so clear and precise. Fortunately I’ve used all kinds of patterns, including the ones from my grandma’s books which are more like a shorthand recipe than a pattern, so I learned early on to read the instructions carefully and draw it out on graph paper if I still couldn’t get my head around it.

  • Love you, Patty