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This post is written by a knitter who loses count, who forgets where she is in the pattern, who can’t recall what size needle was used for the lump of knitting in the Knitopia tote bag in the bottom of her closet.

I write this from a place of great humility.

It’s a simple question, really: how do you keep from pfaffing up your knitting?

I have a few tried-and-true tips to share.

Tip Number 1: Read the pattern all the way through.

I mean: really read it. Don’t fakeyskim it the way you slogged through all that crap about Huguenots and the Magna Carta—really dig in and imagine what the hell all those instructions are telling you to do. Elite athletes spend a fortune on sports psychologists who teach them how to visualize success. Well, knitter, visualize that buttonhole band! It makes a huge difference.

In the MDK Shop
A journal, a list-keeper, a place to keep quick notes and plot big plans. We love these and we think you will too.

Tip Number 2: Write stuff on the pattern.

I used to make a copy of a pattern to work from if it appeared in a book or otherwise seemed precious and rare. At this point, I don’t really care—what am I, the Library of Congress? Mark up your size, cross out all irrelevant sizes (very satisfying), and be sure to say what size needle you’re actually using.


Write out those vexing combinations when you’re told to, say, throw a cable every 8th row AND AT THE SAME TIME increase every other row for 12 rows. I don’t know who can keep that all in mind, but it’s definitely not me.

Cross off the thing you just did. This isn’t necessary for simple patterns, but there are definitely times when Row 14 looks a lot like Row 13 but in fact is not the same.

Use all the technology available to you to aid in your navigation of the pattern.


Write free and unsolicited advice to the pattern designer when you’re really irritated.


Tip Number 3: Love your chart.

For lace and colorwork, be a weirdo and spend hard-earned, after-tax money on a chart holder. The knitting is trouble enough—at least let yourself get a clear view of the chart. And if you want to put yourself in a special category, laminate your chart so you can knit your laceweight shawlette while slurping spaghetti, and your chart will stay pristine.


Tip Number 4: Respect lace.

Use stitch markers for each repeat when you’re learning a new lace pattern.

Learn how to insert a lifeline so that you can rip back to a safe row. Here’s a great little tutorial from Very Pink’s Staci Perry, who gets an Academy Award for Best Manicure in a Knitting Video.

If a stitch or lace pattern has no chart, ask yourself why you want to make that pattern. At this point I can’t work lace without a chart. Most people are visual learners, so if a pattern has no chart, I honestly think the easiest thing is to go find another pattern that does. Why make yourself crazy from the get-go?

In the MDK Shop
A counter is a lace knitter's best friend.

Miscellaneous Other Tips

Don’t knit hard things when you’re sleepy. That’s the beauty of having a pile of projects going at once: there is knitting for when you feel brilliant, and knitting for when you’re one nostril above the muck.

The three-strikes-you’re-out rule. When I make the same mistake three times in one day, I stop knitting. It’s not going to get any better. And if I continue, it may drive me to take up some other craft, like stock car racing.

The Most Basic Tip of All

It’s the skill that that takes practice to master: read your knitting. When I learned to knit, I never really understood the relationship of the rows of stitches I was working. I just knit. And purled. When I screwed up, I had no idea what I had done wrong. I think this may be the single biggest impediment to a new knitter: those first mistakes. It’s make or break, really—if you don’t get back on track, fast, it all seems sort of impossible.

Reading your knitting means understanding what your yarn is doing in each row. I can’t teach you how to do this in the confines of this post, but know in a deep way that if you can understand the relationship of stitches to each other, you will spot mistakes much faster.

Wishing you perfect knitting, or perfectly imperfect knitting, or just adequate knitting.


  • Adequate knitting is my go-to goal. I figure that I’m not up for the Olympic Gold Medal or Stanley Cup of yarn wrangling so “fits and doesn’t look like dog barf” is my usual criteria.

    I agree wholeheartedly, learning to read your knitting is a revelation. Knowing how a knit stitch looks vs. a purl stitch when they’re dangling from your needle has saved me many times (just last night, in fact) from having a one-stitch “design element” somewhere eight rows back to deal with or pretend to ignore.

    Love the new site.

    • It’s such a light bulb moment, reading your knitting. All of a sudden, you’re not randomly flailing around. Order emerges. So great!

  • Thank you for this. I actually got so frustrated with myself for losing track in patterns that I’ve gone back to the basics, working on small things like scarves and mittens and socks, trying to retrain myself to pay better attention. This will help a lot!

  • My knitting equipment bag – not to be confused with a project bag – includes highlighters in three different colours, a ridiculous number of stitch markers in a multitude of sizes, tapestry needles, quilters safety pins, mechanical pencils, erasers, line marker tape, post-it note pads in every colour of the rainbow and almost every size they offer, and last but most important, a couple of skeins of life line yarn (crewel works best for me) in white and black. I use some, none or all of these, depending on the pattern.

  • Yay for writing on stuff- and for visualizing. I love reading patterns for unusually constructed garments because I do this and understand how it all comes together. I’m with you on the charts too. And schematics, for that matter. Just give me the information in a way I can understand it, and I’ll be a happy knitter. Or happier, anyway.

  • I believe I am wearing the same color of nail polish.

  • Awesome advice! It makes me feel less like I’m the only one who makes silly mistakes!

  • Making my first shawl with lace. Highlighter tape is my new best friend!

  • I laughed when I saw the writing on the pattern , that me! So funny, but it helps!

  • I am going back and reading all of your “how-tos” I find them so helpful. Thanks for this!

  • Instead of crossing out irrelevant bits, I cut and paste the pattern so that it is “customized” for me. I save it and print it and write on it as needed.
    If I make changes along the way, I save those as another document.

  • I love this article, as is true for most everything you and Kay write. I have another suggestion. Get to know the software Knit Companion. It’s a bit of a challenge in the beginning, but it is a show stopping life saver once it becomes your friend. Yes, you can still hand write your own notes on your pattern with this software. And Very Pink now has 3 tutorials on it to help with the learning.

    • Some of the features are only available on apple products verses android. Still useful in android but now debating if I need an ipad mini in my notions bag.

  • My mom used to line up Cheerios on the arms of her chair, the number needed for decreases at the ends of each row. As she did a decrease, she ate a Cheerio from that side of the chair. It helped her keep her sanity.
    I’m a firm believer in copying the pattern and hi-lighting your size instructions. Keep it in a plastic sleeve so it doesn’t get trashed going in and out the bag. And read/understand the whole pattern is KEY!!
    If I were teaching knitting, I’d have students learn how to pick up dropped stitches, knit or purl. It’s a good way to start understanding that thing about reading your knitting. Which is transformative.
    Great article!!

  • A couple years ago I took a class from Stephanie Pearl Mcphee in which she taught us about running markers (a strand of contrast yarn laid between two stitches and brought from front to back and vice versa every 5 rows or whatever the repeat requires). I can come back to my knitting any time and know where I am quickly. This blew my mind and changed the way I knit. Using running markers makes me feel like a knitting rock star 😀

  • Great tips Thankyou

  • I put my copy of chart or pattern in clear sleeves, and use highlighter tape to keep my place. I use a bit of tape on the paper inside so it doesn’t slip around.

  • So true -I can relate to all of it. Such a learning process. I have a sweater (I have never done a sweater) and I thought I read directions well only discover after is sewed my side seams they were supposed to be done with sleeve seam.. So it’s all on hold not sure what to do. I’ll get there..eventually. Great article.

  • Excellent advice. I find that for me as I have gotten older it is helpful to use needles that are either darker or lighter than the yarn I am knitting with. This helps me see the stitches much better.

  • Great suggestions/tips and glad to see them in writing. I am saving this one also!

  • Many, many years ago I read a hint on keeping track of multi-row patterns by making a card for each row and putting them on a ring. The rings you get when you take your car into the shop work perfectly.

    • That’s a great idea! It would probably save a lot of reading the wrong row.

  • Very much enjoyed your article. It brought back many memories of my learning experiences through the years. Most of your suggestions I have learned yhe hard way, especially about charts and lace knitting and learning to read your knitting. I agree with every bit of it.

  • Great article with good advice. I also use a removable marker on the first row of a repeat and count the rows from there. I use different colors if tracking two sequences at the same time.

  • After more than 50 years of knitting and crocheting (and being asked to ‘fix my baby blanket from 30 years ago’) I have developed a filing system of pattern, small bits of yarns used (a few yards), needle sizes, dates, dye lots, name of recipient and occasion for gift, and any other stuff I assume I will forget. Much of this can now be stored on Ravelry (hooray!), along with pictures. I have made hundreds of gifts, some of which I really have completely forgotten about. But in addition to keeping track of where I am in a pattern, I often find it helpful to refer back to the notes from past projects. And I was able to save the 30-year-old blanket!

  • One of the best phrases I learned from a great lace knitter …….
    Count the holes Not the rows
    It sure helps a lot

  • All such good tips! Crazily enough, when I took up knitting a little over a decade ago, I knit lace. I had to learn chart reading, stitch and row counting, and I made regular use of lifelines. I was so slow and hated frogging, so I’d insert a life line every 2-3 rows. Eventually my passion for lace knitting died down, and knitting seemed easier after that. Highlighter tape is my best friend, it stays sticky much better than post its.

  • Time to try knitCompanion! It’s been a game-changer for me!

  • Best tips I’ve ever seen on knitting rock on

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