victorious wool

How I Follow Knitting Patterns

Victoria Burgess

So many of us begin a project in different ways and I realized it might be interesting to share my current process. Especially because it makes a great case for swatching. It’s always tempting to skip over the Notes section of a pattern, to just dive right in and cast on. But I’ve done enough projects where I missed important info that now I’m very happy to start in the following way:

1) Obviously I liked a pattern enough to buy it and purchase yarn for it or stash dive to find a suitable substitute. The first thing I do is look for the gauge, the needle size the designer got their gauge in, and the stitch they used. I get to start knitting right away because of the swatch, even if it doesn’t really feel like I’ve ‘begun.’ It actually feels like reconnaissance work to me. Most likely I’m still knitting something else but I’ll take a break to swatch for the next project. This way I’m allowing for the time needed to block my swatch, measure it at my convenience, and then decide if I should swatch again. More than one swatch is common for me because I’m a very loose knitter and often have to go down in needle size. Viewing this part of the project as ‘prep’ helps eliminate frustration and/or perfectionist/failing feelings and can also be pretty fun.

2) Next I read all the notes the designer has written to help people knit their patterns successfully. As a new designer I definitely love the notes section because it’s the place where tips and more explanation can be offered. The knitting pattern format traditions are part of our history and community. But they are limited in what they can explain. Patterns are not written to teach knitters how to knit or learn new techniques. But more recently designers are going beyond and giving more information. We want knitters to have enjoyable, successful experiences for the good of everyone in our fiber community. So I read the notes, all the way through, every time. I note what tutorials have been linked, what techniques are needed, and what notions and extra needles are required. I want as few surprises as possible when knitting the pattern.

3) Next up is the schematic, if the pattern has one, and how it will fit. If I hadn’t already really looked at the fit and shape of the garment, I now check the schematic and the measurements closely. I make notes anywhere I might consider changing something. That may be beyond the scope for some knitters. But if you pay close attention you can avoid falling into the common trap of thinking a garment has a fitted shape instead of a boxy shape, cropped or long, etc. Forgive me if it sounds like I think you’re unobservant, I’m pulling from my own experience of not asking myself if a garment is really a shape I want to wear or a shape that actually suits my body and personal style. Maybe the cute picture or beautiful women is what really drew me to the pattern.    

Personally, I always need to make sweaters a little bit longer than the length that goes with the bust size I need. The arms need to be 2-3 inches longer and I have slightly broader shoulders, etc. So I take the time to really think about the design as if it were my own and note what concerns me and what I like about it. This really helps take the pressure of ‘The Perfect Garment’ expectation off my shoulders. I face the reality that some projects might not work out and I’m accepting the risk, willing to see what happens, and knit it anyway. This is probably the single most important moment in the pattern process. It cannot be overstated and is the key to enjoying all the experiences knitting has to offer.

4) I pick a size and cast on. With my size notes I might make adjustments, when possible, for the best fit. I should also add here that I make mistakes ALL THE TIME and when I notice them I make the decision about the need to go back. A lot of the time I don’t. If I know no one will notice and I can make the stitch count work out than I move on and try not to look back. As a recovering perfectionist I try to resist the unnecessary need to fix everything when I know deep down that it doesn’t matter!

5) Usually I have a ‘not done yet’ feeling for a project when it still needs to be blocked or the underarms are still not grafted together after 2 years of wearing. This feeling definitely keeps me aware that there is more to be done before I’m truly finished.

The finishing stuff can be frustratingly unspecific, you know that very short sentence that says “weave in ends and block,” or “seam edges and block,” tra la la. You might have to do quite a lot of finishing. Like weaving in edges for hours, or blocking a lace shawl on the floor for two or more hours. It can be a lot of work and I definitely put it off. But I also know it's often important to my overall experience and the actually wearing of the item. I’m still working on enjoying this part but I know it's satisfying in the end. It may take me awhile (two years!) to finish something but that’s okay. There are a lot of videos and classes out there now teaching finishing techniques as well as books on the subject. Get the info you need to make finishing more interesting for you.

That’s my general process for following a knitting pattern. I’m fundamentally not a rule follower so even I rebel against my better judgement sometimes. But when I’m thorough I often feel more legitimate as a maker, a creative, and a knitter. And feeling legitimate has become so important in not lessening the things I really value and spend so much time doing. That transfers directly to how I value myself.

The whole process of a knitting project feels like a lopsided bell curve. It’s a slow start, it gets really exciting, and then drops off dramatically. But knitting like life, it has emotional stages. Hopefully you found this interesting. I’d love to hear about your own knitting process.