Over the last 11 years, Jaala has knitted a fair bit, and Amy has been knitting for decades! Some tricks, when we learned them, made that flashbulb go off in our minds, and some we learned by sad trial and error. Once you’ve ripped back half a sweater, you find the motivation to change your knitting habits!
Amy in action
Come closer, because we’re about to share some of our best knitting tricks for faster and more successful knitting, and most of them don’t even require picking up your needles! Some preparation beforehand will save you time and trouble no matter what style of knitting grip you use.
Jaala models the beautiful sweater Amy knit her!
Tips for faster knitting
Much of successful knitting is a mental game; preparation is key! If you plan for a few research steps before you cast on, you’ll save a lot of gnashing of teeth in the long run.
Check Your Pattern
1. Research: Cut
Have a gorgeous sweater in your mind’s eye, maybe one you spotted in a store or on a passerby? Scan available databases to find the right one; Ravelry is your best friend here. First, check the basic cut and construction. A key question: Will this look good on me? for example, an empire waist may draw attention to the bust and away from the stomach, which is great for some people (me!–Jaala).
If you find a sweater pattern you like, look on Ravelry project pages to see how other people look in the project, watching especially for people with your body type. (To find that, click on the Patterns tab in Ravelry, click on the photo of the pattern you like, and then click on the Projects tab that will come up third from the left in the navigation tabs.)
Look at the successes and the failures and decide for yourself whether your 100+ knitting hours will make you (or your intended recipient) look spectacular in that pattern. Don’t commit until you can answer with a resounding yes!
2. Research: Construction/Writing
Do you fear steeking, shy away from Contiguous necklines or hate the Kitchener stitch? Look at the Ravelry keywords for each project to decide without purchasing the pattern whether that one is for you. If there is a construction method you favor or would like to try, like top-down, in the round or triangular shawl construction, you can search patterns using that keyword.
Does the pattern have errata, or is the designer dependable? Look on Ravelry or the designer’s or publisher’s website to see if other knitters have found mistakes in the pattern. Taking a chance an a new or unknown designer can be exciting, but for peace of mind, it may be better to go with a pattern that 400 people have successfully completed than to the be the third one to try it.
Prepare for Success
Once you’ve chosen your perfect pattern, with just the right amount of lace or a body hugging fit, rally your materials!
photo: Elizabeth Morrison for Knitcircus
3. Choosing the Right Yarn
Depending on your knitting personality, getting the right yarn for your project can be a bit of a challenge. If you are determined to use the exact yarn specified by the designer, you know it will act just as the pattern promises, but you may have to budget in advance. And you don’t want to be caught short with only one sleeve and no more yarn, so for a sized garment, going up a skein is usually the best bet. You can always make a matching hat with the extra, but trying to match a dyelot that’s been discontinued to finish that last bit can be a bummer. If you’re knitting a pair of socks or shawl, usually fingering-weight yarns can be substituted fairly easily. Just check your yardage compared to the yardage called for in the pattern and make a gauge swatch if you’re not sure.
If you’re a dyed -in-the wool (sorry, couldn’t resist) stasher, you may be determined to make that bag of alpaca yarn from 1993 fit your sleek, modern silhouette. Before you make that thrifty move, check again on Ravelry to see what kinds of yarn people have used successfully with the pattern. Will your yarn do what you want it to do? Stretch and drape, hold firm?
If your yarn content varies significantly from the pattern , so may your garment from the finished product. You may want to re-check your stash for something with the same or at least similar fiber content to make sure the project does what you want it to do. If you have an experienced knitting friend, this would be a great time to have her help you identify some key aspects of the pattern, like whether it’s meant to drape, be knit tightly to keep out the wind or hold architectural details like cables to show off stitch definition.
photo: Ryan Berg for Knitcircus
4. Prepare Your Yarn
Once you have your perfect yarn in hand, don’t just wind one skein into a ball, wind them all, and put them all together in a safe (but not hidden) place. You don’t want to slow the flow by having to clear off table space for your ball winder whenever you reach the next skein.
5. Pattern Wrangling
If it’s in a book or magazine, make yourself a copy so you can haul it around with you and doodle on it. If it’s a downloaded pattern, make sure you know where you stored it so you can find it again if needed! Then, once you purchase the pattern, read it. All the way through. Mark your size with a highlighter every place the stitch counts differ, if a hard copy. Mentally note all the places where you will have to do shaping and, say, lace at the same time. If you think you may need to alter the pattern (adding more or less inches through the trunk, for example) get that all figured out and marked in your pattern beforehand.
6. Choose Your Tools Wisely
Check which needles the pattern calls for and make sure you have them safely stored with your yarn, including both circulars and dpn’s or whatever the pattern calls for.
If your pattern has increases, decreases, short rows, remotely complicated stitch patterns or gussets, do yourself a favor and locate (or even better, treat yourself to) a set of stitch markers. Many a time, we have both thought we could easily remember where the stitch patterns changed or where the bust increase was only to learn several rows later that we’d chugged right past it. Regular safety pins, tiny slices of plastic straw or little loops of waste yarn can work fine in a pinch.
7. You Knew it Was Coming
Every single person that gives you knitting advice, be it your neighbor or Vicki Howell, is going to tell you to do a gauge swatch. They may even try to convince you it will be fun. Look, it probably won’t be, but you know what’s even more not fun? Frogging your beautiful completed sweater back because it would fit a porpoise or a preschooler or ripping out your would-be shawl that’s stiff and watertight.
For something that needs to fit, this is crucial! If you skip this step, you may have to start over after two days of knitting. There’s a reason everyone says to do a gauge swatch, and it’s because we knitters are infinite. The gauge for the pattern just happens to be the gauge gotten by the designer or the sample knitter that week. That’s the beauty of handknitting!
And your gauge may change over time. I (Jaala) always considered myself a loose knitter, until a test knitter trying to match my gauge had to go down two needle sizes. I guess I changed my approach over the years…
Exceptions: shawls, cowls or hats can get away without a swatch most of the time, but if you’re substituting yarn, it can still be a big help. Shawls and scarves are meant to drape and have a looser gauge, while hats generally need some structure. It wouldn’t hurt to do a gauge swatch where you try a couple of different needle sizes to find your perfect fabric.
So pull out those needles (and a glass of wine if needed) and cast on and work a nice gauge swatch, at least six inches wide and tall. Wash it, block it and then measure your gauge. And then tell everyone around you how important gauge is and how virtuous you were.
8. Study up on Cast Ons – do you need it to be firm? Loose? Provisional? Don’t hesitate to step out of your own comfort zone!
Here’s one of our favorites: the Cable Cast-On
While the Long-Tail Cast-On can be awesomely used for almost anything, the Cable-Cast-On means you don’t have to estimate how much yarn you’ll need for the CO row and fall short (done this many times). Also, unlike a Long-Tail Cast-On, it creates a Right-Side row, so will blend seamlessly with stockinette stitch. See a lovely article on how to do the Cable Cast on on Knitty (it’s the second method described). As the author mentions, Elizabeth Zimmerman says it “looks equally well on both sides”.
As with most cast-ons, make sure to cast on loosely enough that your finished garment won’t have a tight, uncomfortable edge on hat brims, sleeves or sock cuffs. See a nice video of this technique by Gingerly4it on You Tube.
9. Bind Off
When it’s time to finish your piece and you’re eager to cross the finish line, make sure to choose a bind-off that will do the job nicely. For a nice, firm edge, a regular bind-off is fine, but in general, you want to make sure your bind-off isn’t too, well, binding. A tight sweater cuff or hat brim can make all of your beautiful work a bear to wear.
For any kind of cuffs, lace projects or shawls, her’s our go-to bind off:
Jeny’s Surprisingly Stretchy Bind-Off. This bind-off uses an extra yarnover with each cast-off stitch to ensure a stretchy edge. You can watch the Knitting Blooms tutorial, or see the original article in Knitty.
There you go! Now you’re equipped to set sail on your next knitting project armed with practical tools to keep you going full speed ahead.
We’d love to hear any of your favorite knitting tips! Please comment and let us know what tricks get you through your knitting day. :)
Jaala and Amy