Be a Better Knitter: How to Read Your Knitting
Knitting is first and foremost a structure, it relies on a repetitive series of loops made in a series of movements to create the separate stitches. It is the combination of these stitches which creates the knitted fabric, and therefore, it is a combination of different structures that create the whole piece. After completion, each stitch can be broken down into basic visual shapes that a knitter can learn to identify in order to help keep track of stitch numbers, to count rows, to identify decreases and increases, and to problem-solve any issues.
Once learned, the skill of reading your knitting will allow you to count less. Rows and stitches you have worked can be clearly identified, making it no longer necessary to use row counters or to keep track of rows worked. The same can be said for decreases and increases. Once you know how to "read" the shaping stitches correctly, you can more easily keep track of them, making for a faster and more accurate knit.
Stockinette is one of the most basic knitted stitches and is worked by knitting on the right-side rows and purling on the wrong-side rows. This creates a "V" shape on the right side of the work and a small horizontal line or "purl bump" on the wrong side of the work.
Each V shape represents a knit stitch. These can be counted vertically in columns to ascertain how many rows have been worked. Or they can be counted horizontally in rows to identify the number of stitches being worked.
Each "purl bump" represents a purl stitch, but counting these can be trickier. When counting vertically for a row count, it is imperative to count one column and not stray into an adjacent column. When counting horizontally for a stitch number, only count the upper bumps of a row, not the lower one.
Single-stitch decreases are worked by reducing two stitches into one stitch. Decreases look like two stitches joining at the top with one over the other and a single stitch emanating out. When counting decreases, the single stitch that holds the two decreased stitches is actually the stitch created on the decrease row. When working a series of decreases, such as in a top-down sleeve or hat crown shaping, a knitter is often instructed to "rep Dec Row every # rows # number of times." The Dec Row is included in that total number of rows, so make sure to begin the "V" count with the single stitch emerging from the decreased stitches.
This example shows decreases worked every two rows. The single stitch created by decreasing the two stitches emerges from the decreased stitches. The V shape directly above that stitch is the even row worked between decrease rows. Notice that the stitches worked on the even row are then decreased into a single stitch on the next row. This is because the work is decreasing every two rows -- one decrease row and one even row.
Single-stitch increases are worked by creating a stitch in the work between two columns of stitches. Make 1 Right and Make 1 Left increases look like half of a "V" in the work and lean to the side that the increase is named for.
This example shows how two columns of stockinette V shapes separate when a Make 1 Left increase is worked. Because the increase uses a rung from the row below, the increase row is actually counted as the row with a full V shape created by the increase. In this example, that stitch is a white "V." Begin counting at the white V when counting total rows for the increase repeat.
Garter stitch is usually one of the first stitches that a knitter learns. It is worked by knitting on both the right side and the wrong side of a piece. The fabric is characteristically dense, does not curl, and has horizontal ridges of bumps. There are two rows of knitting per ridge of garter stitch. One row is a shallow V shape where the knit stitch has been worked on the right side but is being pulled to the wrong side by the following row of knit stitches, which look like ridges.
When garter stitch is stretched vertically, it is possible to see the rows of knit stitches as shallow V shapes and garter ridges. You can count garter stitch rows as two rows per ridge on the right side of the work. Count the stitches by gently pulling the work vertically to expose the vertical columns of V’s.
Seed stitch is worked by knitting the knit stitches and purling the purl stitches of any given row. This creates a nubbly "seed" look in the fabric but can be confusing for counting. When viewed in a vertical column, seed stitch is an alternating stack of knit stitches and purl stitches, or V shapes and purl bumps. You can either count two rows per bump in a column or zigzag diagonally between two columns and count each purl bump as a row.
Want to try a simple pattern and practice reading your knitting? Mirror Mountain is an easy knit that uses Bulky yarn and has both stockinette stitch based easy lace and garter stitch texture. It is a perfect beginning knitter pattern and includes both charted and written directions for the pattern stitches.
Thank you for your excellent photos and counting instructions. I found this very helpful. One question I have is how do you count the cast on row and the stitches on the needle? Thanks.
As a long-time knitting instructor, this has been my most important advice to all knitters: Learn to Read Your Knitting. This post has excellent pictures explaining what every knitter needs to understand. I commend Little NutMeg Productions for this great work.