You’ve just spent hours crafting a gorgeous sweater (or afghan, or shawl, or scarf…honestly, this article applies to any type of project!) and now you need to know what to do when it needs to be cleaned. We’ve all heard horror stories about washing machines eating afghans, and sweaters shrunk in dryers, and it makes the prospect of caring for things we slaved over rather daunting, to say the least. I’ll do my best in the next few paragraphs to try to alleviate those fears for you.
The first thing to consider is the yarn you used. The label (or the yarn’s page on our website if you’ve misplaced the label) will give you a bunch of information about whether the yarn can be thrown in the washer and dryer, taken to the dry cleaner, steamed, etc.
Not sure what all those symbols mean? We’ve provided a handy key for you in our FAQ. Remember, the information on the yarn’s label applies to the yarn itself, not necessarily your project. In other words, just because the yarn you’ve used will not be damaged by machine washing doesn’t mean that’s the best way to care for your item.
Once you’ve checked out the label and seen all the ways you can safely wash the yarn, it’s time to think about the item itself. Is this a baby sweater? An extra large man’s sweater? An afghan? A very lacy shawl? A scarf with a fringe?
Something like a baby sweater, if it is made with a machine-washable and -dryable yarn, can be pretty safely tossed in the machine with no problems (though, as noted in the paragraph below, it will continue to look newer and fresher if it can be cared for more gently). The rest of the items I listed? Not so much. The fringed scarf is going to tangle itself up in all that loose yarn, and all the agitation can be very damaging to the fringe. Your larger sweaters, afghans, and lacy items, are going to get very heavy when they are wet, and the action of the washing machine and dryer will cause the weight of the item to pull on itself, stretching those items out of shape, in some cases quite severely. This can be somewhat alleviated by using a sweater bag with those larger items, as it will keep the item from having room to stretch out.
Finally, think about your expectations for the item. Is this an afghan you expect your rowdy family of five to snuggle up under on the couch every night and the cat to sleep on all day? You probably don’t expect it to look perfect forever, and a little pilling and stretching is going to be par for the course, so throwing it in the machine (in a sweater bag!) is just fine.
Is this a beautiful cabled cardigan you hope to wear for years and years? You’re probably hoping it will continue to look just-off-the-needles for a good long time. As with any delicate item — whether handmade or store-bought — the more gently you care for it the longer it will last and be beautiful.
Hand-washing and laying flat to dry is almost always the gentlest way to care for a handmade item to ensure the best results over time. It’s inconvenient, sure, but isn’t it worth a little inconvenience to keep the project that took so many hours to make looking and feeling great?
There are more great tips on exactly how to handle your project as you wash it in this article.
It is common practice in cardigan patterns to write out shaping for only one front and then indicate that the knitter or crocheter is to “reverse shaping” for the second front. The practice developed because in print, leaving out those instructions means that there is room for something else (like an additional pattern or a more extensive explanation of a stitch pattern or another picture of the garment) and leaves less room for error (in terms of conflicting information or directions). Some people are bothered by this , but I actually really like that it gives me a chance to see what the structure of the garment is rather than just blindly following along with the pattern. Regardless, there are really only two ways to efficiently and effectively reverse shaping, and which method is appropriate will depend on the particular pattern.
The simplest way to reverse shaping is to simply shift all the shaping a single row. So if you were originally working the shaping on the RS rows, for the other front you will work it on the WS rows. For example, “Row 1: k24, k2tog; Row 2: p across” would simply become: “Row 1: k across; Row 2: p24, p2tog”. Note that the stitches and decreases are worked in the same order using this method–all you’re doing is shifting rows. (Crocheters, this is the same for you–just substitute, for instance, “sc” instead of “k” and “p”.) You’ll end up with an extra row on one side or the other, but unless you are working at an exceptionally large gauge, this won’t make a difference once you’ve got the sweater put together.
The more complicated method involves actually reversing the rows. In the example above, you would still have “Row 1: k24, k2tog; Row 2: p across” for your first front, but then for the second front you would work “”Row 1: k2tog, k24; Row 2: p across”. This method is most useful when you’re doing something that involves a lot of patterning, where shifting the decreases would result in a noticeable difference or in the situation noted above, when you’re working at an exceptionally large gauge. If you’re going to follow this method, I strongly recommend that you actually write out each shaping row reversed before you start working.
A couple of other things to think about: Remember that if you are working in a reversible stitch pattern, like garter or seed stitch, there is no need to actually reverse the shaping. Just make two fronts exactly the same and flip one over! Also, if you’re finding something confusing or something doesn’t seem right, take a moment to sit and think about it…often there will be a common sense, logical answer that will straighten everything out. For instance, if you’ve bound off for the armhole at one edge and now you’re finding that what should be the neck decreases are also on that edge, something has obviously gone wrong and you need to take a moment to go back and review what’s going on with your work. Usually a quick check against the original shaping instructions will get you back on track, and you’ll be well on your way to have two mirror-image fronts for your cardigan.
One of the toughest things about making sweaters is figuring out the construction and shaping. Unlike a blanket or scarf, it’s not just a matter of casting on, working for a certain number of inches and binding off. There are angles and curves to be considered There is a somewhat perplexing instruction that is very common in pullover patterns, wherein you work some stitches, join a new ball of yarn, bind off some stitches, and work to the end of the row. Now you’ve got two balls of yarn going–one for each shoulder–and you need to work both shoulders at once to make sure they come out even. It’s one of those things that’s a little confusing when you read it, but when you start working it you’ll find that it goes pretty smoothly.
Here’s a breakdown of the steps:
Work across the indicated number of stitches with the first ball. Add the new ball in the same way you would when you run out and add a new ball (work the first stitch, leaving a long tail you will weave in later). Bind off the indicated stitches and then work across the remaining stitches with the second ball.
You now have two balls of yarn attached, one on each side of the neck.
Now you will work both sides at the same time, ensuring you have the same number of rows. Work across the row with the yarn on that side to the end of that section. Drop the yarn. Pick up the other ball and complete the row on the other side of the neck. And you just continue on like this for the indicated number of rows or inches, working any decreases that might be indicated as well.
You do need to be careful of a couple of things when you’re doing this. First, you need to make sure you don’t put the work down after working one shoulder but before working the other, because it’s hard to tell when you pick it up again which shoulder you ended on. If you absolutely must put it down, work at least the first couple of stitches on the next shoulder so you can be sure to start off in the right direction.
You also want to remember a couple of things when you’re binding off: First, be sure not to bind off the last stitch of the first shoulder. To start the bind off, knit two and slip the first stitch over the second stitch — don’t knit one and slip the last stitch worked for the first shoulder over at. Conversely, when you get to the other shoulder, you use the first stitch of the shoulder to bind off the last stitch. So you’ll work the last stitch to be bound off, then the first stitch of the second shoulder, and slip the last bound off stitch over the first shoulder stitch. Now that first shoulder stitch will be already worked and on your right needle — just keep working across from there.
Finally, any decreases that you may need to do will usually just say something like “at each neck edge”. That will be at the end of the first shoulder worked across and at the beginning of the second shoulder worked across — the edge of each shoulder closest to that bound off section. The “armhole edge” on the other hand will be the edge furthest from that bound off section — the beginning of the first shoulder worked and the end of the second shoulder.
As I said before, this is one of those things that seems like it’s going to be really confusing when you’re reading through the instructions, but once you sit down and get started, it will all fall into place.
Back when I first became capital-K Knitter and really started interacting with other Knitters, online and in person, I would quietly giggle behind my hand at those who bemoaned their stacks of UFOs (Unfinished Objects) and WIPs (Works In Progress). I only had one project going at a time, and I was sure I would never be one of those poor souls who just couldn’t manage to start what they finished before moving on to the next project.
Of course, it wasn’t too long before I discovered that I need lots of quiet to work on complicated lace and cables, so I decided to allow myself one simple project and one more complicated one. That’s reasonable, right? Of course, I was commuting by bus at the time and sometimes a project would just get too big to be easily transportable, so I decided I could start additional projects to commute with while finishing up the big ones at home.
Talk about your slippery slope…I now have “exceptions” to my “single project” rule for gifts, seasonal appropriateness, craft (now that I am also a capital-C Crocheter), soft yarn, pattern lust…you name it, I can make an exception for it. I currently have seven WIPs…just in the basket under my desk at work. That’s not including the two projects in my knitting bag or the socks I always carry in my purse, or the other socks I always have in my car, “just in case”. Let’s not even talk about what I’ve got stacked up at home.
The only real problem with this is that I often put down projects “just while I cast this on” or “until I get this super-quick gift made” and they end up languishing for weeks or months…and since I didn’t intend to put the thing down for more than a day or two, I haven’t marked the pattern. Or worse, I’ve misplaced the pattern…which is where I’ve marked the size I’m making.
This is exactly what happened to me with the Saturday Morning Hoodie Knit-Along (project pictured above). I cast on with the best intentions and then got distracted by who-knows-what and stopped at a point fairly far along on the back. I went to pick it up the other day because I really want to have it to wear around the office when the temperature drops, and discovered that I have both no idea what point I’m at in the pattern and no idea what size I’m making. Fortunately, I can just print out another copy of the pattern, but if it were a pre-printed pattern I’d’ve made a copy to work from originally, both in case of this very situation and also so I could write notes on it and circle sizing information without marking up my original.
What size was I making?
So now that I’ve got my new copy of the pattern, the first thing I need to figure out is what size I’m making. The easiest and most accurate way to do that is to just count your stitches. You want to count fairly close to your cast-on row, and check the pattern to see if there are any increases/decreases before where you’re counting so you can take that into account. In this case, there are no increases or decreases until after the ribbing, so I just counted right across the ribbing and came up with 54. That corresponds to the 44″ size, which does seem like the size I’d have chosen. Next step, circle all of the numbers corresponding to that size, just as I did the first time around.
Where am I in the pattern?
Now I need to figure out where I am in the pattern–what my next steps should be as I begin working on it again. According to the pattern, after the ribbing (which I can see I’m way past) I am to work in stockinette stitch until my piece is 16″ from the beginning. So I’m just going to measure and see where I am. (This process gets a little more complicated if you’re working on something with a more complicated stitch pattern, because you need to figure out not only where in the project you are, but where in the stitch pattern. I recommend tackling the two problems separately, handling the stitch pattern part first as that may well give you clues about where in the project you are).
I’m at 14″, so I have another couple of inches of straight knitting to go before I need to start my raglan shaping, so it looks like I’m in pretty good shape on this one. Yay!
What if I can’t tell where I am?
I have, on occasion, been unable to figure out where I am in either the pattern or the project…when that happens, really the only thing you can do is find a point further back that you can identify and rip back to there. And try to remember next time to mark where you are in the pattern…even if you’re only planning on setting it down for a day.
Picture this: you’re knitting merrily along when suddenly you realize that on the previous row, you somehow purled where you should have knitted and knitted where you should have purled. You only did this on two stitches and then straightened yourself out, but you didn’t even notice it until now. Do you have to rip out the whole row you just knitted to go back and fix those two stitches?
Nope! The good news is, it’s actually really easy to fix a mistake like this. It can be a single stitch you got reversed or a whole grouping, but you’re going to work one stitch at a time, and you’re going to do the same thing on each stitch. You can do this with just your knitting needle, but you’ll find it easier with a crochet hook (something close in size to your knitting needle or slightly smaller). Please read all the way through the steps to make sure you understand what’s going to happen before you start. Here we go:
Repeat steps 1-5 for each stitch you need to reverse.
Note that you can do this for multiple rows, even if you have some correct stitches above a mistake stitch. Just drop all the way down to the row below the mistake and then pick up the stitches in the correct orientation. What determines whether to use this method or go ahead and rip back is usually just a comparison of time and effort: which is going to require the least amount of both? For instance, if you’re working on 50 stitches and you somehow screwed up 45 of them three rows back, you’re probably better off just ripping back because it does take some time to drop each stitch down and then bring it back up again. But if you only messed up five of those stitches? Definitely just drop down, fix them, and be on your merry way once again.
Darn that Zontee. I was looking through past blogs for something to send to a customer and I happened on her blog post from last summer about upsizing the Bebop Cardi by using larger yarn. I’ve actually seen her sweater in person and it’s fabulous. I meant to make it back then, but then I sort of forgot about it as other projects took priority. But when I saw the post again, I knew I had to go ahead and chain on.
In the original blog, Zontee notes that she went up to a category 5 yarn and made the small. I’m a little larger than Zontee, so my choices were to either go all the way up to a category 6 yarn, or stick with the category 5 and make a larger size. Since I had two balls of Tweed Stripes in Caribbean handy, I went with the latter option. I did my swatch, found that the large was going to be the size for me and chained on.
The yardage from the two balls of Tweed Stripes should have been plenty, but I remembered that I’d used a bit of it for another project awhile back. Not much, though–just a few yards. That wouldn’t matter, right? (Stop laughing. You know denial isn’t just a river in Egypt.) Sure enough, I ended up about 3 rows short. Grrr. They were three short rows, too!
Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I could have just bought another ball of the Tweed Stripes when I got to the office the next day–it wasn’t quite the same as when you run out of a discontinued yarn that you just can’t get more of, or can’t find a matching dye-lot or something like that. Working at a yarn company does have its privileges and sitting on top of a warehouse full of said yarn is one of them. But I wanted to be done with this thing, and I was mad! How dare my yarn betray me like that! I’d show it! Who needs the original yarn when you can just finish up with a coordinating yarn?
So that’s what I did: grabbed a partial ball of Vanna’s Choice that I’d had laying around for a long while and that also happened to coordinate perfectly with one of the colors in the Tweed Stripes. I finished off my three rows and it looked okay, but just okay. What I really needed to do to make it look as if I’d planned this all along was add more of the Vanna’s Choice in another location. It’s a bit of a cliche, but it’s true: if it occurs once, it’s a mistake; if it occurs twice or more, it’s a design feature.
What I decided to do was add a border all the way around the outside edge (meaning the open sides and the bottom, since the color was already at the top of the sweater) and then also around the sleeves. I probably could have also done just a couple of rows of dc at the bottom of the sweater, obviating the need to do the sleeve edges. One more note: Vanna’s Choice is actually a category 4 weight yarn and not a category 5. I know this, but I also know that Vanna’s Choice is at the thicker end of the category 4 spectrum, so I was pretty sure it would work okay with the same hook. It did turn out to be a little tighter in gauge than the rest of the sweater — enough so that I ended up working one fewer round than called for in the pattern. So do definitely keep in mind your gauge and what weight yarn you need to work with to obtain that gauge when you’re choosing a replacement yarn like this. (Just in case you’re wondering about the “design” I used for the border, it’s just a simple *sc, ch3, sk next sc. rep from * all the way around the sleeves and on both side edges. The bottom edge I just worked a sc in each stitch across.)
I really love the way this one came out–it might be one of my favorite things I’ve ever made. So I guess instead of darning Zontee for leading me down this path, I should be saying, “Thanks, Zontee!”
When you are increasing stitches on a patterned garment, perhaps for a sleeve or some waist shaping, you may encounter the instruction “increase in pattern” or something similar. This is so that you won’t have something like a big weird unmatching section of stockinette at the side of your sweater — if your sleeve is worked in a patterned stitch like seed stitch or a lace pattern, you want the whole thing to be in that pattern, even as it gets wider.
It can be a little confusing when you’re adding stitches to both sides. The end stitches are easy to figure out, but the beginning stitches can seem a little tricky. You really just want to work the new stitches on the next row as if they were always part of the pattern. In seed stitch, for example, your first 5 rows will look like this if you cast on three and increase 1 stitch at each end of every other row:
Row 1: kfb, p1, kfb
Row 2: p1, k1, p1, k1, p1
Row 3: kfb, p1, k1, p1, kfb
Row 4: p1, k1, p1, k1, p1, k1, p1
Row 5: kfb, p1, k1, p1, k1, p1, kfb
And so on. You need to be able to identify the components of your pattern to determine where those new stitches belong. In the above example, the most important thing to remember about seed stitch is that you are working every stitch the opposite of what it appears to be, so if it looks like a knit you purl it and if it looks like a purl you knit it, and they’re alternating in a 1×1 pattern. When increasing in pattern like this I generally find it’s easiest to just look for the first recognizable stitch I can and then count out what I should be at starting the row (e.g., in seed stitch if I see a knit stitch three stitches in, I know I should purl that one, so the one next closest to the tip would be a knit, and the then the first stitch will be a purl). When you get to the end, you’ll just continue in pattern alternating knit and purl and that will work those new end stitches in correctly.
This strategy can be used with pretty much any stitch pattern, no matter how complicated: identify a stitch that you know where it falls in the pattern, then work backwards from there to determine which stitch you’re starting with. You may have to fudge occasionally…let’s say your pattern is something like k3, k2tog, yo, p2. If you’re increasing in single stitches, at some point the “correct” stitch to begin with will be either half of the k2tog or the yo–neither of which is really feasible. When that happens, just knit (or purl if it looks better) the edge stitch and begin using that stitch in pattern again on the next row.
Increasing in pattern doesn’t have to be tough–just take it slow and remember that your goal is to maintain the overall patterning as you work across.
Both knit and crochet patterns often feature groups of stitches set apart by parentheses or brackets. When you encounter these groups, there should be an instruction immediately following the parentheses or brackets that will apply to those stitches.
You might have something like:
(sc, ch 3, sc) in next ch-5 sp
All this means is that in the next ch-5 sp you are going to work a sc, then ch3, and then in the same space, make another sc.
Or, you might have instead:
(k2, p2) x5
This indicates that you are to repeat all of the stitches in the parentheses, in order, five times. Written out this would be k2, p2, k2, p2, k2, p2, k2, p2, k2, p2.
There is no difference between parentheses and brackets. Generally you will see brackets inside parentheses, which just means that you have a group within the group — so for instance you might be working the bracketed group of stitches into a single stitch as you are here, while at the same time repeating the entire sequence of stitches in parentheses:
(k2tog, [k1, yo, k1] into next stitch, k2tog, p2) x3
Again, you are to work all of the instructions in the parentheses 3 times, and in this case part of that grouped repeat will be a double increase created by working a k1, a yo, and another k1 all in the same stitch.
You can even have multiples grouped inside other multiples:
(sc, ch1, sc, [sk2, ch3, sc] x 3, ch1) x2
Here you are working everything in the parentheses twice, and that grouped repeat includes working everything in the brackets three times. I’ll write this one out for you, because it can get confusing:
sc, ch1, sc, sk2, ch3, sc, sk2, ch3, sc, sk2, ch3, sc, ch1, sc, ch1, sc, sk2, ch3, sc, sk2, ch3, sc, sk2, ch3, sc, ch1
I think you can see why we use the shorthand of grouping stitches — trying to follow along those long lines of instruction without getting lost or accidentally repeating a stitch can be very difficult! Shortening these instructions down helps to clarify them both as you read and as you interpret the structure of the pattern.
If you’re getting confused by a grouping or aren’t sure how the stitches are going to add up, go ahead and write it out! This is another one of those conventions in knit and crochet patterns that gets easier to interpret on the fly with practice, so don’t feel like you’re alone if you’re not getting it right away. And don’t forget: stitch markers are your friend. Having grouped stitches like this makes it easy to tell where a stitch marker might be handy — put one between each group, using different colors for the internal groupings if you want to mark those as well. Then if you do run into a problem you can very quickly isolate it, fix it, and get on with your project.
Now that you’ve gotten comfortable with the basics of reading charts, here are a few more tips to make it even easier:
With these tips in your bag of tricks, you should be ready to tackle even the most complicated lace and cable patterns!
Remember when you first learned to knit or crochet? Every abbreviation felt new and confusing, but as you got used to them, they became familiar and easy to understand. Looking at knitting & crochet charts for the first time can inspire that same initial feeling of confusion and consternation, and it may seem easier just to skip charted patterns all together, but I’ll tell you a secret: once you learn to read charts, complicated patterns get exponentially easier.
The really magical thing about charts–and this is true whether you’re knitting or crocheting and for both cables and lace–is that they are actually a pretty good representation of what your final piece is going to look like. And that’s one of the keys to reading charts as well…remember that it’s a representation of the finished piece. What this means is that if you see a symbol for a yarn over (for example) in chart row 9, you will be making the yarn over as you work that row. What you see on the charted row is what you should see when you have finished that row.
Charts come with legends, just like maps, to tell you what all the little symbols will mean. Fortunately, a lot of the more common ones are pretty standardized, and even those that aren’t are generally a reasonably accurate depiction of the stitch(es) they represent. For instance, here’s a simple lace chart:
Do you see how a yarn over is represented by a big round circle, while skps–which are left-leaning decreases–are represented by a line that leans to the left and k2togs–which are right-leaning decreases–are represented by a line that leans to the right? This is what I mean when I say the chart will reflect what’s happening in your finished project. For example, where you see that line of circles going up the chart, you will see a line of circles going up your knitting.
Crocheters, what you’ll see is a lot of ovals and lines. The ovals represent chains, while the lines will have a varying number of slashes across them to represent taller stitches:
The key to reading charts is to go from bottom to top, just as when you’re making your project. Right side rows will be read right to left (again, just like working across the actual project), while wrong side rows will be worked left to right because you’re essentially looking at a picture of the back of those rows. Note that some charts will only consist of right side rows, usually if all the wrong side rows are worked the same way.
The fastest and easiest way I found to learn to read charts is to transcribe them. This will help you transition from working with the written instructions you’re used to while at the same time teaching your brain which symbols mean what. Before you know it, you’ll be able to look at a chart and know just what your finished project will look like and how to get it there!