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Having learned to knit all by my lonesome, I never had anyone to share little short-cuts and interesting details of knitting with. So, for those of you like me, here's a list of the stuff I had to figure out myself. Some of it's obvious, some of it's not. Most of it, I learned the hard way. Here's hoping to save you some time and aggravation.

All these tips are just that -- tips. Take them to heart or ignore them, depending on how much use they are to you. I am also going to share the One and Only Rule of Knitting: If you are happy with the result and it doesn't unravel, then it is knit correctly.

Yarn and pattern choices; choosing a project

  • The good thing about smooth yarns is...they show stitch definition. The bad thing about smooth yarns is...they show stitch definition. If you're using one, be prepared to fix even the most minor detail, because mistakes will scream out at anyone looking at the sweater. Split stitches in particular look horrendous. Fix 'em!
  • Bulky yarns mean bulky sweaters. Average-sized women wearing bulky sweaters can take on the aspect of a wooly mammoth, with some bad luck and the wrong color. You might want to save the bulky stuff for a coat.
  • If you're knitting a gift, knit what the recipient wants, not what you want to knit. This may mean committing to a color you hate, or a style you don't like, but they'll be thrilled when it's done, and that's the whole idea. And for heavens' sake, don't knit a sweater for someone who never wears them, and be mad when it winds up in the bottom of a drawer somewhere.
  • Watch out for skinny chicks modeling sweaters in strange, twisty poses. Usually pattern publishers use those pretzel poses to keep the sleeves straight, or make the neck look right, or otherwise hide some horrible detail about the fit. If there is a pretzel pose involved, take a second and third look at the pattern and schematics before you knit it, and try to identify why the model's all knotted up.
  • There is no law saying you have to knit the sweater in the same color as the picture shows, darn it.
  • Substituting yarns is much easier when you stick with the same fiber; wool for wool, etc. If the whole idea is to change fibers, keep the weight in mind. For instance, cotton is much heavier than wool, yard for yard. Knit a wool pattern with 100% cotton yarn and it's gonna hang funny. Probably around your knees.
  • If you knit for the fun of figuring out a pattern (or making one up), think long and hard about knitting a copy of anything. It can be boring and go on forever.
  • Keep your yarn swatches, if you can spare the yarn from your project. They're a great reference for later on, making it easy to remember what yarn you used for what project, and how much you liked it. Make things really easy, and just staple a ball band right to the swatch. You can even write on them with permanent marker.
  • Fashion knitting can be fun, but you need to remember that some extremes will only be wearable for a season, and if they took too long to make, or cost too much, well. It's up to you to decide what's worth it.

Knitting a project

  • It's easier to learn three or four cast-on methods than it is to try to make one method work, all the time. Same goes for casting off.
  • A gauge swatch knit flat will often have a different gauge than one knit in the round, even if you use the same needles and yarn. Match your swatch knitting to your sweater plan and save yourself some grief later.
  • Make sure you measure the swatch STRAIGHT, across one row, not diagonally across several rows. I did this once. Duh.
  • When making a vest or other sleeveless garment, you HAVE to have some kind of shoulder shaping, because there is no sleeve weight to pull the shoulders down along their natural slope. Without the sleeve weight, the edges of the armholes wing up into the air and look kinda...weird. Unless you have shoulders like a fullback that go straight across. If that's the case, go for it.
  • Sleeves of two different lengths are the ultimate cliché in hand-knitted garments. Avoid it by making sure you've got the exact same number of rows in both sleeves. In fact, if you've got the same number of rows in the font and back, sewing up is a lot easier, too. But it's not as vital as the sleeves matching.

  • It isn't vital to roll skeins of yarn into balls before knitting them up, but if you (or some other helpful person) drops it, you've got a heck of a mess on your hands. It's a risk, but the time saved can be substantial. Up to you.
  • When knitting mittens and gloves, make sure you make a right and a left hand. I'm not even going to begin explaining how I learned that one.


  • Unless you really love finishing (and if so, what is WRONG with you?), do it a little bit at a time while knitting your project; darn in ends while taking a break. You can also put it together as you knit: do the front and back and join at the shoulders, then put in each arm as you finish it, and then you only have the side/underarm seam to do.
  • You can destroy or mutilate a hundred hours' worth of great knitting with a half hour of lousy finishing. Take your time and do it right. If you don't know how to do it, learn.
  • Embroidery floss is great for sewing things up. It's colorfast, it doesn't shrink, it's strong and smooth, and it comes in a kajillion colors. You can double it or split it to get the weight right.
  • Start sewing the side seams at the hip and sleeve cuff, and meet at the armpit. If you've got to fudge the sewing to make the sides match, you don't want it somewhere it'll show; put the goofy stuff in the armpit where no one will notice it. (You hope.)
  • Don't knit a beautiful sweater and then screw it all up by putting ugly buttons on it. If you can't find the buttons you want, you can always make them out of Fimo.

Odd bits

  • Yarn almost always looks lighter in the skein than it does when knit. That's because knitted fabric casts little shadows over the yarn; it's particularly noticeable in lighter colors.
  • If you've got hand problems, lighter yarns and needles means less weight for your hands and fingers to support.
  • Cats and knitting can be an ugly combination. You can scare the cat off with a squirt gun, if you need to. Or you can give the cat their own bit of yarn to play with, or knit it toys and blankies. Or, you can just give up and let the blasted cat sleep on the silk throw.
  • Row counters are all well and good, but a pencil and paper can keep track of multiple things at once, even where you started the armhole decreasing or how you did that weird series of increases.
  • Instead of spending dozens of hours dreaming up ways to avoid using double-point needles to knit in the round, you could just learn to knit that way. It's not really that hard.
  • Metal knitting needles -- particularly the larger sizes -- are really rough on your hands. Try getting something that flexes slightly with your hands as you knit. I prefer wood, but they can be slow to knit with because the wood hangs on to the yarn; plastic and bamboo are other options.

In the last year, Julie has moved seven thousand miles and given birth to a baby girl. These days she spends most of her time staring around in a sleep-deprived haze, wondering what happened. Occasionally she manages to knit or write an article.

But she did get her yarn stash unpacked.