If you’ve ever picked up a stitch dictionary or explored our wonderful StitchFinder, you may find yourself in love with a stitch pattern and wondering just what to do with it. Incorporating a stitch pattern into a project can be a fun experiment. Today, I go over a few of the considerations to keep in mind as you get started.
When you’re making an afghan or scarf, start by swatching your stitch pattern in your desired yarn. This will allow you to test and adjust your hook or needle size so that your fabric is as dense or loose as you like. By swatching the stitch pattern, you’ll also know how wide each repeat of the pattern is. Let’s say my swatch shows me that each repeat of my selected stitch pattern is 4 inches wide, then I know that for an 12-inch wide scarf that’s completely in my stitch pattern without a border, I’ll need to cast on for 3 repeats (12 ÷ 4 = 3).
The other thing to decide is whether or not I want a contrasting border (ribbing, garter, seed stitch, etc.). For some stitch patterns, which naturally bow or ripple, a contrast stitch border will not be necessary, since you’ll want to showcase the uniqueness of the fabric’s edge. But for others like lace and cable patterns, you may want a border to give the design a sense of definition and neatness. To factor this into the design, you’ll want to make sure to add in the extra stitches to cast on or chain before getting started.
In the Knit Autumn Lace Afghan (pictured above), there’s a seed stitch border of 6 rows at the bottom and 5 stitches on the right and left edges. For this afghan, the designer had to make sure to cast on for 5 border stitches on the right, 85 stitches for the lace pattern (7 repeats of the lace pattern at a stitch multiple of 12 + 1), and 5 border stitches on the left. That’s 95 stitches, which is the cast-on amount stated in the pattern.
If you’re going to add in a border, you may want to swatch your border stitch as well, so you know can figure out how many inches you want to add of that stitch into your design.
Most stitch patterns are written for flat knitting and crocheting. This means that if you’re knitting or crocheting in the round, you will have to be aware of the adjustments you’ll need to make. For crocheters, this is pretty easy. Instead of crocheting around and around in a spiral as you follow your stitch pattern, simply be sure to work in joined rounds (meaning that you join the end and beginning of each round with a slip stitch and then chain for the height of your next round) and turn at the beginning of each new round so that you’re working back and forth. Voilà–the stitch pattern is preserved. See the Crochet Cozy Cowl Hood (right) for an example.
For knitters, you will need to adjust the directions for the wrong side (WS) rows, turning any directions that say “knit” into “purl” and vice versa. This is because, in knitting in the round, you will only ever face one side of the fabric and go around and around (as opposed to knitting flat, where you face one side and then the other). Luckily, knits and purls are two sides of the same stitch, so simply reversing them for your WS directions will address the issue.
Again, swatching will be important for determining gauge and so you can plan for the size of your project. For knitters–since, unlike crocheters, you won’t be turning and working back and forth–you will want to swatch in the round to get the most accurate gauge. Now this doesn’t mean that you have to knit a tube (although you could, if you wanted to). It simply means that you’ll swatch across on your DPNs or circs right to left, leave a long loose strand of yarn across the back of the swatch (making sure not to pull it too taut or else it will warp your swatch), slide your swatch across your needle, and work the next row facing that same right side (RS) of your fabric. Note: For those who’ve made i-cord, it’s a little bit like that, but on a larger scale.
If you’re thinking about adding a stitch pattern to an existing pattern–say adding a cable down the front of a sweater–swatching will again be essential. For stitch patterns like lace or cables (in both knit and crochet), the gauge can be very different from the gauge in stockinette or single crochet. This means that when you add it into your design, the fabric may end up narrower or wider than in the original design. Be sure to compensate by adding (or subtracting) cast-on stitches or chains to that part of the design.
In my sweater example, if you’re only adding a cable to the front, the back can remain unchanged. Now let’s look at the front: Let’s say that the cable pattern is 36 stitches wide and measures 3 inches, while the stockinette pattern of the sweater body is 4 inches over 36 stitches. That means you’d lose an entire inch using the cable pattern–therefore, I’d add an additional 9 stitches (36 stitches ÷ 4 inches = 9 stitches per inch) to compensate and “add back” that lost inch. For sweaters without waist and bust shaping, this won’t affect the directions very much (since it’s a long rectangle). For sweaters with waist and bust shaping, be sure to treat these 9 new stitches as part of the plain middle of the sweater. I highly recommend stitch markers to keep track of the plain bit versus the parts that have shaping.
Now that you’re armed with some of the basic considerations for using stitch patterns, I hope you’ll check out our StitchFinder or a stitch dictionary–and then let your imagination run wild!
Finally, if you have any additional tips for using stitch patterns, leave a comment below.