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Using Stitch Patterns to Their Best Advantage
By: Barbara Breiter

SwatchesThere are many stitch patterns available in books, magazines, and online--and probably just as many that have not been invented yet. You will find a large selection in the StitchFinder. To use them for simple projects like scarves, dishcloths, and afghans, keep in mind that these projects can all be simple squares or rectangles. You can just cast on the appropriate number of stitches according to your gauge and desired width (stitches per inch × desired width = the number of stitches to cast on) and start knitting.

But to get the most out of these stitch patterns, you'll want to consider a few factors before getting started.

  1. Is the project something you want to lay flat such as an afghan? Seed stitch and garter stitch are two common stitch patterns that lay flat and are good choices but there are many others as well. Knit or crochet a swatch will do this anyway to check your gauge...and you'll soon see if it rolls like stockinette (which will roll regardless of what you's simply the nature of the fabric).

  2. Speaking of swatches, stitch patterns often will result in a slightly different gauge than the original gauge stated on a yarn label or pattern. So be sure you gauge swatch carefully! You'll want to make a note of the differences so that you can adjust your knitting or crochet as needed.

  3. Think about the yarn you've selected. Is it a highly textured yarn or novelty yarn? You won't be able to see a stitch pattern distinctly (called stitch definition), so stick to something simple that isn't a lot of work. Cables, however, often work well with this type of yarn although they too will be more defined with a smoother yarn.

  4. Consider the stitch multiple. This is the number of stitches needed to complete one repeat of a pattern. If it's a multiple of 2, you can cast on any number of stitches that is evenly divisible by 2. If it's a stitch multiple of 4 + 1, cast on any number evenly divisible by 4 and then add 1.

    If you're going to use a sweater pattern and utilize a different stitch pattern, the stitch multiple is particularly important. You may love a certain stitch but given the multiple, it may not work with the size and gauge of that sweater.

    Suppose the pattern dictates that you cast on 80 stitches for the size you are making. You will be limited to stitch patterns that will work over 80 stitches. You may be able to use one that is plus or minus two stitches but be aware of how that will affect the finished size.

  5. Seaming your project together? Unless you're knitting in the round, you want the pattern to line up when you sew the seams together; that is, the pattern of one half will align with the pattern of the other half in one continuous repeat. Adding an additional stitch on each side of your piece will give you the space to sew your fabric together, without worrying about navigating your stitch pattern. In knitting, you'll knit the extra stitch on the right side (RS) and purl it on the wrong side (WS); in crochet, you'll want to work that stitch in a plain stitch (sc, hdc, dc, tr) that is the same height as your row. Be sure to cast-on or chain 2 extra stitches (one for each side) for your selvage stitches; if you need help keeping track of them, use stitch markers to designate these stitches.

With these few principles, you will be able to change a stockinette sweater pattern into a unique creation simply by knitting it with a different stitch pattern!

Further reading:

Authored by Barbara Breiter

Barbara Breiter is the author of THE COMPLETE IDIOT'S GUIDE TO KNITTING & CROCHETING. Find her online at
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