It’s coming up on gift-giving season (lalala let’s pretend there’s more time, lalala), and little gifts for knitters are always a good thing to mention out loud to your gift-giving inclined friends, or to know about to give to other knitters in your circle. Even if it weren’t that time of year, though, there are always certain little knitting notions that I can’t ever seem to get enough of. I know I own approximately 37 retractable measuring tapes, but they disappear into project bags and handbags and, you know, the ether, and I will never turn down a new one.
The same goes for stitch markers. There are so, so many kinds of stitch markers out there, and they are so cheap, and so freaking tiny that they disappear on their own without even trying. I recently tossed a purse trying to find a USB drive and 3 stitch markers fell out that I hadn’t realized I’d been hoarding – I probably needed them really badly that one time on that train that day, why couldn’t I have discovered them then?
Anyway, the point is, stitch markers are awesome. Here are at least 9 things you can do with them.
1. Marking the beginning of a round
This is probably the first thing we learn as knitters when working a project in the round – or at least second, right after “join, being careful not to twist.” And let’s face it, that’s an instruction we’re all pretty familiar with too. You need something that is going to make it very, very obvious that you are transitioning back to the beginning of the round, especially if you’re working with a charted pattern or have to count rounds. This is where I like to use a fun-looking stitch marker with a little dangly decoration or bead, because let’s face it, on some projects getting through an entire round is a mini celebration all by itself.
(Above: my in-progress Joist pullover in Cascade 220 Heathers from last winter)
2. Right Side vs. Wrong Side
Another one of the most useful steps for newer knitters working ‘flat’ items (as opposed to ‘in the round’) is to keep good track of your Right Side (the side you want the world to see) vs. Wrong Side (the side you probably never want anybody to see ever). Just stick an openable stitch marker in a bright colour (or a safety pin) on the Right Side of the work and then you’ll always know where you’re at in tracking your stitch pattern.
3. Marking horizontal stitch repeats
If you’re working not only in the round but with a stitch pattern that is repeated a number of times around the circumference of the project, you may find yourself in need of some markers to step in between each stitch pattern repeat. This helps you keep track of what you’re doing and will help you to notice sooner if you’ve done something wrong. For example, if each stitch repeat ends up with a “knit 3 sts” instruction and you get to the stitch marker and have only knitted 2 sts and not 3, that means you’ve got to stop and figure out where you lost a stitch.
(Above: a pair of Jaywalkers socks in Lorna’s Laces Shepherd Sock on my needles this past summer. Cute dangly stitch marker divides between the 2 stitch repeats across the foot of the sock).
4. Marking vertical stitch repeats
Related, but less often used, is the technique of placing an openable, ‘locking’ stitch marker at the beginning of a chart repeat to make it easier to count the number of vertical rows or rounds before needing to start the next repeat. This is especially useful on projects with large cables, which make it harder to count rows. If you place a stitch marker on a stretch of plain knitting near the cable, counting rows becomes a million times easier.
The openable, locking kind of stitch marker is extremely versatile, and can be used in almost any stitch marker situation. (I can’t think of one it won’t work in, but that doesn’t mean that situation isn’t out there). Clover, Knitter’s Pride, and KnitPicks all make them, and lots of other folks probably do too. I will keep buying them from pretty much anyone who makes them.
(Above: a current hat in progress in Cascade 220 that is about to get ripped out and re-knit with a different stitch combo.)
5. Holding onto a dropped stitch
I’ve been knitting pretty obsessively for 10 years and I still drop stitches all the time. Most of the time I manage to catch them quickly and scoop them up and keep on knitting, but if you’ve dropped one several rows back and don’t notice until much later, you need to do some triage. Hold it safely on a lockable stitch marker and then go back and deal with it later.
This is exactly what I did with my Uji cardigan, pictured above, and I blogged all about it at the time.
6. Seaming garments
One of the final step of working up a sweater that has been worked flat in pieces, is to sew it together along a number of different seams. It’s important to make the side seams in particular match up, especially if you’ve done waist shaping decreases and increases that would, ideally, end up being placed symmetrically on either side of the seam.
To prepare this in advance, use your locking stitch markers (or safety pins), to match together the pieces that you’re about to seam, making sure they line up properly before you sew – and possibly un-sew – the final garment. Just remove the markers as you work the seam.
7. Marking button-hole placement
Again in the sweater-finishing department, if you’ve got a cardigan that needs button-holes worked up along the band or collar, it’s a much easier process if you can set it up in advance. Use your openable stitch markers (or safety pins) to mark the placement of your buttons, ensuring that they are evenly spaced out along the length of the cardigan front. Then go ahead and pick up stitches for the button-band (or however the band is worked). Once you’ve got it all crumpled up working the button-band, it’s much harder to tell how evenly spaced the button-holes will be.
(Above, my original Chatelaine cardigan in Madelinetosh DK, getting its final touches a couple of years ago).
8. Marking increases and decreases
In a similar vein to marking your stitch pattern repeats, it’s often easier to keep track of your increases and decreases by marking them out – or marking every 2nd one – with a stitch marker. Especially if you’ve got a complex project with cables or textured patterns that might hide the increases, or if you’re working with a dark colour that’s harder to see them on.
9. Tracking different parts of your garment
If you’re knitting a sweater from the top down, you’ll have several inches of knitting before the clear sweater-ish shape starts to emerge. At a glance, it’s hard to tell where your sleeves are starting versus the body (or back and fronts, if it’s a cardigan). The pattern will probably tell you to place markers on the needles to mark this (like in the photo above, where you can see the little purple rings along the needles), and it’s a lifesaver.
I like going the extra mile and busting out the super bright coloured markers, for their very existence has been building up to occasions just such as these. Why not throw a bright pink one on the sleeves sections, or bright green on the back, for example. If there is the added step of working different stitch pattern setups on each section, there’s every reason to ramp up the stitch marker attention.
(Above, my Lempicka cardigan still in progress, from last winter, in Berroco Ultra Alpaca)
All in all, stitch markers are great. I hope you’ve got lots. What stitch markers are you using right now?
Happy knitting this fine Tuesday!