I learned to knit as a teenager. I was happy to make straight scarves and I remember making a couple of pairs of simple slippers. I knew the knit stitch and the purl stitch and I knew that if you alternated those two, you got ribbing (like the cuff on a sweater.) But that was it. At that point, I didn't really know there were more things to learn.
Fast forward nearly 40 years and I decided I wanted to know more. I had been a knitter for many years. But I wanted to become a Knitter—with a capital K. So I plunged in and saw the possibilities and found a zillion things I'd love to make. Lace was the ultimate goal.
Lace knitting looked incredibly difficult to me, only achieved by the most knowledgeable, most skilled knitters. When I admired a lovely knitted lace shawl a friend had made, I added, "I wish I could do that." And she said, "Of course, you can." So I found a very simple pattern and muddled through it. When I was having difficulty, I went back to that friend and asked how on earth she could do this.
Tip #1: Learn to recognize how the rows stack up. Or, how the stitches line up.
She gave me one of the best knitting tips I've received. She said, "Lace patterns build row by row. And each row builds on the one under it. Look at how they stack up. Learn to recognize those 'sign posts.' That's your guide." You can see in the above photo how the stitches line up in a straight, slanted row. This is a very simple lace, but the idea is the same even with more complicated patterns. If a more complex pattern doesn't stack in a straight line, there will be a relationship of stitches that is consistent from row to row. Look for it.
If you are a grandmother or little ones, you may have spent some time watching Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. I surely have. On many episodes, Mickey and friends have lost something. The missing item is found and then must be properly replaced—in a row of train cars, a string of beads, a line of paper lanterns, etc. And to replace it properly, they have to see the "pattern"—the order of colors or shapes or sizes.
Baby Girl loves shouting out the order of the color pattern to Mickey as he asks, "Help me find where this goes." Recognizing "patterns" (how stitches are repeated) in knitting is the grownup version of what Mickey Mouse is teaching. Put that skill to use here in your real life knitting.
Another "sign post" I found with this pattern was seeing the specific two stitches that are knitted together in this "yarn over, knit 2 together" pattern. The stitch over the open space and the stitch to the right of it are a pair. Those two are always knitted together in that order. If I see that the stitch over the thick column of stitches has moved to the left of the open space stitch, I need to stop and back up. Find the sign posts in your pattern. They won't always be this easy, but they will be there. Actually, since I started looking for this, I haven't made an error.
Nearly 10 years have passed since I got that first tip and I am a much better knitter now. But I am still plenty capable of making mistakes. Over the weekend I was pushing to finish a shawl to take to a knitting retreat next week. The shawl pattern is super simple. It's actually named "Pretty Basic." Yet I still managed to mess it up. Which brings me to maybe the most valuable knitting tip I've ever received.
Tip #2: Stop often and admire your work.
In a knitting class a few years ago, a big knitting secret was revealed. The instructor said multiple times—so we would not forget—"Stop often and admire your work." She told us to stop knitting and take a good look at our work fairly often. Spread it out (or at least a section of it.) You can't really see it all bunched up on the needles. Do this with the intent of finding mistakes before you are too far past them. It's easier to correct a mistake if you find it quickly. That was a game changer for me. I thought being a fast knitter was my goal. The better goal is to be an accurate knitter.
When I "admired my work" on Sunday, my straight line had taken a turn to the right. (See above photo.) Most of that very long row was fine, but then I noticed where the stitches shifted. Sad to say, but this happened more than once. But because I stopped and found the mistake only a few inches from where I lost my place, there wasn't much to take out and correct. Can you imagine this if I let this go on for several rows?
These are very long rows as I near the end of the shawl. If I could knit from beginning of the row to the end without interruption, I might not make mistakes. But that's not how my life works. While I'm knitting, the phone rings. The timer on the stove goes off. I get all excited when our team scores a critical basket in the big game. (Men's and women's teams are BOTH going to the Final Four!) Daddy-O shouts from another room, "Would you come help me, please." The knitting is put down. It might get moved from the kitchen table to the sofa. Then later, it's picked back up. A yarn between stitches is accidentally picked up. A stitch is split. A yarn over is forgotten And without realizing it, I'm one stitch off.
That's how knitting in real life works. One tiny error and your lace takes a turn to the right. But using these two tips I learned years ago have helped minimize the goofs. I know I'll never eliminate all mistakes, but I'm sure trying to make fewer of them. That's a real life possibility.