One of the most common conversations I have with stitchers, regardless of stitching experience, is about keeping track of where they are in their work and how to keep track in their pattern, or how one figures out where they are in a pattern after frogging (ripping the piece back to a point prior to the mistake) or tinking (“unknitting”) back a few stitches to a row or even rows. Basically, how does one know where there are in their pattern?
The most common task involved in reading a pattern is knowing which row/round your are on. For the more experienced stitchers, that may seem like a trivial and obvious thing, but it’s not.
One of the easiest ways is by using a piece of paper and marking each row after completion. This is my preferred method. I simply keep a sticky note on the pattern, or a notebook with me and makes a slash after each row/round. This is a very basic, maybe even “primitive” method, but it works, as long as one doesn’t lose one's sticky note or leave the notebook behind.
A slightly more technical option is to use a row counter. It’s a simple counting device that when a button is pressed, the counter increases by 1. There are many types of row counters available; some are designed to hang from your work, making it hard to forget if you switch project bags; some lock, so you can’t accidentally increase your count if the button gets pressed in your bag; some are designed as rings, bracelets, or necklaces; and some have multiple counters that can run simultaneously, should your project be of the “work X rows while increasing every Y rows” variety.
If you’re a tech-gadget type, there are even row counting apps available. Some of these get quite advanced, some are simply counters. These work well for those who always have their device with them. You can often “lock” the counter when ready to pack up that project for the day - there’s no button to accidentally get bumped and incorrectly increase the row count. It might take you a bit to find the one that works well for you, but if you’re likely to use apps, the right one might be a good solution for you. Below is a list of just a few of the apps available, search in your app store for the right one for you:
BeeCount Knitting Counter by knirirr
Knitting Row Counter by Steelcityapps
Knitting and Crochet Buddy by Colorwork Apps
knit tink by Jennifer Warren
Related to row/round count is figuring out where you are in your pattern. This is often done in a not so technically manner. Many of us simply mark the pattern as we finish a step. However, if you don’t want to mark up your pattern, or it’s a digital download, you can use removable highlighter tape. I’ve found that the Crafter’s tape available at Darn Yarn still allows touch screens to operate, so you can use it on your screen and scroll your screen through it, rather than removing the tape each time your make progress. But be aware that when you reopen your pattern later, you may not be in the same place, so make sure to note your place somewhere else.
We’ve all been frustrated by that dropped stitch, skipped crochet loop we can’t find, a cable that went the wrong way, or a stitch count we just can’t quite get right. Figuring out where you are after frogging or tinking a piece can be frustrating.
One common method used by knitters that seems intimidating until you try it is using a “life line”. A life line is a separate piece of scrap yarn that is placed through the loops on your needle by using a yarn needle. This scrap yarn is left in place until another life line is installed or your work is completed. What this does is allows a knitter to frog a piece back to the scrap yarn, so life lines are often places at critical points in the pattern - where the pattern changes, after a pattern repeat, before a large increase, etc..
A similar method, although not as obvious when in use, for crocheters would be to place a removable marker in the last loop in the last stitch of the row/round before you make your turning chain or first stitch of the row/round that begins a more complicated section. Like a knitter's life line, this allows one to frog back to a part of the pattern that you worked successfully.
By using either of these methods at a specific point in your pattern, if you need to go back to it, you know where in your pattern you will need to refer back to. For example, if you’re working on a piece with ribbing, and the body of the piece is worked in an elaborate or specific pattern, you might want to put in a life line before your first patterned row/round. That way, should you find yourself way off in a few rows/ rounds, you can easily rip back to the ribbing and start again.
Another place where many of us find ourselves lost in our pattern is when a stitch pattern is a set number of repeat rows/rounds and we can’t remember which row/round we’re on. A two row repeat isn’t difficult to keep track of, simply mark the right side of the work and you’ll know which row you’re on because the right side will always be worked one way and the wrong side worked the other. But when it’s a repeat of more than that, it can get difficult to figure out where you are when you come back to a project. I use the row counting method in these situations. If I know a pattern has an 8 row repeat, I use hash marks to count to 8.
That might sound too simple for some of you, but sometimes we all need a gentle reminder that you don’t need to count in multiples of 5 to use hash marks, and you don’t need to use a row counter for a large number of rows. This method also helps when you’re told to work the pattern repeat X number of times. After you have finished the required number of repeats, you move on to the next section of your pattern.
You may have seen that industrious stitcher with 2 or more stitch counters in use. As long as the stitch counters are all visibly different, many often use this system to keep track of stitch pattern repeats. For example, they might use the blue one for total rows, and the red on for the pattern repeat rows. After each row, they increase both counters by one. This way by checking the blue counter they know their total number of rows/rounds worked and by checking the red one they can tell where in the pattern repeat they are. Some apps may allow for this too.
Currently I’m working on a piece that includes 3 separate cable patterns. They are 8, 16, and 10 stitch repeats. How am I keeping track of all of that? I have markers between each section and sticky notes where I’m tallying the 8 & 16 stitch repeats together, the 10 stitch repeat, and a total tally because I also have to do something on specific rows, like row 19, 27, and 58. After each row, I make 3 hash marks, one on each of the three counts. I’ll install a lifeline in row 16 because I’ll know that’s row 8, 16, and 6 of the 10 row repeat.
That may seem like a lot of work to you, and it is crazy, I’ll admit it. But this system works for me. No matter what system you use, the best advice I can give for keeping track of your work is to know yourself - not your Briggs-Meyer personality or your learning type, nothing that specific. Simply know what type of counting method will work for you. For example, I know I won’t use an app regularly, and I like paper and pencil, so a notebook or sticky notes and a pencil work for me. Some of you use your devices for everything, so the apps and digital downloads might work for you.
The best thing you can do, is be consistent, because the system you choose will only work if you know how you use it. Ask around, everyone has a method that works for them, you might find some unique methods out there, and you might find a few that you hadn’t thought of using.