9 Common Knitting Mistakes Beginners Make (& How to Fix Them)
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Beginning knitters want their project to look like it just stepped out of a designer knitting book. They want everything to go right from selecting yarn to binding off that final stitch, but it doesn’t always work quite that way. They often end up wondering how to fix common knitting mistakes.
Here is how to fix common knitting mistakes:
Common Knitting Mistake 1: Knitting without Stitch or Place Markers
Place markers seem like such a hassle. Big and dangly ones get in your way. Small ones may not slide easily on large needles. They all take time to put on the needles and add an extra step to move them while knitting stitches. Then why use them? They form a reminder while you knit.
From easy garter stitch to complicated lace, stitch markers remind a knitter that something different needs to happen. When switching to a different yarn, a new stitch, or a pattern repeat, a marker says, “Hey, pay attention here.”
When first learning to knit, beginning knitters get lost in the techniques, the stitches, the feel of the yarn, and so on. Using a marker brings a beginning knitter back to reality, back to looking at the pattern to see what comes next, even just back to putting those last few stitches on to create a nice border.
When I first learned to knit, I made the common mistake of not using markers. I thought that as long as I followed the pattern, everything would work out fine. Well, it didn’t. If the pattern called for the same type of stitch in the pattern, but a different one for the border, I sometimes kept knitting the pattern stitch all the way to the end of the row.
My mistakes didn’t show until I knitted a lot more rows. As I hadn’t yet learned how to undo stitches without ripping out rows, I had to make a choice between ripping out several rows or leaving the mistake in the piece. In some instances, I didn’t find the mistakes until blocking the piece. Too late then.
How to Fix It
If the pattern doesn’t call for placing markers, there is no reason why you shouldn’t work without them. Try putting markers at the beginning or end of pattern repeats, right after or right before a border edge, at a join when knitting in the round, or at a color change for Fair Isle knitting. All good options and up to you to choose which ones work best for you.
If you forget to add a marker while knitting a row, you can add a marker by using a marker pin, which opens to move over the needle. Another option requires running a small piece of thread between the stitches and over the needle. Make a knot in the loop. On the next row slip the thread as you would with a metal or plastic marker or replace with one of those.
For a project with a lot of rows, stitch markers work equally well for counting rows. Use a piece of contrasting cotton yarn or a yarn that won’t leave bits and pieces of fiber behind when removed. Take a small piece, tie a knot and slip it over your needle before the end of a row. Knit a set number of rows, such as 5 or 10, and add another marker. Snip out when ready for blocking your finished work.
If you forget to add one of these little markers, thread a needle with cotton yarn and gently run it through a stitch. Make a knot in the thread and you have another marker. Markers that open and close make another good choice for counting rows. These can be added while knitting the row or later.
Mistake 2: Choosing the Wrong Cast-On
On the surface, every cast-on does the same thing by forming loops on a needle that get worked off by pulling yarn through them with a second needle. But a common knitting mistake made by many beginners can be to choose the wrong cast-on for a project or to change the cast-on suggested by the pattern designer.
Each type of cast-on has a purpose beyond forming those initial loops. A cast-on sets the stage for the garment. For example, when casting-on stitches for the leg opening of a sock, the wrong cast-on can make it a fight to get the sock on over your foot or worse, it can cause the top to fall down around your ankles.
Cast-ons either give the edge of your project both stretch and elasticity or just enough stretch for wearing while supporting the remaining stitches in the garment. When you use a stretchy cast-on, such as a knitted cast-on, the edge of your project will move easily. However, if you use this type of cast-on for something like the neck of a dress that you want to lie flat, it may not support the stitches in the bodice, causing it to gap open rather than lie flat against your skin.
If a pattern doesn’t state which cast-on to use, many experienced knitters use the long tail cast-on as their go-to cast-on. Moderately stretchy with a hint of structure, the long tail-cast on works for most projects.
If the cast-on looks too tight, ripping out and starting over with a different one may be your best best. Trust me. I’ve done this more often than I care to admit, but getting the cast-on right makes the rest of the project work much better.
If the designer chose a specific cast-on, but your cast-on edge has too much elasticity, try casting-on with a smaller sized needle, then move to the needle called for in the pattern to start your first row. Conversely, if the cast-on has too much structure, cast-on with a larger sized needle, then move to the right size for the first row.
If the project has too much elasticity at the cast-on edge, use advanced finishing techniques to add definition to the edge.
Mistake 3: Binding Off Too Tightly
The tension used when binding off helps give shape to your project. When you bind off stitches too tightly, several things happen.
It makes blocking your project to the right dimensions more difficult, if not impossible, because a tight bind off squeezes your stitches towards the center of the work.
Your cast-on for a toe-up sock may be perfect, but if you bind off too tightly for the leg opening, good luck getting that sock over your ankle. The same thing happens for neck or wrist openings.
It makes a rigid straight edge that doesn’t feel or look good, which most often contrasts with the softness of the remainder of the project.
How to Fix This Common Knitting Mistake
If you typically knit with a tighter tension, move your stitches to a needle 1 to 2 sizes larger than used for the project. Bind off with the larger sized needles.
If you normally keep tension by wrapping the working yarn around your fingers while knitting, drop it for the bind off. Instead, loosely drape the working yarn over one finger or between two fingers for picking up in the stitch. Let the yarn glide over or between your fingers to avoid the extra tension.
If you knit in the American or British style, hold the yarn between your fingers and wrap it loosely around the needle to make the bind off stitch without pulling it as tight as you would for a typical knit or purl stitch.
Most importantly, check the tension after the last bind off stitch and before you cut the yarn. If it looks too tight, carefully unpick the stitches, placing the stitches back on a needle and redo the bind off. Yes, I’ve done this too.
Mistake 4: Selecting the Wrong Yarn for a Project
Whether knitting from your own design or from a pattern created by someone else, selecting the right yarn for the project helps assure the garment turns out beautiful.
Sometimes you do want to see if a size 80 tatting cotton thread knits the same as gossamer Shetland. And that’s a great thing to do because experimentation when knitting makes for fun times. However, using the right yarn does have a purpose and knowing how different yarns drape, shed, knit-up, pill, and so on makes a difference. Additionally, yarn weight and color play a role in yarn selection.
When a sweater pattern calls for a DK weight merino wool and you choose a fingering weight alpaca, not only will the gauge be off, but the sleeves and sweater will pool at your wrists and waist respectively because alpaca’s soft fibers drape more than wool. Maybe you want that look, but if not, why waste the effort?
Changing the fiber completely also affects the garment. Most animal fibers have a halo, with mohair and angora showing the most halo. These fuzzy tendrils of fiber add extra warmth to a knitted garment. When choosing them for a lace project, the halo hides much of the pattern.
Garments that need to stretch, such as gloves and socks won’t stretch as much if knitted with fibers, such as silk or bamboo.
When using dark colored yarns, stitches become muted or lost, especially when knitting lace or any pattern with twisted stitches.
When choosing yarn not called for in a pattern, look at the yarn label. Review the yarn weight and the manufacturer’s suggested needle size. If it matches the pattern’s yarn weight and needle size, and if the yarn is the same or similar fiber, then the yarn should work in the project.
When knitting lace and you want to use fiber that creates a halo, choose a pattern with more open work. The stitches will be more defined with a gentle misty glow from the halo rather than getting lost in all that fuzz.
Additionally when knitting lace, choose lighter colored yarns if you want the lace design to be a prominent feature. When using dark colored yarns, the negative space of the open holes becomes the prominent feature. Choose which style you want to see in the finished garment.
If you want to use silk yarn when the pattern calls for wool, you must rework the gauge and watch the stitch tension. Without wool’s elasticity, silk yarn knits-up with more structure and less bounce, which means a garment may have a tighter fit.
Mistake 5: Starting a Project without Swatching
The bane of many a knitter’s existence, a swatch does many things for knitters of any experience-level. It shows if the yarn you’ve chosen works for the project. It shows if you are knitting to gauge, which indicates if you’ll have enough yarn to complete the project, and if you need to adjust for sizing. It also shows the pattern, which lets you know if you chose a great yarn color.
Other benefits of swatching include:
Finding out if the dyer set the dye appropriately (If they didn’t, the dye will run when you dampen the swatch for blocking.)
Finding out if the pattern and yarn block well
Finding out if you like the pattern to decide if you should continue with the project
How to Fix It
Make a swatch per the pattern instructions. If the pattern doesn’t include a swatch size, then choose one that’s 4 times as large as the gauge. For example, if the pattern calls for 4 stitches to 1 inch over 4 rows, then knit a swatch that has at least 16 stitches and 16 rows.
The extra stitches and rows give you more to block and will show you how the piece looks.
Mistake 6: Knitting Without a Lifeline
I think this is the most frustrating of all the common knitting mistakes, no matter how long you’ve been knitting.
It happens to all knitters, but more so for beginners – stitches get dropped, wrong stitches get made, and knitting pleasure turns into ripping out your work or tossing it aside in frustration.
You can rip out each row and start from the beginning. You can ask your LYS for help. Or you can use a a simple fix that experienced knitters use.
Although not always so important if working a garter or a stockinette stitch, a lifeline gives you help when stitches or patterns are more intricate.
Thread a needle with cotton thread, or even dental floss, and run the needle and thread through the stitches on your needle. Have the thread be a few inches longer than the width of the knitted row. Work the stitches for the next row without catching the lifeline in the stitches. If you do catch a few stitches, don’t worry, as the lifeline pulls through the work when you give it a gentle tug.
Some circular and interchangeable needles come with a lifeline hole pre-drilled in the connectors or the cable. Insert the lifeline through the hole and start knitting. The stitches move back along the lifeline without the extra work of threading the lifeline through the stitches with a needle.
If you do need to rip out a few rows, you only have to rip back to the lifeline. Fewer rows ripped out means you can get back to knitting so. I sometimes use 3 or 4 lifelines as I knit a project. This gives me the option of ripping back even more rows if needed.
Mistake 7: Knitting Without Counting
Have you ever lost your place in a chart or a set of written instructions? Have you ever dropped stitches without realizing it?
I didn’t always counted stitches, but the frustration of working a row and ending up with too many or not enough stitches becomes overwhelming. Whether I knitted fancy lace shawls or a simple one color hat, my attention would wonder and I would have issues. Now I know not to make this common knitting mistake.
Fixing This Knitting Mistake
Everything about knitting can be overwhelming to a beginning knitter. There appears to be so many things to remember and learn. Although counting stitches as you work doesn’t appear to provide much help, and it does take a bit of extra time, it knitting so much easier! You’ll quickly know if you’ve dropped a stitch or knit the wrong stitch, such as a k2tog when a k2 was required, or accidentally added an extra yarn over.
To save time when counting, count in groups of 2 or 5 stitches. This simple technique works well.
If you have a lot of stitches to cast-on, use stitch markers at specific intervals, such as every 10 or 20 stitches. This handy tip keeps you from counting and recounting hundreds of cast-on loops. You can quickly count these fewer stitches before casting-on more to ensure you put enough stitches on your needle.
You can make counting stitches for intricate patterns easier by counting the number of stitches in each pattern row. When a pattern calls for increases or decreases that constantly change the number of stitches per row, count the number of stitches in the chart or written instructions for each row. Knowing exactly how many stitches in each row helps you know if you have increased or decreased accurately.
Mistake 8: Starting a Project without Reading Through the Pattern
Beginning and experienced knitters love starting new projects. Itching to get our hands around a set of needles, we cast-on and start knitting the pattern as soon as week can. But reading a pattern from beginning to end remains one of the key differences between beginning and experienced knitters and is a common mistake that beginning knitters often make.
Why is reading through a pattern important?
Each pattern designer writes differently.
Publishers want to make the most of space, and many places notes or special methods in many areas of a pattern, not just at the beginning.
Innovative stitches require new symbols in a chart that you may not have knitted before.
Knowing if or when you need to change needles gives you a chance to be cautious for when it happens in the pattern.
When knitting colorwork, knowing if you carry the yarn across the work or up the side keeps your work tidy.
If the pattern calls for slipping the first stitch, but you decide to knit it instead, knowing ahead of time that you’ll pick up and knit that stitch later in the pattern will make a difference in the look of your finished piece.
Read the pattern from beginning to end before you start. Make sure you understand how to knit it, how to do the stitches, and that you have all the materials you need.
Mistake 9: Starting a Project Without Looking for Errata First
What’s one of the worst things to happen when knitting? Working from a pattern that has mistakes.
When a knitter buys yarn and a pattern, they expect that the designer tested and proofread the pattern. However, mistakes happen. Charts don’t always match printed instructions… Stitches might be missing or the wrong stitches are shown in the instructions… You do everything correctly, but the finished piece doesn’t look like the photo… Or you buy the right amount of yarn, knit to gauge, but still run out of yarn in the middle of the project.
How To Fix It
Check for errata. Most often than not, good pattern designers provide corrections.
How to find errata:
Type the name of the pattern and the word errata into the search field on the internet. This usually results in a quick return of any pattern corrections.
Publishers may have the errata. Locate the publisher’s website, search for the pattern name with or without the word errata.
Check out a pattern designer’s website, blog, or Facebook page where they may post errata.
Review forums on sites, such as Ravelry. Sometimes individuals knitters and designers will post corrections there.
I know that seems like a lot of information! But it’s all things I wish I had known before I started learning how to knit. Hopefully, you too now know how to fix common knitting mistakes made by beginners!
Want to know how to fix common knitting mistakes? Check out these beginner mistakes and their corrections before you become frustrated and rip everything out!