knitting: too many decisions

If I’d known how many decisions you have to make while knitting, I’d have made one big decision a long time ago that would have eliminated all the rest of them.

I got hooked into crocheting (hah) during a vulnerable time when I was grieving and Ivy posted instructions on how to make a self-fringing scarf. It was very easy. Stupidly easy, even an idiot could do it without a problem. I only had moderate difficulty with that. But I discovered the repetitive motion was meditative, and I made scarves to donate. Easy enough.

Nowadays, this is what I’m facing:

  1. What should I knit? Hat? Scarf? Socks? Fingerless gloves? Baby blanket?
  2. Whom should it be for? Someone I know, or a charity?
  3. Which yarn would go best with that sort of project?
  4. What size needles do I have to use for that sort of yarn?
  5. What pattern should I use for that kind of project?

I’m convinced now that I lost my knitting mojo earlier this year precisely because whenever I swatched something, I was faced with the question, “Should I use this yarn? Should I use different needles? How will I have to modify the pattern in order to make this work with the yarn and the needles I have?”

It doesn’t even help when you get something as a kit. “Use this yarn with these needles and cast on 55 stitches.”  Awesome, except my knitting is slightly tighter than anyone else’s on earth (except for Ivy’s roommate, I’m told) and therefore I need to add stitches or go up a needle size or give the resulting item to a child. Except for the one time I did add stitches to the pattern and the socks became too big. And then couldn’t be felted.

It’s too much decision-making. As opposed to if I enter Target, I look at the packages, pick the correct size, and then only have to decide whether to use my credit card or cash.

It’s fun once I get started. But the pre-project decisions are paralyzing, and I’m never sure when I start whether the garment will be wearable when I’m done.


  1. Ivy

    There are some pretty tight designers out there, too.

    You’re supposed to just swatch until you get gauge, but can always work on patterns where gauge doesn’t matter as much–washcloths, ponchos, blankets, shawls, scarves, toe up socks, neck down sweaters. I found a great hat pattern a while ago where you provisionally cast on what you guess will give you a two inch wide strip. The you knit in garter stitch until it fits around your head. You kitchener the ends closed, pick up stitches around, and knit in stockinette until the hat, tried on, reaches your hairline. Then you decrease the crown. Easy and gauge free.

    A nice vest pattern is done by measuring your bust (call this width) and from armpit to shoulder (call this opening, or just measure the base of the sleeve of any sweater that fits well).

    Cast on 3 stitches.
    Row 1: K1 M1 K to end.
    Row 2: K back.
    Repeat these two rows

    This will start to make a triangle. Keep it up until the bottom is 1/4 width. Now change to

    Row 1: K1 M1 K to last 3 stitches SSK K
    Row 2 K back
    Repeat these two rows until the piece measures from your waist to your shoulder, or as low as you want the vest to go.

    Row 1: K to last 3 stitches SSK K
    Row 2 K back
    Repeat these until you have 3 stitches left. Bind off.

    Make 2. This are your front panels.

    Now do a third, only instead of stopping at 1/4 width, go to 1/2 width. This is your back.

    Now block all three, and pin them together. Sew the side seams up to the opening length. Measure your neck across the back from one side to the other. Sew the top seam leaving half that measurement open on either side. If you like, you can pick up stitches down one side and make yourself a row of button holes and sew on some buttons.

    It’s nothing compared to the questions during writing. How should the character get the information she needs? What solution will the character try? Why won’t it work? What will work? How will she figure it out? What should be revealed now, and what later? After all that, swatching for some mittens is a mental break.

    Oh, quick trick, to swatch for mittens, just start. You won’t cast on more for the swatch than you will for the project, and when you have gauge, you also have the cuff done. EZ once said the best swatch for a sweater was a matching hat.

    1. Ivy

      What a difference a word makes. EZ once said that the best swatch for an ARAN sweater was a matching hat. I shouldn’t type before coffee.

  2. cricketB

    Remember to wash the swatch the way you intend to wash the garment. Strange things happen with washing and blocking. That’s the step that stops me. Knitting the swatch takes an evening. Washing it during housework time feels like cheating on the housework, but I never feel like it during the evening.

    I make a single, multi-needle swatch so all the washing gets done at once. Yes, it can take an extra half ball.

    To make a multi-needle flat swatch, knit the usual swatch with the largest size needle, but include some code to show the needle size. Do a row of (k1 yo), then one of (k1 slip1) — so the resulting stitch is double-size — so one swatch part doesn’t affect the next, then switch to the next needle and repeat.

    If I think I’ll use the brand again, I use even more needles, so this one swatch works for multiple projects.

    To make a multi-needle swatch in the round, set up the tube as usual, but use a different size for each side. I prefer circs so there aren’t too many unattached needles waiting their turn. I don’t worry as much about swatches affecting neigbhours, but I dropping a stitch down each side would handle that.

    My favourite method, though, is from EZ. She chooses the project she wants to knit. When it’s finished, she chooses a recipient and date based on the results. Doesn’t work in my house, though. The middle-size kid insists on black, which everyone else hates.

    Toe-up socks are nice, too. Several “toe-up” recipes on Ravelery. Cast on (I like Judy’s Magic) what the ball says is one inch of stitches, then increase at the usual rate (1/end/side) until you reach the right width. If you think you’ll need to adjust the length after a few washings, don’t start the pattern until mid-foot. Then you can cut into the stst section, pick up the stitches in the other direction, and do it toe-down.

    So far (four whole pairs!) I find length changes more in the wash than width, or maybe I made them a bit wide in the first place.

    1. Ivy

      A contrasting color toe is great for that trick as well, and can be done with a bib or bob of leftover yarn. My socks tend to stay the same length, but I hand wash and if there is a problem, I wet it and put it on a sock blocker. If it’s a nasty hot summer day, my foot counts as a spare sock blocker. 😉 I have no clue how many pair of socks I’ve made. I gave up buying socks–I just knit them.

  3. cricketB

    I need to get some sock blockers. Usually I just pull hard on the toe before hanging them up. Still experimenting on the right shape toe for my foot, so that might affect length decisions.

    1. Ivy

      There are tricks online to twist a metal coathanger into a sock blocker, but they seem strange to me. KP has them cheap.