As a self-taught knitter, sometimes I have done things the hard way. Okay, a lot of times.
Thank goodness that I occasionally knit with others more experienced than I, and they have helped me along.
Here are five of the best tips I use all the time to make my knitting easier, more efficient, and more professional-looking.
- Make a gauge swatch. I know you know this one, but lest you be one of those who thinks it is a supreme waste of time, it's really really not. (Do you want to know how many sweaters I gave away before I learned this lesson? I can't tell you--I blocked the number out.) Here's a fun tip I learned today from www.simple-knitting.com: Make 1 row of your gauge swatch with a row of eyelets (made by doing *yo, k2tog* every few stitches), the number of which corresponds with your US needle size. I am SO doing this from now on. (Because the little papers I pin to my swatches usually go missing in action.)
- Use stitch markers. If you, like me, don't like slipping a rigid marker between needles, just use a loop of scrap yarn tied with a slip knot. The best place to use markers is before any unusual stitch occuring on each round that you need to remember, any change in section, between charts, at the beginning of rounds, before or after an increase or decrease stitch (thumb gussets and raglan increases/decreases, etc.), to mark half-way points in a round, and more.
- Use the right cast on. There are many different kinds of cast ons, and they all produce a slightly different result, and are best suited for different kinds of projects. As wonderful as the basic Knit Cast On is, you would most likely not want to use it for a ribbed edge, as it has no give. Learn a few basic cast ons for different types of edges, and they will take you through a wide variety of projects. I have already created tutorials for Long Tail Cast On (multi-purpose, good for firm, stretchy edges), 2-Colour Long Tail Cast On (to start 2-Colour Brioche Knitting Projects), Magic Cast On (provisional for tubular knitting like toe-up socks, can be modified for top-down hoods) and Super-Stretchy Cast On (best for ribbed edges), which you can get for free from the Stitch Tutorials page. Other cast ons I recommend you have in your toolkit are the Knit Cast On and the Backwards Loop Cast On. Google is also a wonderful source to find photo and video tutorials about the best cast on for your project.
- Use the right bind off. Just like cast ons, the right bind off can make sure your edge looks professional and has the right amount of stretch. The wrong one can result in a sweater no one can fit over their head. Most cast ons have a matching bind off, or one that is often paired with it. Again, Google is a great source to find how-tos. In my Stitch Tutorials section, you will find a how-to for the Basic Bind Off, Super-Stretchy Bind Off (thick edge for ribbed edges) and the Sewn Rib Bind Off (thin edge for ribbed edges).
- Weave in your ends. Have you ever gotten to the end of the pattern, read this instruction, and wondered "what do they mean by that?" There are many methods of weaving in your ends, and I have tried a few, but the one that I have found that looks the most professional and is least likely to pull out is to "follow the yarn." On the back of your work, use a yarn needle to weave the yarn tail in duplicate stitch back along a path it has travelled. Depending on your yarn weight, do this for one to two inches, then give the fabric a little stretch with your fingers before clipping the end.This does not work well for lace patterns, however--you need to have a section that you can easily follow the path of the yarn without the added bulk being a problem. Reverse stockinette stitch is best for this. I sometimes use my yarn tail weaving to reinforce buttonholes or strengthen selvages. For brioche knitting, you weave in your ends by running them up and down the "ladders" on the wrong side of your knitting.
I know it can sometimes feel like more work to begin and finish a project professionally, but you will always be happier with your results if you do. Take the time to do it right, and your knitting will just be better.
Happy knitting, friends!