Stitches and Swatches and Multiples, Oh My!

Gathered Stitch from The Harmony Stitch Guides

Look at the work of any of the top knitwear designers, from Shirley Paden and Mari Lynn Patrick to Mona Schmidt and Evelyn Clark, and one thing soon becomes clear: These folks really know how to use a stitch dictionary. Yes, they know how to design graceful silhouettes or socks that sing, but they can do things with a book of stitch patterns that would frighten fish (as the characters in Steel Magnolias might say).

Their "secret" (besides the fact that designers like Shirley, Mari Lynn, Mona, and Evelyn have talent running out their ears!) is that they know how to read a stitch dictionary like a cookbook, and how to adapt those little recipes to the larger canvas of a sweater, or the tiny, in-the-round canvas of a hat or a sock. With a few basic skills, you can start using the spice of stitch patterns in bags, hats, socks, sweaters, and any other knitted thing you can imagine.

So: Let's get started on building those "few basic skills."

What does THAT mean?

"Multiple of X plus Y" You will usually see this notation at the beginning of a stitch pattern, after the stitch name, before the actual row-by-row instructions. Those words can look a bit cryptic, especially if you are just starting out in the world of stitch patterns. What it means: It means that one full repeat of that stitch is X stitches wide, plus Y stitches "extra," outside of the stitch repeat, to balance out the design in a piece of flat knitting. Example: In Mona Schmidt's Tweedy Vest, the notation for the rib stitch pattern says "multiple of 8 sts plus 9." Thus, you can work a single repeat of this pattern over 17 stitches (8 + 9), two repeats over 25 stitches (8 + 8 + 9), three repeats over 33 stitches (8 + 8 + 8 + 9) and so forth. Want a matching scarf for the vest? Choose a multiple of 8 stitches, add 9 to that, and maybe add a few border stitches on each side in garter stitch so the sides don't roll in. Cast on!

What stitches do I repeat?

Look for the asterisk and the semi-colon.

The asterisk marks the beginning of the repeat section; the semi-colon marks the end. The stitches from asterisk to semi-colon are the ones you repeat, over and over again, to form an overall multiple of the pattern. Anything outside of the repeat section is there to balance the pattern. The "extra" stitches are sometimes called "edge stitches."

On Monday: Converting flat stitch patterns for working in the round. Hey wait…what about Friday? Friday, we say goodbye to someone very special, someone who has been part of Knitting Daily from the very, very beginning. Come join me in wishing him well!

Creative Swatchery

Creative uses for swatches: So far, some of your oh-so-clever ideas for using swatches include: doll afghans (Tara R.); patches on torn jeans (Lisa B.); sewn and stuffed as cat toys (Kerri M.); sewn into fingerless mitts (Coral B.), tiny gift bags (Ann R.), or sachets (Glenna E.); squares for charity afghan projects; and mug rugs (Martha S.). And I was very impressed by Wendy H., who puts her swatches into a book made of handmade paper, complete with notes on gauge, needles, and yarn—what a wonderful "knitting journal"!

Stitch of the Day page

Coming Up on Knitting Daily

It looks like you all are enjoying our new Stitch of the Day feature! I'm glad you like it. Next week we'll continue talking about ways to incorporate these stitches into your knitting. Near future: I'm also putting together a poll for you…here's a hint: Start counting your UFOs now.

Sandi Wiseheart is the editor of Knitting Daily.

What's on Sandi's needles? I finished a UFO! Whoo! Done are the Waving Lace Socks that are destined for Michelle (shhh, don't tell her yet!). The yarn for Nicholas' cabled pullover has been delivered—double whoo! So I guess now I will be swatching…

Other Things You May Like to Check Out:


Knitting Daily Blog

52 thoughts on “Stitches and Swatches and Multiples, Oh My!

  1. I’m having trouble printing out the stitch of the day. When I tried to do today’s stitch pattern it cuts off the bottom and top. It only goes up to the 23rd row

  2. I have already started to count my UFO’s….and It is frightening….I have been blogging about it…at

    sandi, you are doing a great job…and if you want to borrow any of my ramblings about UFO’s….let me know.

    LOL!!!! oh and ps…my list is my initial count from one room…trust me there are many more…

    smiles to you,

  3. I was trying to do a swatch on the “stitch of the day”. I think there is a error on the 5th row. It reads “K1,*k2,yf,sl 1 k2tog,yf,k3”. I think it should be “K1,*k2,yf,sl1,psso,k2tog,yf,k3. ??

  4. Thank Goodness! I’ve been afraid I have the knitting version of ADD! I’ve been knitting for about a year and I only have 2 or 3 actual FOs, LOL! And most of them are dishcloths! My best friend tells me I’m like a “fly on poop”, I can’t seem to land on anything for very long, LOL! I prefer to describe myself as a hungry kid finally let loose in a candy store–so many good things, so little time!

  5. I love the Stitch of the Day feature!! But could you possibly make it more “printer-friendly?” I feel so guilty when I print out 4 pages, just to get the one page that the stitch is on. I know you have to make your money from ads, but please? No more tree-killing!

  6. You could just have the printer print page 1 & 2 of 4, or page 1 of 4. You don’t have to print all of them out…or you could copy and paste it into a word document and then print it…

  7. I LOVE that you are doing posts on how to read patterns. I consider myself a fairly good knitter but I’ve come across a few patterns that I have trouble reading. Thank you!

    I also love the new Stitch of the Day feature. Thanks!

  8. I’ve started saving my swatches, sewing them together after each project. I imagine in a few years I will have an interesting crazy afgan to remember all the projects that go with the different swatches and see how much work I’ve done.

  9. UFO’s, Hmm. I took a look around and was pretty proud that I can only locate 5, all in different stages. I gathered them all together and have the best intentions to get them completed and off the needles in the order of which is closest to being finished. Of course a Holiday project may squeeze them back a bit.

    I really like the Stitch of the Day that was chosent to be featured.

  10. There’s a variety of different Firefox extensions that will be helpful for saving web information with less clutter.

    I’m in the early stages of designing a scarf that isn’t like anything I’ve seen (granted, I haven’t seen everything, lol, but with a year of alot of knitting surfing, I’ve seen a bit.) Since I’m a fairly new knitter(tm) lol, I’m not quite sure how to execute the edge I want.

    In the two edge books by Ms. (Mrs.?) Epstein that I’ve looked through at the store, there’s not anything like it, either.

    For the middle of the scarf, I know what type of pattern I want, although there are various methods of achieving it, sizes of the pattern, styles and looks of the pattern as well. I recently was gifted some well-loved knitting things from an aunt who is passing away, and one of these things is a Mon Tricot 1100 roughly stitch patterns dictionary.

    A smorgasbord of stitchery, is that! My aunt knows that I will love and use the needles, notions, vintage books, and such, that she’s given me; she was delighted to learn I had taken up knitting, as it had bothered her that she didn’t have anyone to pass these on to, save a thrift store.

    The scarf I am designing will be dedicated to her, but if it turns out as nicely as it looks in my head, I might even have the courage to submit it to a magazine (as it, dare I say it, in my head anyway, looks as designerly and lovely as many I’ve seen in IW mags.)

  11. The Stitch of the Day today is a little hard to see with the print running all across it. I realize that we’re talking copyright here, but could we please have something a little less intrusive? Thanks, and keep up the good work!

  12. I too am enjoying the new feature “stitch of the day”, thank you. I do have one question though…

    Do you have any idea when the bust darts PDF from the July discussion on the Hot Tomato will be ready? My yarn and needles are anxiously waiting to begin.

  13. I took a freeform knitting class at the Knit and Crochet Show in Oakland, CA last weekend. The teacher suggested using those lovely swatches to work from when doing freeform work. Thanks to our lovely teacher, Colleen Davis, for suggesting a beautiful way to incorporate those otherwise unused squares into something new, unusual & useful! (Maybe I’ll be better about doing my swatches now…)
    Stephanie in Rohnert Park, CA

  14. I have figured out (at least on my Mac) how to print the entire stitch of the day on one page. If you ctrl-click (which I think would be a right click in Windows) you can save the image as a JPEG file. The image includes not only the photo, but the pattern instructions also. This file can then be opened in Preview (Mac) or imported into a word processing document (Windows or Mac) and printed all on one page. This prints only the part you want anyway (the pattern & photo, without all of the rest of the stuff on the page).

  15. Thank you sooo much for your “Stitch of the Day”. I, too, was trying to find a printer-friendly way to save these pages in a binder for future reference… Simply highlight the desired picture and directions, drag it onto the desktop, then open and print! It worked for me on a Mac; my teenager says it should also work on a PC… I’ll try it from my PC at work tomorrow to be sure.
    —Stephanie in Rohnert Park, CA

  16. Gathered stitch is history. That was yesterday’s stitch and they’re only up for one day. I have a question about today’s stitch (Papyrus Lace) – what’s with the new terminology? yf? ym? or is it yrn? I see lots of yo in the picture but none in the instructions. If this is an example of what’s in the book, I’m probably going to pass. On top of that, no charts.

  17. I have the B Walker stitch dictionaries & am now, finally!, at a stage in my knitting where I can use them. I’m also trying to cut back on mags & am buying *more books* instead. That said… I totally blew it, yesterday & bought 2 new mags. I pass them on to the sr center when I’m finished.
    One technique I desperately want to learn is entrelac. Suggestions???? Jenn

  18. Oops, never mind. I just read that each Stitch of the Day will only be presented one day and not archived. Sorry I didn’t see that before sending the previous question.

  19. weeel…looking it over, i’d say “yf” means bring the yarn to the front…and that “yrn” is really a yarn over? i’d hope the book has an abbreviation chart…but i did once run across an abbreviation in a jo sharp book that i never could figure out….

  20. Y r n (those letters do tend to run together, don’t they) means the same thing as yo. It stands for something along the lines of “yarn round needle.” Yf would be “yarn forward.” If the next stitch is anything other than a purl or a slipped stitch, that may also mean the same as yo. I’ve also seen yfrn and wf or wool forward, not to mention thread over.

    Is there any way to provide a glossary of abbreviations? I have one of the old Harmony Guides to refer to, but I can certainly see why someone might have some difficulties following the instructions.

    Love the topic of substituting stitch patterns, as this is one of my favorite ways of varying a pattern that I love and have already adjusted for fit. Sometimes my swatches take the form of scarf-like samplers of different stitch patterns. This gives me a way to compare different ones side-by-side (or end-to-end) to see if they behave similarly. Some patterns can substitute for each other with no adjustment or only a small adjustment for the stitch multiple. Some need a little recalculating of the pattern numbers. Others just aren’t right for what I have in mind.

    Do random bits of knitting just for the purpose of trying out a yarn or a stitch pattern count as UFOs? That could make a difference in my count, although I think most of my experiments are either finished or not started yet.

  21. Hi Sandi! I LOVE Knitting Daily (both the publication and the activity!), and I’m so glad you’re delving into stitch patterns. I especially have trouble keeping a lace pattern going (with all those increases and decreases) while I’m shaping a garment – so I’m looking forward to your next post. Would you also be able to cover charting a stitch pattern? I get confused as to how to allow for the increases and decreases – since they don’t “line up” exactly over the row before. Hope that makes sense. Again, thank you for this! Rebecca

  22. I like the new stitch of the day feature. I only wish that it was also presented in a chart for those of us who have a hard time following all those words and do better with visual instructions than with verbal ones. I guess it all depends on how your brain works. It would be intersting to find out if more knitters like verbal or visual instructions. Keep the stitch of the day coming though and maybe I will learn to adapt.

  23. I love the Mimosa Shoot stitch pattern, but can you explain MB(k1, p1, k1, p1 into the next stitch…)? What does MB stand for, and how do you p1 into the next stitch, is that a make one? BTW, I love your posts, thanks for making me not so afraid to try cables!

  24. RE; “MB”, click on the picture of the “Knit Purl” book, then click on “see inside”. The second pattern is THE BOBBLE STITCH clearly explained.
    Also, do the same with the other two books for a couple of beautiful examples of the contents of these books.
    Knit On!

  25. HGTTSIYBIBTYAO? How do you even count?
    What about the yarn that was supposed to be for one thing, but you changed your mind? Or you bought enough to do either of two patterns, but haven’t decided which?
    Aren’t we just talking STASH here?

  26. Love the Stitch of the Day feature! Hate the unknown abbreviations – and after reading everyone’s comments, it’s nice to know I’m not alone – I was beginning to feel like a beginner again 😉
    Also, thanks to Aine R for the hint about clicking to see the inside of the book for the bobble explanation. Maybe Knitting Daily can include an abbreviation reference for us as part of stitch of the day?


  27. I’ve always loved knitting stitch books. Have quite a few of them, but always seem need more (tee hee). I have a collection of 6 older Harmony Guides, books numbered 1 through 5, plus one that’s just aran and Fair Isle stitches. Question: these new Harmony Guides that are coming out… Are they simply republications of the old books, or are they brand new collections of stitch patterns?

  28. I must say I’m quite disappointed that with all the trouble of knitting new swatches and re-formatting the books that there are no charts included. I don’t own the original Harmony Guides for this reason, and it looks like I won’t be buying these new ones, either.

  29. Hi all! A hint for those who may not have the money to buy the three stitch guides and would like to save the free ones you show, right click on picture pattern, then click “save Pictures.” Save to documents or “My Pictures”. In order to read the pattern better, enlarge the picture and voila! there are the directions.

    Many thanks for your generosity in showing us some of the patterns with the directions.

    Renate Speaks

  30. My swatches end up in a blanket.As much as I dislike the time spent doing them, they do come handy. (in many ways). Lots of small lap blankets and they go to the convalescent home near by. My little ladies , specially the one in the wheelchairs, have lap blanket and makes lots of comments on stiches and feeling the yarn. The blankets get petted a lot. LOL

  31. Keep on having the stitch of the day pattern. I like learning new ways of doing knitting. Have started knitting socks again and really like the gloves with no fingers that go to the elbow. mj