As knitters, we have a few little tricks that we use to help us along so we avoid making mistakes.
For example, to indicate which is the front or outside (public) side of a piece we are working on (because sometimes it is difficult to tell), we will pin something to one side. It could be something simple as a safety pin or can be one of those removable stitch markers that look something like a safety pin or it can be an expensive piece of jewellery, such as a brooch.
And if there are places along a row where we need to do something special or to change a technique, we use a marker to let us know “wait a minute! Something is happening here!” We often get so caught up in the smooth flowing of knitting, that we can zip right past that spot, unless we are constantly counting stitches – and who wants to do that?!
These are not crutches, but tools and should be thought of as such. They are assistants in our work, much as a house framer may use a brace until the wall can stand up on its own. They are temporary tools to assist us to do the job correctly.
One of my most favourite tool is the stitch marker. As mentioned, they are used in the body of the knitting, in the row, to show that something special – out of the usual – needs to be done here, so pay attention. It is placed ON THE NEEDLE between stitches. There are different kinds that actually are clipped TO A STITCH and serve a different function. Here will be discussed the most usual type of marker that goes between stitches.
Anything that can be hung on the needle between the stitches can be used. It needs to have some sort of circle which will be slipped over the needle. It needs to be large enough to easily go on the needle, without being tight and getting caught, and with little bulk so it doesn’t distort any stitches around it. They usually are a ring of some type with baubles and bangles attached to draw attention to itself, and to distinguish it from any other type of marker. Each marker may have a different function!
There are many markers one can purchase from any knitting shop. They can be exquisite pieces of jewellery in their own right, let alone as a knitting tool. Many knitters have made their own markers out of old jewellery pieces and can become keepsakes. Or they can be simple little rings of plastic.
As often is the case, there is never a marker to be found when you need them! Or you are knitting away from home and don’t have your toolbox with you. So we have to improvise.
Here are some examples of items that can be used at stitch markers, which you may find in your junk drawer at home (or at the bottom of your knitting bag):
Hair ties (for upper class knitters who won’t use rubber bands)
Anything that has a hole through it!
Now, these may seem quite unorthodox, but they work, and that is all that matters. Your knitting will look very “artsy” to any non-knitter, and they will not understand if you try to explain. But a knitter will recognize these things since we’ve been there too!
But I prefer to make my own out of ordinary items I have handy (other than those listed above). They are less costly, and I can customize them for my own purposes. They may have a specific function, and I can custom-make them to function in specific ways.
If you are a knitter that likes those little rings, you can make your own. Get a couple of soda straws in various colours. These come in a number of sizes and colours, so you have a wide choice. (You can pick them up for free outside any 7-11 or Macs store.) Cut very thin rings off the end of the straw with a sharp pair of scissors. They may be flattened when first cut, but if you open them up, they will return to their round shape shortly. You can keep a huge collection of these rings in all colours and all sizes, and not worry if you lose one of them!
Of course, every knitter will have some left-over yarn. These are lengths that are too precious to throw out, but yet too short to be of any use in knitting! So they can come into use as a marker. I prefer to use a finer weight yarn that is very smooth. It cannot be fuzzy at all! Mercerized cotton, silk, nylon, or acrylic (finally a use for it!) will work.
You can take a short length of any smooth contrasting yarn, and tie it into a circle just a bit larger than the needles you are using. In fact, you can wrap the yarn around the needle to use it as a guide. Tie a knot and cut the ends short. Voilà! A perfectly sized ring marker at no cost!
My preferred yarn marker is a little longer because it serves me in several ways. Cut a length of about 20 cm (12 inches) or whatever length works for you in a contrasting colour to your knitting. I like to add a bit more twist to this yarn, and then fold it over on itself. The extra twist will cause it to twist up into a plied yarn, which works better for me. Sometimes I have tied a simple knot a short distance away from the folded end, but it’s not really necessary.
When you need to place a marker, simply open a loop in the folded end and slip it over the needle. Let the remainder of the length hang at the back of the knitting. And simply continue with the knitting according to the pattern. Hopefully, the working yarn crossed over the marker tail, and it was caught into the knitting.
As you work, when you come to the marker, you may want to slip the marker with the working yarn IN FRONT which will indicate that something special happens here. When you are just knitting past the marker, the working yarn can remain on the back. This comes in very handy in counting rows: in lace, for example, the pattern stitches are usually done on one row, and the next row is a plain knit (or purl) row. Which way the crossing over the marker would tell you which row you are working on without having to refer to the pattern. This is very helpful if you put your knitting down in the middle of a row, or if you are knitting in the round. Look to see if there is a float over or behind the marker tail and you will know what row you are on.
This tail will also help in counting rows where you need to do something every fifth row, for example. Let the tail be crossed with the working yarn at the back, and after five times, you know you need to do a decrease or something. So cross in front, and then continue on for four more rows crossing at the back. No need to painstakingly count rows and easily get lost.
You can also quickly count how many rows you have completed by counting the interchanges of the marker tail. For example, let the working yarn cross at the back of the marker tail five times, and then cross in front five times. Repeat this several times in your knitting, and you can easily count 5-10-15 and you will know how many rows you have completed in just a glance!
Or if you needed to decrease 6 times every 4th row (at the arm-hole, for example) – that gets very complicated keeping track of where you are. BUT cross in front of the marker tail each time you make a decrease, and you can see in a glance when you have completed 4 rows, and when you have completed your 6 decreases.
I like these yarn markers most of all because they are so versatile and can perform so many functions all at once. I have them in all primary colours – white, black, yellow, red, green, blue – so that one of them will always contrast with my main knitting. Often I will need 2-3 colours for different things going on, and I have the right colour marker just for that spot!
So don’t think you can’t do complicated pattern knitting because you don’t have a marker! The fact is that you DO have them – you just may not be seeing them at the moment in the right light. With a little tinkering, you can make them magically appear!