I love stitch markers. I use them for just about everything – the more the better! I buy them like popcorn, and make or improvise as many as I buy. They infest my house and are always found while sweeping up, in between cushions, and in the dryer’s lint trap. In fact, I’ve got two little dishes – one next to the washer and one on my dresser, both there for the sole purpose of catching stitch markers at convenient points in the laundry process.
I prefer rigid markers to bits of string or contrasting color yarn. I find for me they transfer from needle to needle faster, and because I often knit without watching my fingers, are easier to spot by feel.
Here are some of the things I use as stitch markers from the catch-all on my dresser:
Clockwisearound the outside and spiraling in, there’s a beaded lizard made for me by my Tween-ager; several split rings and jump rings bought by the bagful at the jewelry findings counter of my local crafts store; some flat gold-tone beads with large holes, and a heart charm intended for use on keychains (same source as split rings); a paper clip; three home-made beaded markers; a yellow flat split ring marker; three more home-made beaded markers (small size); two Susan Bates white plastic rings; an ancient Susan Bates split ring; red and blue Susan Bates flat rings; two coil-less safety pins, and two small turquoise rings “liberated” from my kids’K’Nex building toy set.
I tend to ue the larger decorated markers as row end or abacus markers; and the plainer ones as repeat dividers, or to denote other spots whereI need to pay attention. I don’t have any problem using the stitch markers with the dangling bobs. I let them hang on the side of my work that faces me. Since I sometimes need to use my “third hand” when doing maneuvers like decreasing across a marker, the beads make convenient grabbing tabs for my teeth. (Confession:I feel sort of responsible for foisting the beaded marker fad on the rest of you. Back in ’94 or so I wrote a post to the ancient KnitList that described how I used broken earring bobs and necklace pendants as stitch markers, and was beginning to make singlets expressly for that purpose.)
I used to use the coiled split rings (shiny red, above) to mark individual stitches – usually to help count decreases or spots that needed to line up when a garment was assembled. It has been a long time since I’ve seen these coiled guys in the stores, so I’ve switched to using either jewelry split rings or the safety pins instead.
The one type of marker I absolutely detest is the pig-tailed yellow split ring. I bought them only once and don’t remember the brand name. Those cursed pig-tails seemed to look for an excuse to snap off. They also dug into my fingers as I was working.
Marker Use #1 – Decrease/increase counters
I’m a counting disaster. I detest counting rows. I’m forever losing those little barrel-shaped counter devices that sit on the needle or hang below it. I am also a Wandering Knitter, so I don’t always have a nice settled place to put a pad and paper nearby, nor am I reliable enough to remember to click off the rows on a katchaa-katchaa counter.For the same reason pegboards or counting stones aren’t for me (I’ve got a sweater that ended up with a sleeve eight inches too long because someone kept eating the M&Ms I was relying on as counting stones). I’ve even tried the flipping the string over every ten rows gambit, but ended up pulling out my string. I need to have a tangible reminder to do something, placed directly in my work so that I can feel it. Everything else gets lost, or forgotten. Therefore being the only idiot working on my knitting, I have used markers to idiot-proof my knitting world.
In addition to just sitting prettily between pattern repeats, or marking where one switches attention from chart to chart, I use markers to help me keep track of those pesky directions that say things like “increase every fourth row six times.” If that was my direction, and I’d decided to add my stitch by use a make one (lifted bar) increase after the first stitch of my row, I’d proceed this way. On the first row of my increase section I’d work my first stitch, then place a thin marker and after the marker was set – work my first M1. Then I’d place another thin marker and work to the end of my row. The next time I needed to add a stitch, I’d again work the first stitch of the row, move my marker over, do a M1, then work across the row I’d work along, only having to keep track of how many plain right-side rows were between increase points because ALL of my increases accumulate between the markers. When there are six new stitches between the markers, I’d know I’d done enough.
I handle decreases in much the same way. The first row of the decrease section I place markers before the first stitch that I’ll be decreasing away, and after the last stitch that will be decreased away. Then I work my rows, decreasing at the rate specified until my markers touch.
I’ve got another little gizmo that I’ve used to keep track of the how-many-rows between problem. I’ve made two over the years, but I can’t lay hands upon either one right now. They’re probably packed away in the storage cubby with the rest of my knitting stash, but here’s an illustration:
This is a length of chain links with two different color beads at each end. Red and green are nice mnemonics to set up start and finish, but any color will do. The links are large enough to admit the needle size being used. I made one of these with eight links and one with six. I prefer the one with six because I can use it to count up to 12 rows by using each link to represent two rows. There are VERY few patterns that ask you do do something every 12 or more rows.
The way I use my counting-chain is to substitute it for the first marker in my string of decreases or increases, right in line on my working row. The first row of the six-row decrease set, I put my needle tip into the ring closest to the green bead. On the second row, when I get up to the counting chain, I slip my needle tip into the second ring away from the green bead. Third row, third ring, and so on. In this case, when I got up to the sixth ring I’d know that it would be time to do my increase again, and I’d return my needle tip to the first ring after the green bead.
Now if you see someone selling these after today, know that you saw it here first; and remember I was foolish enough to repeat my mistake of writing about an idea beforepatenting it. [grin]
Marker Use #2 – In-Line Abacus
As I said before: I’m hopeless at keeping track of rows. I’m a lousy and lazy row counter, and manage to muck up every row-counting aid – including placing safety pins every ten rows or slipping a strand of contrasting color string back and forth every ten rows. Instead I use stitch markers as an in-work abacus.
This technique uses two or three stitch markers – preferably ones that are unavoidably different both from those put to other purposes in the work, and from each other. It works best for straight pieces of knitting without edge increases or decreases, or texture patterns that alter the number of stitches on the needle. It can be used in a piece with any of these, but you have to remember to compensate, or you have to place the markers in a relatively unperturbed area.
Let’s say I have a straight run of plain old stockinette worked flat, and I want to keep track of the number of rows I have knit. I decide which of my distinctive stitch markers designates ones and which designates tens. I knit my first stitch, place my ones-marker and keep working. On the next right-side row I advance my ones-marker two stitches to show that I’m in the middle of the third row. I keep going until I’m finishing the tenth row (it’s a wrong side row). At that point I remove my ones marker. On the next row (my eleventh), I work one stitch, place my ones-marker, then place my tens-marker and work to the end of the row. On the next right-side row, I work one stitch, keep my tens marker in place and advance my ones-marker two stitches. That shows I’m on the 13th row.
I can keep doing this for as long as required. Sometimes I need to introduce a hundreds-marker. Other times I move the counting markers in from the edge – mostly to avoid shaping increases or decreases, marking my point of origin with another distinctive marker that never moves. Using a point of origin marker I can even use my stitch marker abacus to keep track of rounds in circular knitting.
Of course there are disadvantages. Fiddling with the markers often involves use of that “third hand.” I haven’t swallowed a marker yet, but some have spun off to add to the feral herd of markers swarming in my house. I do find however that I am FAR less likely to forget to move a counting marker than I am to forget to spin a barrel counter, or make a notation on a pad. And unlike M&Ms – other people can’t eat my tracking device as I knit.