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How to Use Stitch Markers

May 6, 2021

Of all the tools in my knitting pouch, stitch markers are the smallest, BUT they’re the ones I use most often. I always keep a few close by, buried at the bottom of every knitting bag (and I usually find a few hiding in my couch cushions as well). These tiny but useful little tools help to keep my knitting on track, and they’re often used to simplify pattern instructions. This post will help you add the mighty stitch marker into your knitting practice by going over the basics (what IS a stitch marker?), the terminology (BOR?), and some of the more advanced uses (lace, anyone?).

The basics

What is a stitch marker? There are lots of different ‘looks’ for stitch markers, but they boil down to two different types: the circular kind you put on your needles and the locking/removable kind (the ones that look like little safety pins) you put in your work . Do you need these fancy stitch markers? Nope! They definitely are fun, but you can always use a homemade version that will work just as well – like a bit of string tied in a circle or woven into a stitch.

A hand holding 2 stitch markers, one a black circle, and the other a metalic safety pin.
These are my two favourite types of stitch markers, the plain circle and the safety pin-ish version.

Circular stitch markers

The circular stitch marker is a loop of some kind that is placed onto your needle in between stitches. It marks a point between one stitch and the next. This marker sits on the needle just like a stitch. As you work the piece, whenever you come to the stitch marker, you will work the stitch prior to the marker, slip the marker from the left-hand needle to the right-hand needle, and then work the stitch following the marker. In this manner, the stitch marker stays in the same place, between stitches on each row as the knitting progresses. Note: some patterns use the symbol SM or slip marker, and some don’t. If you don’t see this note, just slip your markers from one needle to the next as you come to them. More on this later…

A bit of green knitting on the needles. A black circular stitch marker is on the right hand needle.
Here I have placed a stitch marker on my needle. It goes over the right-hand needle.
A bit of green knitting on the needles with a black circular stitch marker between stitches.
The marker sits on my needle between two stitches.

How to slip a circular marker

Once you have placed a marker in your work, you will need to move it as you come to it in subsequent rows.

  1. Work to marker.
  2. Move marker from left-hand needle to right-hand needle.
  3. Continue on your merry way.
A bit of green knitting on the needles with a black circular stitch marker 6 sts from the end of the needle.
First you will work to where your marker is. In the above image, the stitch marker is located 6 sts from where I am currently knitting.
A bit of green knitting on the needles with a black circular stitch marker on the left hand needle.
Once you have worked to your marker, it will be on your left-hand needle.
A bit of green knitting on the needles with a black circular stitch marker on the right hand needle.
Move the stitch marker from the left-hand needle to the right-hand needle.
A bit of green knitting on the needles with a black circular stitch marker a few stitches back from the next working stitch.
Continue on your merry way.

Removable stitch markers

The removable stitch marker, like a safety pin or even a bit of string that you can untie, is used to mark a stitch itself, or a point in the knitted fabric. It opens up, so it can be attached to a single stitch and left in the fabric. So as you continue working, and the fabric grows, it ends up far below the row in progress. Sometimes this means you need to remove it and move it up the stitch column as you proceed with your work.

A hand holding a safety pin type stitch marker that is open.
To place a locking/removable stitch marker in your work, the first step is to open the marker.
A bit of green knitting on the needles with a locking stitch marker in the work and a black circular stitch marker on the needles.
Here you can see the two different uses for stitch markers. I have used the locking/removable stitch marker to note a particular stitch and the round stitch marker to mark a spot in my knitting on the needles.

While you can use removable stitch markers in place of regular markers (by placing them on the needle, rather than in the fabric), you cannot use circular stitch markers in place of removable ones (because they don’t open and close).

Stitch markers are most often used as ‘landmarks’ in your knitting to orient you within a row. They let you know the point at which something changes or something special happens. For example, they may mark the decrease points on a hat, the increase points on a raglan sweater, or the points at which you switch from a stockinette stitch pattern to a different stitch pattern.

The Gramps Sweater – a removable marker example

Here in the Gramps sweater, locking stitch markers are placed at the beginning and end of this row. These markers will be useful later when picking up the button band and shawl collar.

A cardigan with the button band picked up. There are 2 locking stitch markers in the work.
Here in the Gramps sweater, I have two locking stitch markers, indicating where the neckline shaping has ended.

Another favourite use for removable stitch markers is noting my cable rows. I often forget which row or round I last cabled on, so I will sometimes place a marker in the cable row – then I can just count the subsequent rows to see if it’s time to cable again.

Abbreviations relating to stitch markers: PM, SM, and BOR

PM – Place Marker. When you see this in knitting instructions, it means you should place a circular marker on the needle at the point specified, between stitches. If a removable marker is called for, the instruction will be specific about this and say something like ‘mark the next stitch’ or ‘place a locking stitch marker at the end of the row’. In these circumstances, because you are marking the FABRIC, it’s necessary to use a removable marker, or thread a bit of waste yarn through the stitch itself. If it’s not specified, use a circular marker.

SM – Slip Marker. This is sometimes included to explicitly make clear that you have reached and passed a marker. You’ll work to the marker, slip the marker from the left-hand to the right-hand needle, and then proceed with the work.

Note: OFTEN, patterns do not explicitly include SM at each point where a marker is located. When there is nothing said about a marker, the default action you will take is to slip the marker from the left-hand to the right-hand needle, and then proceed with the work. This leaves the marker in place as a landmark for future actions.

BOR – Beginning of Round or Beginning of Round Marker. If you’re working a project ‘in the round’ on circular needles, you will often have a marker placed between the last stitch of a round and the first stitch of the next round. At the end of each round, you will slip this marker from the left-hand to the right-hand needle, leaving it in place.

CB – Centre Back or Centre Back Marker. This abbreviation is usually used in sweater patterns. The centre back marker is used to orient the patterning on a yoke or to indicate where the short rows will be worked at the back of the sweater. As is typical, if nothing is mentioned about this marker, simply slip it from the left-hand to the right-hand needle, leaving it in place as a landmark for future actions.

Orienting your work – some examples

One of the main functions of stitch markers is orienting your work. Markers can indicate where to stop and start stitch patterns or where to increase or decrease stitches, so you don’t have to count a specific number of stitches each time. They can be used to indicate a variety of different things; here are a few examples…

Shortening written instructions

Round 1: [k2tog, k56, ssk] around
Round 2: [k2tog, k54, ssk] around
Round 3: [k2tog, k52, ssk] around
Round 4: [k2tog, k50, ssk] around

With a marker, these same instruction can be shortened:

Round 1: [k2tog, knit to 2 sts from marker, ssk] around
Work round 1 a total of 4 times

It keeps things a little simpler, and you aren’t required to count large numbers each round. I don’t know about you, but I’ve been known to miscount occasionally.

Indicating where to change stitch patterns

If a knit has a significant portion of garter and a significant portion of stockinette, markers might indicate where to stop one type of stitch and where to start another.

For example: knit to marker, purl to marker, knit to marker, purl to marker…

A bit of orange knitting on the needles with 2 markers.
Here I have used markers to indicate where to work the ribbing, rather than garter stitch.

Indicating different parts of a garment

Markers can also indicate different parts of a garment. In a raglan yoke pullover, for example, you will likely have four markers indicating the different parts of the sweater, sleeves, front, and back.

The yoke of a white sweater viewed from above. 4 markers indicate the 4 sections of the yoke.
Here I have four markers separating the front, back, and each sleeve of this top-down raglan sweater.

Indicating where to work short rows

We often use markers to indicate where short rows should be worked. On a sweater, for example, you would place a marker at the centre back and work your short rows symmetrically on either side of that marker.

The yoke of a teal sweater viewed from above. 4 markers indicate the 4 sections of the yoke. and one marker is located at the centre of the back section.
Here I have placed a bright yellow stitch marker at the centre back, so I can work my short rows symmetrically around it.

Indicating where a panel starts and ends

Some designs have a panel of stitches that remain the same throughout. It’s helpful to mark this area to keep things clear. In the Barley hat, for example, we use stitch markers to indicate the garter panel.

The ribbing of a knit hat on the needles with 2 markers in the work. Arrows point to each marker, one with the words 'beginning of round marker' and the other with 'end of garter section marker'
Here I have two markers indicating where a garter panel will go.

Markers not in the pattern

Some patterns include stitch marker instructions, but that doesn’t mean you won’t find additional markers helpful! We don’t usually include instructions for marking pattern repeats, but it’s a practice some knitters find useful. If you’re working a pattern and find yourself forgetting to switch something, you might want to place an extra marker at that point as a little reminder.

Tip: If you’re placing additional markers that aren’t indicated in the pattern, you might want to use a different coloured marker. That way if a pattern states ‘work to marker’, you’ll know it’s not the extra markers you’ve placed, but the markers indicated in the pattern.

In the Flax sweater, for example, some knitters like to place markers on either side of the garter panel at the sleeves, so they don’t forget to switch from knit to purl at that point.

Many knitters like to place extra markers when working lace. It can be helpful in letting you know right away if you’ve missed a yarn over or a k2tog. You’ll know immediately if one section has too few or too many stitches.

Marking lace repeats can be a bit trickier. It is important to note that lace patterns can shift sometimes. If you’ve placed markers at each repeat for the first time you work through a chart, you may need to remove and re-place them for the next chart repeat. There also may be decreases that are worked over the marker. A central double decrease, for example, may use stitches from either side of a marker location. In this case, you’ll need to remove your marker, work the decrease, and then re-place the marker.

These are just a few examples of things you might want to use markers for, but of course there are many more!

Mark it up!

So now that you know how to use markers, you can keep your knitting on track! You’ll never miss an increase or forget to switch from knits to purls again – and you won’t even have to count!

For more helpful knitting tutorials, visit our support page here.


Knit Your Own Little Lullaby

April 29, 2021
several striped blanket swatches

Our newest blanket pattern, Lullaby, features a softly waving stitch pattern as old as the hills. There’s nothing groundbreaking or innovative here, and that’s by design. I’ve found that simple and meditative and knits bring me tranquility in trying times, and perhaps you feel the same way. That’s the beauty of this new pattern. The knitting is simple and soothing, while the design invites you to improvise with colour and texture.

We included four yarn weight options, and three sizes, making the Lullaby blanket pattern extremely flexible, so you can make it your way.

wavy striped pattern in three different yarn weights

Because we all have our preferences, Lullaby is written for four different yarn weights and three different sizes. You can make this blanket light as a feather for swaddling a tiny, new loved one – or knit it up as a fabulously chunky statement throw for snuggling under on the couch.

In addition to the Handspun Lullaby blanket I knit, I made several swatches to show some of the different weights and colour strategies you might explore with this comforting project.

Sock yarn rainbows

If you’re a fan of delicate knits, you can make Lullaby using sock yarn scraps. Each stripe doesn’t take much yarn, so odds and ends can be incorporated to make a quirky, striped blanket. And using one contrast colour throughout, whether it’s deep and dark or light and bright, will tie a ‘fruit salad’ of stripes together.

Wavy striped swatch in pink, golden, yellow, grey, blue and olive with white contrast lines between.

If you’re more comfortable with a solid plan, you can develop a special rainbow by choosing your colours a bit more intentionally, like I have for this swatch. Here I chose a rainbow of softer, warmer, and more nostalgic colours, and coupled them with a crisp white contrast colour. If you want to try this approach, we have a whole blog post that explores different ‘flavours’ of rainbow palettes that might inspire you.

Simple but striking monochrome

Wavy striped swatch in black and white marled yarn with white garter stitch lines between.

This aran / worsted weight swatch is made using a marled grey and white yarn with a white contrast colour. I used Mule Spinner 2-Ply by Custom Woolen Mills, an affordable, 100% Canadian wool. A blanket in this sort of palette would be VERY striking on a warm-coloured couch or in a modern, minimal nursery (that is, until it got stained with baby poo!).

Using a marled main colour adds texture to this knit in a very simple way. If you plan to work from sock yarns, you can hold two strands of sock yarn together to make up this heavier yarn weight and create your own marled effect.

Wavy striped swatch in black and white marled yarn with white garter stitch lines, on the needles, with cakes of yarn shown.

Bulky and scrappy

The last swatch illustrates how Lullaby looks at a bulky gauge. I didn’t have any bulky yarn in my stash, so I opted to create this heavier weight of yarn by holding several strands together. Here are some options for making up a more substantial weight of yarn: 

  • 1 strand DK + 2 strands sock
  • 1 strand Aran + 1 strand sock
  • 3 strands sock
  • 2 strands DK
  • 2 strands sock + 1 strand lace
Wavy striped swatch in marled stripes from purple, through blues and teals, green pinks to pale peach.

There are many more combinations that will work and add up to a bulky gauge – try for yourself and mix and match! The key is that you like the way the fabric feels.

Self-striping love

I’ve always had a soft spot for handspun and quirky self-striping yarns like Noro, Spincycle, and Zauberball. It can be a little tricky to match these special yarns with a pattern that enhances their beauty, but Lullaby looks exquisite with a self-striping yarn used for the main colour, and a solid used for the contrast colour. You can read the full story of my handspun Lullaby project here!

Handspun Lullaby Blanket

Simple, soft, and soothing

No matter how you knit it, the Lullaby blanket is a simple and soothing project, and it might be just the sort of knit you’re looking for right now. If you’re struggling to concentrate or find yourself reaching for a little soft comfort, get the pattern and cast on today!

~ Em

wavy striped pattern in three different yarn weights

Other TCK blanket patterns you might enjoy

Vivid Blanket Pattern


Knit a rainbow of centre-out squares and then sew them together to make a Vivid knitted quilt. The pattern is supported by our Vivid Blanket Tutorial, and it’s great for stash-busting or playing with colour!

Bounce Blanket Pattern


Stripe by bouncy, lace stripe, the Bounce blanket invites you to ‘just knit one more colour’. This is one of our most popular blanket patterns, with playful lace and an interesting result. It’s supported by a tutorial that teaches How to Knit a Central Double Decrease.

The Simple, Soft, and Soothing Lullaby Blanket

April 22, 2021
Striped wave blanket over stone wall

Recently I realized that simple and meditative knits bring me tranquility. I find myself drawn to projects that are uncomplicated and soothing to knit. This desire for simple comforts, combined with the ambition to use my most beautiful materials, inspired me to create Lullaby, our newest simple-but-satisfying blanket design.

Lullaby Blanket Pattern

Although I adore beautiful things, I’m really not much of a shopper. The exception to this rule is shopping for materials: fabric, yarn, fibre, art supplies, beads… These are the sort of things I love to shop for, buy, and collect. Materials are so full of potential for pleasure, for creativity, for transformation — and I find all of this potential very enticing.

Since I read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo — and began following the sustainable fashion expert Aja Barber — my relationship to my THINGS has been changing. I’ve been feeling like there’s nothing worse than keeping the ‘good stuff’ hidden away. Instead, I want to share my space with exquisite materials and handmade things — so I can enjoy them on a daily basis. Life is just too short to keep beauty in a box. And so I set out to use these materials and create something both simple and beautiful.

The process of knitting a Lullaby is as soothing as wrapping it snugly around your shoulders. Soft waves of colour cascade over your knees as you knit, keeping you cozy and inspired by their ever-changing combinations. There is nothing complex, new, or groundbreaking here — just the comforting repetition of soft, undulating stripes. These gentle waves are shaped by a stitch pattern as old as the hills, like a lullaby passed down for generations, sung soft and low by a grandparent gently rocking their little one.

Lullaby Blanket Pattern

From fibre to fabulous

Lullaby, in all its simplicity, invites you to play with colour, texture, and halo to bring further richness and joy to the piece. The pattern includes three sizes and four yarn weight options, so there’s plenty of room to play.

Lullaby Blanket Pattern

In bringing Lullaby to life, I began with a delicious handspun yarn that sparked some serious joy for me. I started with two Lucky Dip fibre packs from Hedgehog Fibres, a weird and wonderful cornucopia of colour and textural bliss. Sometimes I like to NOT choose – and let others choose for me. Lucky Dip fibre packs are great for this. You get what you get, and then you work with it to make something unique and beautiful.

Dozens of small nests of colourful hand-dyed fibre piled on a table in all shades of the rainbow.

I decided to try a method that I’d seen of breaking up fibre into little tiny ‘nests’ and then spinning them together in random ways to blend a bunch of different colourways. Within the fibre pack, there were some warm colours (pinks, reds, rusts, purples), some cool colours (greens and blues), and some light colours (whites, pale tints, yellows).

Several bobbins full of colourful handspun singles, laid on a table, next to a finished skein of two-ply handspun.

I separated the nests into rough colour groupings and then spun and spun and spun to complete these lovely singles. I plied some of the singles together with themselves, and I plied some of them against other colour groups. In the end, I had 400g of the most joyful, rainbow-y, DK-weight, two-ply handspun yarn.

Two-ply handspun in a rainbow of vivid shades piled on a drying rack.
Six cakes of two-ply handspun yarn in rainbow colours arranged on a table.

Yarn in hand, I wanted to cast on Right Away. The material was SO delicious, and I was itching to get started. So I thought, I swatched, and I thought and swatched some more. I finally decided that I would design the most simple of blankets in order to use up every last drop of yarn in a single project. I couldn’t let any of this beauty end up back in a plastic box! Lullaby was born, and it proved to be just right for satisfying my need for simple comfort and exquisite beauty. From start to finish, this project was a sensual delight, and I hope you find as much joy in it as I did.

Lullaby Blanket Pattern

How will I knit my next Lullaby blanket?

Well, I’ll probably make it a scrappy, marled rainbow. I have loads of really beautiful sock yarn scraps, and I’m always looking for ways to use them. Next week I’ll share my exploration of these ideas in a more detailed post about Lullaby colour options and strategies that I hope will inspire you.

~ Em

Lullaby Blanket Pattern

How to Get the Perfect Neckline

April 8, 2021

Creating the perfect fit in a seamless sweater often depends heavily on the neckline. If you’re working top-down, for example, and the cast-on is too loose, the neckline can ‘spread’ and become too wide. If you’re working bottom-up and your bind-off is too tight, the sweater might not go over your head. You also might prefer a wider or narrower neckline than the pattern suggests. Below we offer some tips for creating that perfect neckline – and one method for fixing a neckline that isn’t to your liking.

Thinking ahead

Planning ahead is the best way to get your neckline juuuuust right. It’s always easier to get something right the first time, rather than having to go back and fix it, right? So start by considering your own knitting style… Is your ribbing usually a little looser? How firm is your cast-on? Think about how these things will affect your preferred neckline before embarking on your sweater. It will be a huge help, especially if you’re knitting top-down.

Adding structure

When knitting a sweater from the top-down, you’ll often cast on, work the ribbing, then the yoke, etc., so the whole sweater ‘hangs’ from that cast-on. If you have a firm cast-on and it’s a smaller sweater – or you’re using a lightweight yarn – this isn’t a big deal. But if you’re working on a larger sweater or using a heavier yarn, that’s a lot of weight to hang from your cast-on. If it’s not firm enough, the stitches can start to spread; this might result in a more open neckline than you want.

One answer to this problem is adding in a little extra structure. If you’re planning ahead, you can try casting on and skipping the ribbing. Work the yoke and the rest of the sweater first. At the very end, pick up and knit one stitch in each stitch cast-on and then work the ribbing. This way the sweater ‘hangs’ from the seam where you picked up the ribbing, rather than from the cast-on. If you use this method, try the sweater on. If you find the neckline is still too wide for your liking, you can rip back to the pick-up, work a decrease round, and then work your ribbing on fewer stitches.

Marshland sweater pattern
The Marshland sweater makes use of this technique. The yoke starts with a cast-on, and the neckline ribbing is worked last.

Hedging your bets

If you’re unsure whether the neckline will be to your liking in the end, you can always start with a provisional cast-on. (We have a provisional cast-on tutorial here and an alternative provisional cast-on method here!) Cast on using the provisional method of your choosing and skip the ribbing. Once your sweater is complete, you have some options:

  1. Unzip the provisional cast-on, work the ribbing, and then bind off.
  2. Unzip the provisional cast-on and bind-off, pick up and knit one stitch in each bound-off stitch, and then work the ribbing. (This adds a little structure.)
  3. Adjust the neckline stitches by working a decrease round before the ribbing.
  4. Adjust the bind-off round by using smaller or larger needles to get the right firmness.

Casting on provisionally and then working the neckline last is a bit fussier than just casting on and working the neckline first – but it it gives you the flexibility to adjust this critical area without too much trouble.

Love Note pattern
The Love Note sweater starts with a provisional cast-on, and this ethereal sweater hangs beautifully from a firm bind off.

Working bottom-up

One of the major benefits of a bottom-up sweater is easy neckline adjustments. It isn’t too much trouble to unpick the bind-off or the ribbing and try again. If you find your neckline is too loose for your liking, you can work an extra decrease round before the ribbing, or try a tighter bind-off. If you find your sweater needs a little extra structure, you can work a bind-off before the neckline ribbing, pick up and knit one stitch in each of the bound-off stitches, and then work your ribbing. It will hold firm and prevent the neckline from stretching out too much.

Antler pullover pattern
The Antler Pullover is knit from the bottom-up, so you have extra flexibility in getting the perfect number of stitches and structure at the neckline.

Making adjustments after the fact

So you’ve knit an amazing sweater, but the neckline just isn’t what you wanted it to be. If you’ve knit your sweater bottom-up, the fix is easy. But top-down? Not so much. Don’t lose hope, though! We have a few suggested fixes to get that sweater into regular wardrobe rotation! It can feel fiddly to fix the neckline after the fact, but we promise it’s worth it! You’ve put a lot of love and energy into your work of art, and it’s well worth the effort to get it just the way you like it.

Adding a bit of structure

One way to tighten up a neckline and add a bit of structure is to work a crochet chain around the inside of the sweater at the bottom of the ribbing. The crochet chain isn’t stretchy the way your knitting is at this point in the sweater, so it will hold firm.

Cutting off the ribbing and reworking the neckline

Thinking about cutting into your knitting is a bit scary, but don’t worry – this is only minor surgery! Because of the way knit stitches work, you can’t simply undo the cast-on and unravel the ribbing. (We tried it, so you don’t have to… but if you don’t believe us, go forth.) Instead, you need to insert your needle below the ribbing, cut one stitch, and take the ribbing off (described in detail below). Note that the photos show removing the ribbing on a bottom-up sweater, but all the steps are exactly the same to remove the ribbing on a top-down sweater.

  1. Insert a small needle through one ‘leg’ of each stitch. Make sure to keep in the same round.
  2. Cut one stitch and unpick the round below your needle.
  3. Remove the ribbing.
  4. Join new yarn, and you’re ready to redo that ribbing as you see fit.
A hand holding the ribbed hem of a sweater with a small knitting needle through the stitches above the ribbing.
Insert a small needle through one ‘leg’ of each stitch. Make sure to keep in the same round.
Needles inserted through the stitches above the ribbing at the hem of a sweater. Scissors ready to cut a single stitch below the needles.
Cut one stitch and unpick the round below your needle.
A knitting needle is inserted through live stitches and the ribbing of the sweater is being removed.
This is what it looks like as you undo the round above your needles.
A sweater with needles through the live stitches at the bottom and the removed ribbing underneath it.
Here we’ve removed the hem ribbing of a bottom-up sweater, but the steps are just the same for removing the neckline ribbing of a top-down sweater.

Once you’ve got that ribbing off and live stitches on your needles, you can work any of the changes listed in the ‘hedging your bets’ section above. It’s as if you’ve unzipped your provisional cast-on and are ready to go!

This is also the method you would use if you knit a sweater from the bottom-up but want to add or remove length in the body or sleeves. Insert your needle above the ribbing (or wherever you want to change the length), cut, and remove the ribbing. Then you can make your length adjustments and redo that ribbing.

Looking for more helpful sweater knitting tutorials?

We love sweater knitting, so we’ve created lots of sweater knitting tutorials!

  1. Knitting Hack: the provisional cast-on
  2. Let’s knit a bottom-up sweater
  3. Let’s knit a colourwork sweater
  4. How to block a hand-knit sweater
  5. How to knit a garment at a different gauge

Or you can find ALL our tutorials here!

Four Tips for Knitting with Handspun Yarn

March 25, 2021
smiling toddler in a striped cowl

I find it difficult to cast on with my handspun yarn because I label it ‘too Precious‘. I feel hesitant to let those wonderful, bouncy skeins out of my grip and onto the needles. I wonder if I’ll have enough yarn to complete the project, or I worry that the pattern won’t ‘do justice’ to a yarn that took so long to make by hand. If you find yourself with similar handspun hesitations, here are some tips to help you get passed the fear and get started.

Cakes of multi-coloured 2ply handspun yarn

1. Start small and simple

Small, simple projects are a great place to start with handspun. Their simplicity will spotlight the beauty of the yarn, and you won’t need to spin too much yardage to complete them.

For example, our Tall Dark and Handsome pattens have simple textures that will let handmade yarn shine. Both the free Barley hat pattern (for worsted/aran weight yarn) and free Barley Light hat pattern (for fingering/sock weight yarn) will highlight a complex handspun, thanks to their simple stockinette and garter stitch panels. And the free World’s Simplest Mittens pattern has three gauge options, so there’s bound to be one that will work for your special handmade yarn.

2. Stripe it up

When you don’t have enough yardage in one colourway to complete a project in a single colour, use stripes and slip-stitch patterns to your advantage.

Undertone Cowl pattern
The Undertone cowl is a great project for striping two handspun colourways. You could also pair handspun with a commercial yarn to make that precious skein stretch further.
Undertone Cowl pattern
You can use up the tiniest of scraps by changing out the contrast-colour yarn!
bumble beanie pattern
The Bumble beanie is a fabulous hat for combining yarns and making use of small amounts of handspun! You can knit it in a single colour, or work in stripes to achieve a subtle, tweedy effect, as I have with this one.

If you’re interested in the Bumble beanie pattern, check out this post that highlights the different effects you can get from working the pattern with one or two colours – and the lovely, distinct textures they elicit on each side of the work.

A kid wearing colourwork hat, striped cowl and striped sweater.
Hunter’s wearing the Prism hat, the Undertone cowl in a vivid rainbow, and the Chromatic sweater – all from our Mad Colour ebook.

Our Mad Colour ebook is full of vibrant patterns designed for mixing and matching yarns, making them perfect for creating colourful stripes with your handspun lovelies.

3. Combine handspun with other yarns

Adding a mill-spun yarn to the mix can stretch the yardage further than if you knit an entire project in handspun alone. What if you worked the colourwork section of a project using your handspun, and then picked a commercial yarn for the remainder?

Striped Flax Hack Blog Post
I used a combination of handspun and commercial yarns to knit this sweet, striped sweater from our free Flax pattern, with only a few adjustments.

I recently made a Flax sweater for Neve using up the remainders of several beautiful handspun skeins, striping them together with coordinating hand-dyed and commercial yarns. Here are a few more ideas, if you’d like to try your hand at some different combinations:

  • Knit the contrast-colour sections of the Fleet hat using small amounts of your lovely handspun.
  • Feature small amounts of one or two handmade yarns in the Twisp hat or Embers hat, while working the body in hand-dyed or mill-dyed yarn.
  • Stripe up the Prism hat with with 50yds or less of handspun (stripes are also an excellent way to make a self-striping colourway really shine!).
  • Use your exquisite handspun colourway as the contrast colour in a yoke sweater like Embers, Dog Star, Icefall, or another pattern from Strange Brew, our book of yoke sweater designs.

For more ideas, browse all of the colourwork patterns on our website.

Tin Can Knits Colourwork Patterns

4. Stop fretting and just cast on already!

Nothing can make the uncertainty go away like the simple act of casting on. Once I have a yarn on the needles, it often whispers to me what it wants to become. And if it doesn’t work? Just rip, rip, rip it out and start again!

A wave-pattern blanket knit in handspun with contrast-colour stripes.
A simple knit I’m working on in my most recent lot of handspun yarn.

I’ve fallen deeply in love with spinning over the past few months (check out my handspun highlights on Instagram). If you’re a handspun enthusiast like me, please comment to share any advice, tips, and inspirations you may have!

~ Em

Bodhi’s Bookish Birthday Sweater

March 11, 2021
A child by a lake in a colourwork sweater

The Golden Glow and a request

Bodhi’s current favourite book is The Golden Glow by Benjamin Flouw. We’ve read it a million times, and even though she can read it on her own now, she doesn’t have to. She knows it by heart. 

The Golden Glow is a stunningly illustrated tale of botany and adventure. It is the story of Fox, who goes searching for a rare and beautiful flower. Spoiler: When he finds the flower, he realizes that he should leave it where it is. It is more beautiful on the mountain top than it could ever be in a vase at home. 

After a whole summer of reading this book constantly, Bodhi requested a special sweater, a Golden Glow sweater. And she wanted it to have all the elements of the cherished story – every animal, plant, tree, and grape pâté sandwich. Mountains, rocks, Cousin Wolf, and even the golden glow itself…you name it, she wanted it on her sweater! 

Well, you know I love a challenge (and I can’t resist a request from my kids), so away I went. I wanted the sweater to be in sock weight because that would allow me to have the most detail at the yoke. For the colours, I wanted to replicate the warm palette of the book. I had the Strange Brew yoke recipe as a starting point, and from my colourwork stash, I came up with some Brooklyn Tweed Loft in just the right botanical greens. I was ready to go! 

a child in a colourwork sweater

A common mistake 

When I teach knitters how to create their own designs using the Strange Brew yoke recipe, I always offer this wise piece of advice: 

Don’t try to put every idea you’ve ever had into the yoke of a sweater. There just isn’t room, and focusing on one element you love makes for a much better design. 

But did I take my own advice? Of course not! I wanted to put every wonderful bit of this book into the yoke…and I suffered for it! I knit, ripped, re-knit, and ripped again. I could never seem to get a colour combination right on the first try. I had to make several trips to my LYS, Black Sheep Yarns, and Helen got a good chuckle every time I turned up for yet another skein. But that’s how colourwork goes sometimes – trial and error!

a child in a colourwork sweater

The hardest part of this project was figuring out how to nail the titular golden glow. I had to get the bright, flaxen yellow juuuust right, and after A LOT of experimenting, I landed on a teeny bit of Jamieson & Smith in the perfect hue.

a smiling child in a colourwork sweater

When I knit this sweater for Bodhi’s birthday, it was summer, so 3/4 sleeves were perfect. But when winter hit, she brought me her beloved jumper and asked for long sleeves. I added some colorful rainbow cuffs, which were sort of a pain to knit (not to mention those ends…), but she loves them.

a close up of the sleeve of a colourwork sweater

A gift for my dear Bodhi

At this point, I can’t really decide if the Golden Glow sweater is ugly or awesome..maybe it’s both. But Bodhi loves it, and I suppose that’s really all that matters. It was interesting for me to knit this sweater, knowing it wasn’t a design. It was just a knit – a knit to make a six year old happy on her birthday, a knit to go along with her young love of books and nature and adventure. She adores the little foxes, the bright yellow golden glow, and the tiny grape pâté sandwiches at the hem. My heart soars when I see her sitting in her special sweater, reading her favourite book. Ugly or awesome, it’s absolutely perfect.

~ Alexa

a child in a colourwork sweater

Dots and Dashes: Ombré in Morse Code

March 5, 2021

I am, and always will be, a sucker for ombré. It makes me happy to see colours fading from one to the next. Whether it’s a cool tonal palette or a whole rainbow of hues, it puts a smile on my face every time. This custom Strange Brew yoke is one of those happiness-inducing blends – the perfect pairing of a simple, graphic pattern and a sunset of warm, inviting colours.

A colourwork yoke pinned out on a black board
My yoke on the blocking boards

My inspiration

I was flipping through one of my many stitch dictionaries (everyone does that, right?), and I came across a pattern in knits and purls that I really liked. It was simple, just a few purls that stood out among a sea of stockinette. It stuck with me… But rather than going for texture, I wanted to apply the approach to colourwork – and the idea for a Morse Code yoke was born!

This dots-and-dashes design seemed tailor-made for a little ombré, so I pulled out some bits and bobs of Brooklyn Tweed Arbor in a warm, pleasing palette – and fought my urge to use a neutral as the main colour. Instead of the grey or cream I was gravitating towards, I went with an intense, deep teal.

A child facing away from the camera in a teal sweater with a warm ombre of colourwork.

A sweater for Bodhi

I love trying out new ideas on kid sweaters. It’s the perfect playground for my yoke ideas, and the result is a wearable little work of art. I followed the Strange Brew instructions for the size 8-10 with the wedge design option. Bodhi is only six, but I wanted to give her a little room to grow in this one.

I worked this sweater from the top–down. I cast on according to the Strange Brew instructions, worked a small increase round, followed my chart (below), and then knit a final increase round to get to the total stitch count. I then worked the short rows, body, and sleeves per the pattern. I focused all the fun in the yoke, keeping the body and sleeves plain.

a colourwork chart
I used this chart to create my Morse Code yoke.

Bodhi is so pleased with her fall sweater. I started it at the beginning of lockdown in March, and it was ready for her to wear when she went back to school in September. Bodhi is still little and smitten with anything her mum makes her, so she wears it all the time!

A child in a teal sweater with a warm ombre of colourwork at the yoke.

More Strange Brew

Will Emily and I every tire of yokes? Probably not! If you want to join us in our yoke obsession, we have lots of resources:

Strange Brew Directory: Check out all of our Strange Brew yokes (including charts) here.

A Week of Colour hats: This series includes strategies for choosing a colour palette.

How to Strange Brew: A series of posts on using the Strange Brew pattern to create your own unique sweater!

~ Alexa

A Tin Can Knits Sale!

February 18, 2021

It’s time for that rarest of occurrences: A TCK SALE!

If you’ve been around awhile, you know this doesn’t happen often… our last sale was four years ago!

We’ve always focused on bringing you excellent value with trusted and clear pattern writing, delicious photography, helpful tutorials, baby-to-big sizing, and responsive support. So what could be better than that? A buy-one-get-one-free sale!

Buy One Get One Free sale details

  • The BOGO sale runs from now until February 28, 2021, midnight PST, so pick your faves today!
  • To get one eBook or pattern free, simply add two eBooks or patterns to your cart before checking out on our website or Ravelry. There are no limitations – you can purchase more than one pair! The least expensive item(s) will be free.
  • All eBooks and patterns published by Tin Can Knits are included in the sale. Print books, the Heart on my Sleeve eBook, Sword Fern, Crossed Cardigan, and Elwha are not included in the sale.
  • If you buy on our website, there is a convenient button to add the pattern to your library, if desired.

What’s the best deal?

EBOOKS! Yes, all of our ebooks are included in the sale, and BOGO makes them an amazing deal. Say you’ve been considering Strange Brew and Mad Colour… now you can get both eBooks – all 30 patterns – for just $22 USD + tax!

A few of your faves

The knitters have spoken! These are TCK’s most popular designs: Beloved bonnet, Love Note sweater, Strange Brew sweater, Antler cardigan, Gramps cardigan, Bounce blanket, Snap hat, Dog Star sweater, and Vivid blanket.

Head over to the new TCK website and pick up YOUR faves today!

How to Knit With Recycled Yarn

February 11, 2021
laughing child in red cabled hat
I knit this lovely version of our free Antler hat in yarn that I recycled from a second-hand sweater.

Did you read our tutorial How to Recycle Yarn from Second-hand Sweaters? Recycling yarn is essentially just unpicking second-hand sweaters and then pulling and pulling, until you’ve unravelled the fabric back into yarn. This is something I did A LOT of when I first began my love affair with knitting. If you’d like to learn how to recycle yarn step-by-step, be sure to check out the tutorial!

Once you’ve got some lovely recycled yarn on hand, what’s next? Let’s talk about knitting with the results! Before you can choose a project, you’ll need to figure out:

1. What gauge the recycled yarn will knit to.
2. Approximately how much yardage you have.
3. What the yarn is made of.

deep red yarn
My recycled yarn was over-dyed to a luscious deep red by my friend Nina, dyer at Rainbow Heirloom.

What gauge will the recycled yarn knit to?

First, there’s the question of what gauge you can achieve with the yarn you’ve created. When working with recycled yarn from a second-hand jumper, you won’t have a ball band to tell you what the yarn is made of, its yardage, or the suggested gauge and needle size. You’ll have to figure these things out yourself.

detail of a yarn end showing multiple plies
The recycled yarn I used for this Antler toque was made up of six plies held together.

The ‘construction’ of recycled yarn may be a little different from what you’re accustomed to. For example, this yarn I recycled is actually composed of six strands knit. It was not plied – it was simply knit with the six strands at once. Now it appears to hold together as a single strand, due to the light felting that occurred with wear and processing. But that’s no problem; it knit up just fine!

Measure gauge from the garment before recycling it back to yarn

unpicking a sweater back to yarn

A quick way to guess what gauge you’ll knit is by measuring the gauge of the original garment you unravelled (before you take it to pieces!). Although the machine-knit fabric of the garment you’re recycling may be a bit more dense than the fabric you want to create, this can provide a sensible starting spot.

Measure WPI – wraps per inch – to assess yarn weight

I like to do a quick wraps per inch (WPI) test on recycled yarn before I begin working with it. You can do this by wrapping the yarn around a ruler and counting how many wraps fit into one inch. Then you can check Ravelry’s WPI gauge table to find the weight equivalent of your WPI. Alternatively, you might find it more effective to compare your recycled yarn to a commercial yarn that you have on hand to see if it has more, less, or the same WPI.

Knit gauge swatches to determine gauge

The most accurate way to determine gauge is to knit one or more gauge swatches on different needle sizes. These swatches will tell you precisely what gauge your recycled yarn knits to, and as a bonus, they’ll reveal the quality of the resulting fabric. And if you’re planning to knit something that depends on gauge for fit, you’ll definitely need to swatch.

How much yardage do you have? 

There’s nothing more frustrating than beginning a project and then discovering near the end that you don’t have enough yarn to finish it. Since recycled yarns don’t come with a ball band to tell you the exact yardage, you’ll need to estimate it. This may seem daunting, but I have a few suggestions to help you figure it out.

Snap Hat Pattern
The Snap hat is knit by creating a marled ombre of scraps!

Calculate yardage by measuring the skein and counting loops

By measuring how long the loop of a skein is (say, 24″ around) and counting the number of strands you have in your skein (say there are 120 loops), you can multiply the two numbers to get the length of yarn in the skein: 120 loops x 24″ = 2880″ total. To convert inches to yards, divide by 36 (because there are 36″ in one yard). For our example, 2880″ / 36″ = 80 yards.

yarn spaghetti and a kinky skein

Extrapolate using weight

If you’ve calculated the length of a single skein by weighing it, you can work out how much you have total in the lot of recycled yarn. (You will need a kitchen scale for this.) Say you know that a skein measures 80 yds, and it weighs 35 g; you can divide the length / weight. In this case, 80 yds / 35 g = 2.286 yards in a single gram of the yarn. By getting the total weight of the recycled yarn (let’s say it’s 250g), you can calculate the total yardage by multiplying total weight x yards per gram, or 250 x 2.286 = 571 yds.

It’s best to remember that all of the above is still somewhat approximate, so take your own calculations with a grain of salt!

Make a smaller project

If you’re still uncertain about yardage, stick with smaller projects like socks, hats, and other accessories. Smaller sized sweaters are also good choices. If you have recycled yarn from a men’s size L jumper, you can probably use the results to make a child’s sweater or women’s size S, as long as the nature of the stitch pattern doesn’t require vastly different amounts of yarn.

Combine yarns in colourwork or striped projects

When you aren’t certain whether a lot of yarn will be enough to complete an entire blanket, shawl, or sweater, you can combine two lots – and stripes are so much fun to knit!

Playdate Cardigan
I worked this little Playdate cardigan in single-row stripes, which blended two colourways together in a satisfying way.

If you’re working with lighter-weight recycled yarns, holding two different strands together as one to make up to a heavier weight yarn could be a good solution. And we have a tutorial on how to knit with two or more yarns held together to create marled fabric that just might inspire you!

What is the recycled yarn made of? 

When recycling yarn, I like to take note of the fibre content listed on the garment tag – that way I know what I’m working with. If the garment has no tag, you’ll have to take your best guess, but you can use your senses to come to a reasonable conclusion. If it smells sheepy when you wet it, it’s probably got some sheep’s wool in it. If it smells a little like a dead bug, it’s probably got some silk content. If it melts when you burn it, you’ve got some plastic in there. Cotton usually feels pretty cottony and doesn’t have any stretch to it. But, of course, the most reliable way to know is to look at the garment tag!

The sweater I recycled was a blend of 80% wool and 20% nylon.

What will you knit?! Decisions, decisions! 

You can make anything from recycled yarn that you can make from new yarn. I suggest selecting a pattern based on the the yarn itself, considering its fibre content and its properties – whether it’s scratchy or soft, elastic and springy (wool and blends), or ropey and smooth without any stretch (cotton or linen).

With this beautiful worsted/aran weight recycled yarn, I decided to knit something simple, selected from among our free patterns. The free Antler toque is a classic, and it makes a great first or second cable project. For an even SIMPLER first cable project, we suggest the free Northward hat pattern.

Have you tried your hand at knitting with recycled yarn? Let us know what has your experience been like!

~ Emily

How to Recycle Yarn from Second-Hand Sweaters

February 4, 2021
Antler Toque Pattern
Ayanda is wearing our free Antler toque pattern, which I knit with yarn I recycled from a second-hand sweater.

As designers, Alexa and I are lucky enough to knit with pretty much whatever tickles our fancy. We often work in luxury yarns. And while we adore shopping for shiny new yarns, we know from experience that this is not what knitting is about. Of all the things our shared craft is about, for knitters across time and place, it is not about shine.

When I first fell head-over-heels in love with knitting, and started a blog about it over 10 years ago, I had just finished university. I didn’t yet have a job and thus had relatively little cash on hand for hobbies. Back then, I looked at the price of new yarns in knit shops, and I honestly didn’t understand how anyone could afford it. What I did have then, in my pre-mommy days, was a ton of time. So, to make my new hobby more wallet friendly, I learned how to recycle second-hand sweaters.

Does this look like the kind of yarn you’d be happy knitting with?! Yup? Well, it’s the result of my own yarn recycling, plus a little yarn-dying love from my friend Nina at Rainbow Heirloom.

I would carefully unravel thrifted garments back into yarn, which I would then knit into new items. For $5-$10, I could find a wool jumper, and with a few hours of effort, have a sweater quantity of yarn. I also experimented with simple dying techniques and ended up with a selection of my own hand-dyed yarns!

It’s useful for me to remember those days. Back then, knitting with recycled yarn or more affordable acrylic yarn was no less enticing, fascinating, pleasurable, and joyful than it is now that I knit with more expensive materials. In some ways, it was even MORE exciting because everything about knitting was still so new. Alexa and I both loved it then, when we worked with what we could access and afford. And we still love it now, no matter what kind of yarn is on our needles.

Shopping for a garment to unravel

If you’d like to try recycling yarn for yourself, I have a few tips to share, starting with how to find the right second-hand sweater.

  • Construction: It’s critical that the sweater pieces have been KNIT to shape, rather than made with knitted fabric that was CUT to shape.
  • Crochet Chain Seams: If the seams look like they’ve been made by a serger (like the seams inside a T-shirt), steer clear. Look for seams that are easy to unpick; they will look like a little column of Vs, as you can see in the image below.
  • Fibre Content: Check the label to see the fibre content of the sweater; I always sought wool and wool blends.
  • Weight: It’s best to look for heavier/chunkier sweaters because they will unravel into yarn that’s a suitable gauge for use in hand-knitting patterns. That said, it is possible to unravel finer-gauge sweaters and then hold several strands of yarn together when knitting.
  • Pullovers: Often, when commercially made cardigans have button bands, the yarn is cut where the buttonholes are made, so you’ll end up having several shorter bits of yarn from unravelling a cardigan. This can be fine if you’re willing to spit-splice often or weave in many ends, but it’s better if you don’t have to!
  • Felting: Is it felted? If the fabric is felted together, it won’t unravel, so look for fabric that shows spaces and rows when stretched (horizontally and vertically). This makes it more likely that you’ll be able to unravel it successfully.
detail of a knit sweater seam
You can tell a couple of things by looking at this seam: the fabric pieces have been knit to shape, not cut (there’s no raw edges), and the seam is a crochet-chain style seam, rather than sewn with an overlocker. Look for these things when choosing sweaters for recycling.
fingers holding a garment tag
Choose wool or wool blends when shopping for sweaters to recycle.

How to disassemble and unravel a garment

a pink sweater laid flat, and a cat
I bought this sweater from a local second-hand shop to recycle into yarn.

Sweaters tend to be seamed last at the body sides and underarms, so that’s a good place to begin unpicking. If you can get ahold of the right end of the crochet chain that seams the sides, you can often just pull, and the majority of the seam will ‘unzip’ like magic. After you’ve taken apart the sides and underarm seams, you can unpick the sleeves from the yoke.

detail of a stitch picker unpicking a sweater seam
I began with a stitch picker, cutting the seam at the sleeve cuff.
detail of unpicking a sweater seam
Once I got started, I was able to simply pull, and the crochet-chain seam ‘unzipped’.
an inside-out sweater with one seam unpicked
The sweater, inside out, with one of the side and sleeve seams unpicked.
a pink sweater taken to pieces
Once you have unpicked all the seams, you’ll have several pieces of knit fabric, ready to begin unravelling.

You may need to cut off the shaped part at the front neckline/back, before unravelling downwards, depending on how the neckline was worked in the commercial sweater. You will find most jumpers have been knit from the bottom (hem, cuffs) upward, which means when unravelling them, you must unravel from the top of the piece (shoulder, neckline) and work downwards. They must be unravelled in the opposite direction from which they were knit.

unraveling a sweater

Once you’ve got a good piece, cut off the top edge, find an end, and start pulling. The yarn can be a bit sticky at the ends of rows, so take it slowly to begin – and expect to spend some time on the process. If there are parts of the fabric where the wool is felted, you may need to cut off a few rows before it will continue to unravel. Spit-splicing is your friend here if you’re working with wool yarns. Otherwise, get comfortable with having many yarn ends to weave in.

a shopping bag with yarn spaghetti inside

I always unpick my yarn into a pile of ‘yarn spaghetti’ in a big paper or plastic bag. As long as no kids or pets get at it, you’ll be able to pull it back up out of the bag without tangling on the next step.

How to prepare recycled yarn for knitting

a pile of yarn spaghetti and a kinky skein
  • Once the yarn is unraveled, wind it around something to form it into skeins. Tie it in a few places, so it doesn’t get tangled when you wash or dye it.
  • If you plan to over-dye your recycled yarn, soak and rinse it first, and then pop it into the dye pot to give it a new life!
  • For recycled yarns you want to use as-is, simply give them a gentle wash with some shampoo, allowing them plenty of time to soak. Then hang them to drip dry, perhaps with a little weight hanging off the bottom of the skein to remove some of the kinkiness.
  • After dyeing or drying, wind up the yarns into balls for use. If you don’t have a ball-winder and swift, follow our tutorial on how to hand-wind a centre-pull ball of yarn. You can work with these yarns held singly or by holding two or more strands together to achieve a heavier gauge.
  • With recycled yarns, it’s necessary to do more swatching, as there’s no ball band to tell you which needles to choose.
a ball of deep red yarn, and a work in progress
It’s so delicious! Knitting with this recycled yarn has been a joy; I’ll share more photos of the finished hat in a coming post.

My best find!

My best-find-ever for recycling yarn was a large sweater in aran-weight 100% cashmere. I unraveled it and over-dyed the yarn from baby blue to this knockout cobalt colour. I then knit up a new sweater using the February Lady Sweater pattern, an adult design inspired by Elizabeth Zimmermann’s Baby Sweater on Two Needles.

a woman in a blue cardigan, taking a photo in the mirror

A couple of other really lovely projects I knit with recycled yarns were a Laminaria shawl, and a Pi blanket.

Buying second-hand in the age of fast fashion

It’s important to recognize that my ability to go thrifting for sweaters made from luxury fibres is, at least in part, a symptom of fast fashion, which is a problematic system for many reasons. When I find cashmere sweaters sold second hand, I know there’s a whole industry behind them – one that’s overwhelmingly damaging to workers’ lives and the environment, producing masses of garments for unsustainably low dollar values. When the cost of new garments is low for wealthy Westerners, dropping bags of ‘old’ clothes at a second-hand shop before going to buy the next season’s wardrobe becomes commonplace.

There’s also an issue with the growing trend of buying second-hand clothing. When thrift shops are frequented by middle class and affluent customers, prices can rise beyond what’s affordable for those with less cash. Those who truly need to shop for low cost clothing can find themselves priced out of the market.

That said, within the system we have now, reusing fibres – and thus saving them from a landfill where they would otherwise end up – still seems to me to be a good thing. And if new yarn isn’t in the budget, recycling thrifted sweaters is one way into knitting with an affordable price tag.

If you’re curious about sustainable and ethical fashion, the problems with fast fashion, how racism intersects with these issues, and how to shop for alternatives, Alexa and I LOVE the personal style and critical thoughts of Aja Barber. Aja delivers both pearly wisdom (seasoned with a generous dash of style inspiration) to our inbox via her Patreon. She also can also be found on Instagram.

Be sure to comment if you have any tips for making knitting more affordable, ethical, and sustainable. We’d love to hear from you!

~ Emily

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