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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!

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. Pam W permalink
    May 13, 2021 7:23 am

    Hi Alexa. The article on stitch markers was really helpful and very timely as I’d only started to use them in a beginner pattern yesterday and didn’t know what PM or SM meant. Thanks for the clear explanations! I feel more confident now!

  2. Evelyn permalink
    May 8, 2021 5:09 am

    I use both types of stitch markers. The safety pin ones, I also use to slip along the needle. When I make socks, i have a row counter on a round which as use as the beginning of the round marker so that I don’t have to count the rows as such. This makes life much easier!

  3. May 7, 2021 12:18 am

    I use stitch markers a lot but they certainly do get everywhere… under furniture, behind cushion etc

  4. D Louise permalink
    May 6, 2021 2:15 pm

    As a “lazy” sock knitter, I hate counting rows, and checking the count, to make 2nd sock match first. So, I place a small locking marker on a stitch in each tenth round on both first and 2nd sock. Makes counting easy peasey since I don’t ever have to count beyond 10.

  5. Pam permalink
    May 6, 2021 2:01 pm

    That was really helpful. As a new knitter I value any info I can get. Also, well written.
    Thank you.

  6. Rachel G Hayden permalink
    May 6, 2021 8:21 am

    Very helpful. I have kinda used them in the ways you indicated but in a very haphazard manner 😊

  7. May 6, 2021 7:39 am

    I learn something every time.

  8. lee06810 permalink
    May 6, 2021 7:01 am

    Thank you for the tips, Alexa. I find it helpful to use markers when casting on a lot of stitches. I place them every 20 stitches as I cast on, count it a few times (to make sure the numbers don’t change somehow!), then count the ‘chunks’ as needed. So much easier to count to 20 several times than to a large number once.

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