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Fired Up for Sweater Knitting? Embers is Here!

December 4, 2020
yoke sweater laid flat on a mossy rock
Embers sweater pattern

Who’s ready for some sweater knitting?! Our newest pattern Embers is here!

Embers is exactly what I need right now — basic, top–down construction, simple colourwork, and tons of fun palette possibilities.

Matchy Matchy

We may have mentioned it before (like here and here), but we really love a hat swatch. It’s such a great way to see if your yarn and colour combination is the right one for your sweater. I knit up a few hats to test out my colour combos before embarking on the sweater. Get the Embers hat pattern here.

Embers hat pattern
The Embers hat is this much fun. I promise!

The Farmer’s Daughter Fibers and Jamieson & Smith

I think the most fun part of this sweater was choosing a palette for the yoke. I had a rainbow of amazing Soka’pii from The Farmer’s Daughter Fibers and tried a few combinations before I hit upon my favourite. To make the colourwork really POP, I held the contrast colour yarn doubled.

A warm rainbow of yarn skeins lined up.

Emily chose the colours for the kiddie size from her wild stash of Jamieson & Smith… after agonizing for days and swatching up a storm! I love that pop of brightest red against the grey!

Ready to go? Get the pattern, grab your favourite yarn, and let’s knit! Share your progress on Instagram with the hashtags #EmbersSweater, #EmbersHat, and #TinCanKnits. We can’t wait to see it!

~ Alexa

The New Tin Can Knits Website is Here!

November 30, 2020

Joyful photos, clear instructions, excellent support and FUN have been the focus of our work since the beginning. Our new website is designed for clarity and simplicity – to make it easy for you to browse both our patterns and the hundreds of free resources and tutorials we have developed over the years.

Now you can enjoy Tin Can Knits inspiration in your pocket or at your desk! We designed the site to be easy-to-read on your phone, tablet, or computer.

Screenshot of Tin Can Knits pattern page
Find everything you need on your phone, tablet, or computer!

While the new website design focuses on simplicity, we’ve also made each of our over 160 patterns more deeply connected. Every design now includes a ‘pattern details’ button. Clicking it will reveal all the nitty-gritty information about size, gauge, needles, construction, relevant technique tutorials, and more!

Technique resources

Alexa and I have been developing knitting tutorials for a decade – check them out! Browse by topic, or search to see if we have the tutorial you’re looking for. For example, there are 28 tutorials on our list of Colourwork Tutorials alone!

Tin Can Knits Colourwork Resources

Our Abbreviations, Errata and FAQ pages also have been updated and improved. They’re easy to search and include links to helpful tutorials.

More fun photos

We’ve taken A LOT of fun photos over the years, and our new site lets you enjoy many more of them in all their big, bright, goofy glory! For example, check out the free Flax Sweater pattern to browse some of the dozens of Flax sweaters we’ve knit over the years.

Flax sweater pattern
We have knit MANY Flax Sweaters over the years!

Industry-specific resources

We’ve also added several pages specifically for craft industry folks. We have free teaching materials to help knitting instructors find class materials and inspiration, and wholesale information to make it easy for you to carry our most popular products.

Our story, our values

Over the past couple of years, Alexa and I have been thinking a lot about our values – who we are and what kind of work we want Tin Can Knits to do going forward. You can read more about the story of our business and the values that shape our work on the About and Story pages.

What do you think?

We’d love your feedback – if you find aspects of the site that don’t work for you, please let us know at Alexa and I are a two-person team, and while we’ve done user testing, there will be elements that we have missed! We want this website to work for you, so please share your thoughts with us. We look forward to hearing from you, and we hope you enjoy the new website!

~ Emily

Let’s Knit a Northward Hat

November 5, 2020
smiling child in a cabled hat

This step-by-step tutorial explains how to knit the Northward hat. Ready to get started? Get your copy of the FREE Northward pattern and follow along!

two children in cabled knit hats

Let’s get started! For this hat, you’ll need:

For this pattern, you will need 70 (80, 100, 120) yards of bulky weight yarn. You can also use a worsted weight yarn held doubled, but you’ll need double the yardage. For more on yarn choices, check out our post here.

The suggested needles for this pattern are a US #9 / 5.5mm for the ribbing and a US #10.5 / 6.5mm for the rest of the hat. These sizes are just suggestions, though. You’ll want to choose the needles that get you the suggested gauge. Learn more about gauge in knitting here. If you’re interested in skipping the double pointed needles for the baby size or the decreases, check out our magic loop tutorial here.

You’ll need a stitch marker, a cable needle, a darning needle for the ends, and a pom pom maker (but only if you intend to put a super cute pom on the top). For more info on pom poms, check out our Pom Pom Basics tutorial and our Pom Pom Advanced Techniques tutorial.

a ball of grey yarn and knitting needles
I’ve got my yarn and needles ready! This is Brooklyn Tweed Quarry in Granite.


This hat is knit in the round from brim to crown. This means you cast on at the ribbing, work your way up, and end with the decreases at the top.

an illustration of a cabled hat

If you’re uncertain about the conventions used in knitting patterns, our in-depth tutorial How to Read a Knitting Pattern may be helpful. It explains all about abbreviations and brackets!

Cast-on and ribbing

With smaller needles, cast on 50 (60, 70, 80) sts, PM, and join for working in the round.

I usually cast on with a smaller needle to keep the ribbing a little tighter than the body of the hat.

To join for working in the round, you can start just by knitting the first stitch cast on, but I have a little technique I use to make the join nice and clean. You can check it out here.

Ribbing: [k1tbl, p1] around
Work ribbing round a total of 4 (4, 6, 6) times. Switch to larger needles.

To give the ribbing a little extra definition, I worked a twisted rib. That means instead of a regular knit stitch, it has a k1tbl (knit 1 stitch through the back loop).

a close up of knitting a stitch through the back loop
To knit through the back loop, insert your needle through the back leg of the stitch and then knit it through.
the ribbing on a knit hat in progress
For my hat, I am working the adult S/M, so I cast on 70 sts and worked the twisted rib round six times.

The cables

Here’s where it gets fun! The best thing about cables is that they look difficult and fancy, but they are oh so simple.

Rounds 1, 2, 3, 4: [k6, p4] around
Round 5: [c6f, p4] around
Round 6: [k6, p4] around
Work rounds 1-6 a total of 3 (4, 4, 5) times, and then work rounds 1-5 once more.

The cable turn occurs on round five, and the other five rounds in this six-round repeat are simple knits and purls.

c6f: cable 6 front. This means you are going to work your cable over six stitches. Three stitches will be placed on the cable needle, and the cable needle is held at the front of the work. The first three stitches are knit from the left hand needle, and then three stitches are knit from the cable needle.

a knit hat in progress on the needles
Here I have done my four rounds of knits and purls, and I’m ready for my round 5 cables!
a bit of knitting in progress with 6 stitches numbered
Cabling is just knitting stitches out of order. Instead of knitting the stitches in order (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6), you are going to knit stitches 4, 5, 6, and then stitches 1, 2, 3.
a hand holding a cable needle
This is my cable needle. Don’t worry if yours looks different! There are many different styles, and they all work just fine. Emily often just uses a bent paperclip.
a cable needle going into 3 stitches on a knit hat
First I slide my cable needle through the first three stitches (1, 2, 3).
a knit hat in progress with a cable needle with 3 stitches on it
I allow these held stitches on the cable needle to fall to the front (outside) of the work. Then I knit the next three stitches (4, 5, 6) from the left-hand needle.
a cable needle with 3 stitches on it against a hat in progress
Now I’m ready to knit the three stitches from the cable needle.
a finished cable on the needles
Cable complete!
a cabled hat on the needles
Now, after working the six-round repeat several times, I’m ready for the crown decreases!

The decrease section

Round 1: [k6, p2tog, p2] around [45 (54, 63, 72) sts]
Round 2: [k4, k2tog, p3] around [40 (48, 56, 64) sts]
Round 3: [k5, p2tog, p1] around [35 (42, 49, 56) sts]
Round 4: [k3, k2tog, p2] around [30 (36, 42, 48) sts]
Round 5: [c4f, p2tog] around [25 (30, 35, 40) sts]
Round 6: [k2, k2tog, p1] around [20 (24, 28, 32) sts]
Round 7: [k1, k2tog, p1] around [15 (18, 21, 24) sts]
Round 8: [k2tog, p1] around [10 (12, 14, 16) sts]
Round 9: [k2tog] around [5 (6, 7, 8) sts]

The decreases occur quickly, over nine rounds. When there are too few stitches to work comfortably on your circular needle, you must switch to double pointed needles or a long circular for the magic loop method.

a hat on long circular knitting needles
Here is my hat with my long circular for magic loop.

Note that there is a cable in round five, but it occurs over four stitches rather than six, because I have decreased within the cable section.

c4f: cable 4 front. This means you’re going to work your cable over four stitches. Two stitches will be placed on the cable needle, and the cable needle is held at the front of the work. The first two stitches are knit from the left hand needle, and then two stitches are knit from the cable needle.


For finishing, break yarn, draw through the remaining live stitches, and pull to close top of hat. Weave in the ends and wet-block your hat. Attach a fabulous pom pom if you like. Put on your beanie, and you are ready for the cold weather!

a man in a cabled hat

Share your #NorthwardHat with us!

We love show and tell! Share your progress with us on Instagram or Ravelry using the hashtags #NorthwardHat and #TinCanKnits.

Ready for your next cable project?

Now that you’ve tried cabling, we know you’ll want more! Here are some more TCK cables for inspiration – just click a picture to get the pattern!

Handspun Flax

October 22, 2020
smiling woman in a green and teal handspun sweater

One of my knitting goals this year was to spin and knit myself a jumper – and now it’s off the bobbin and on my body! While I’ve knit our free Flax sweater pattern many times, this is the first one I’ve made just for myself. This little spin-and-knit project brought me such intense joy, from selecting the fibres to knitting each and every stitch on what we knitters passive aggressively call ‘sleeve island’.

smiling woman in a green and teal handspun sweater

Vividly colourful and cropped, this sweater sparkles!

The handspun, two-ply yarn I created to knit this sweater was spun with one ply made from a multi-colour batt, and the other from an interesting multi-colour top. This resulted in a dazzling yarn that produced random stripes of colour, shot through with little tweedy flecks of brighter and darker shades.

a green and teal handspun sweater with garter details

I love how the stripes look like strata of sedimentary stone, illustrating the passage of time that went into making this sweater. In this fabric, I can see the many hours I enjoyed, slowly drafting out the fibre into short stretches of one colour, then the next and the next.

sleeve and hem detail of a green and teal handspun sweater

While I often finish my own stockinette sweater bodies on my knitting machine, but I knit by hand for this project. I savoured each round, delighted as new and unexpected colours flowed from these pretty cakes of yarn.

green and teal handspun raglan sweater yoke on the needles

Calming impracticality

My kids are four and six, and during the months of lockdown and summer here in Edinburgh, we’ve been cooped up in our apartment most hours of the day. My husband John and I did our best to split childcare duties whilst continuing to work our full-time jobs from home, but juggling it all was a challenge. Yet it was in this context, with an additional 30+ hours of family labour to share, that I decided it was time to add spinning yarn into the mix. This seemed impractical, to say the very least. But after a long day of trying to get emails and design work done – and be there for the kids as they played, fought, and made mountains of precious junk out of cardboard boxes and tape – spinning became a delicious kind of escape. Evening after evening, I was continually drawn to focus my hands and my mind on the whirring, pulling, transformative magic of my little electric spinning wheel.

A pretty process, full of pleasure

Fluffy batts in deep greens and soft yellow and pinks

To make the yarn for my new Flax sweater, I began with 200 g of green, turquoise, brown, and sparkly mixed batts from Spin City, which I spun into a skinny single ply.

a bobbin with green and black singles, alongside two different teal rovings

After spinning the mixed batts, I had to select a fibre for the other strand of the two-ply yarn I had planned. I ordered two different rovings from John Arbon Textiles – one was a dark green and teal blend, and another contained brighter teals, greens, and shots of pink. I plied a small amount of each with the green to create two distinct sample yarns.

bobbins of green and teal singles and a small swatch in tones of teal, green and turquoise with shots of pink

Next, I knit a swatch with the sample yarns to see which colourway I should commit to. As you can see, I was more excited by the teal and pink colourway, with those pops of hot pink! Designing a yarn like this, from scratch, was very exciting!

green and teal 2ply handspun on an e-spinner

Plying is the process of taking two (or more) single strands, and twisting them together to make a finished yarn. Watching the way this self-striping green ply twisted together with the tweedy teal and pink was both soothing and joyful.

a ball and skein of 2-ply handspun in green, teal, and pink

Before I knew it, my yarn was ready! The next step was to decide which sweater from our extensive range of designs I would knit. I didn’t have very much yardage, so I spun a coordinating yarn that I could use to stripe or colour-block the finished knit.

woman wearing a green and teal handspun sweater
woman wearing a green and teal handspun sweater, looking through a wrought iron gate

In the end, the free Flax sweater was an easy choice. With a yarn this intensely colourful and stripy, I find it’s best to stick with a simple design, and Flax is definitely simple. I chose the M/L size, but I knit at a slightly tighter gauge for a body measuring 37” around. (This means I’m wearing it with 2” of negative ease on my 39” bust.) I also cropped the body to 12″ long, a length I’ve been liking lately. I also followed our new short-row shaping instructions to raise the back neck of this Flax sweater, which made for an even better fit!

smiling woman in a green and teal handspun sweater

So what’s next? 

That’s the big question, isn’t it? Having ticked my ‘spin and knit a sweater’ goal off the list, what new handspun project will I attempt now? Well, I’m currently working a rainbow blanket, knit all in handspun…

A rainbow of soft-spun skeins of single ply yarn

And another sweater perhaps? Yes, I do, in fact, have a new design project on the go, which I’m knitting in handspun!

Knitted fabric in stripes of marled yarn laid alongside skeins of yarn.

And because these two extra projects aren’t quite enough, I’m also working on enough Shetland handspun for a sweater, and it feels like spinning a fluffy, bouncy cloud.

skeins of cream and brown marled yarns next to balls of roving
I was ordering yarn from Jamieson & Smith, when I discovered that they sell fibre, too! At £11 for 500 g (yes, that will likely spin a sweater amount), this will be the most affordable (and time consuming) sweater I’ve knit in ages!

Flax for your first sweater

This year’s theme – for Alexa and I – is Next Stitches; we’re encouraging each other to just keep stitching, and to learn that next skill. Flax and its sock-weight sister, Flax Light, are great patterns if you’re ready to knit your very first sweater – or your second. Our in-depth tutorial will guide you through each technique, from start to finish. As an added bonus, this design is really easy to customize – you can shorten the sleeves or add lace, cables, or stripes. For even more inspiration, check out some other lovely knitters’ versions by surfing the #FlaxSweater hashtag on Instagram. And be sure to include the hashtag when posting yours, so we can share in the joy!

~ Emily

green and teal handspun raglan sweater laid on rainbow of skeins

How to Read a Knitting Pattern

October 8, 2020

Knitting is a simple, satisfying, stitch-by-stitch pursuit. However, to follow a knitting pattern, a beginner must first learn a number of knitting-pattern conventions. These include abbreviations, charts, multi-size text instructions, sizing, and schematic diagrams. We hope this tutorial series helps to clarify your uncertainties!

In this tutorial, we explain How to Read a Knitting Pattern in four parts:

Note: While each designer or publisher writes knitting patterns slightly differently, we tend to share common conventions. We describe our own Tin Can Knits pattern-writing conventions in these tutorials, but once you understand these conventions, the variations that other designers use will be easier to learn and understand.

Practice with a free pattern today!

Put your new learning to the test and get started with one of our free knitting patterns from The Simple Collection, a learn-to-knit series designed to help knitters make the next stitch and learn the next skill. And be sure to share this post with newer knitters you know who are still a little bit unclear about knitting-pattern conventions.

Are there any elements of pattern reading that you still find unclear? Comment on this post or contact us directly, so we can improve this teaching tool.

~ Emily and Alexa

Understanding the Sizing and Materials Section of a Knitting Pattern

October 8, 2020

Before you can cast on, you need to gather yarn and needles. The sizing and materials section of a knitting pattern will tell you everything you need.

Straight wooden knitting needles.

This post is part of our How to Read a Knitting Pattern tutorial. Follow the links below to read the other topics.

Sizing and materials section

The sizing and materials section of a knitting pattern contains a lot of information presented in a compact format. In most patterns, this section contains several key parts, which we’ll look at in detail below.


The sizing section uses either text or a table of values to provide the finished measurements of the item or the body measurement the item is designed to fit. In either case, it’s critical that you knit the project to the design gauge; this will ensure accurate dimensions and a good fit. The specifics of how these dimensions are measured may be noted on an accompanying schematic diagram or sketch.


The yarn section lists how much yarn you’ll need and approximately what weight of yarn you’ll need. (For more information on yarn, check out our tutorial here.) Our patterns also list the specific yarn we used for our sample, along with a link to more information about it.


The gauge section tells you the tension you must achieve for your knit to come out the right size. Tension or gauge is listed as the number of stitches and rows to achieve over four inches in a given stitch pattern, and it will vary from person to person. We hold our needles and yarn slightly differently; we are more tense or relaxed as we work. When it comes to tension, every knitter is unique! For a more detailed explanation, read our tutorial on the importance of gauge in knitting.

Suggested needles

This section lists the the needle sizes (i.e., the diameters), types, and lengths that are suggested to complete the project in your chosen size. However, the needle sizes are only suggestions. To achieve the finished dimensions for the size you want to make, you must knit with whatever needle size YOU require to achieve the design gauge. Read more about knitting needles here.


Some projects require a few extra materials or tools, for example the buttons needed for a cardigan, the cable needle required for a cabled hat, stitch markers, or darning needles. Notions are all the extra tools and materials you may need to complete your project.

This may be all you need to read in order to understand the sizing and materials section of a pattern, but we have included two detailed examples below, if needed.

Example A: Barley hat

The free Barley hat pattern has a sizing and materials section and a construction diagram that acts a bit like a schematic.

Illustration of Barley Hat pattern page with sizing and materials section highlighted

Sizing: Baby (Toddler, Child, Adult S, M, L)
Fits head 16 (17.5, 19, 20.5, 22, 23)” around

The Barley hat includes six sizes; they are listed in order from smallest to largest. Throughout the pattern, the sizes will be listed in this order consistently with round brackets, commas, and bolded adult sizes. For more about these conventions, check out Reading Multi-Size Knitting-Pattern Instructions.

The Barley hat pattern lists to-fit dimensions for each of the hat sizes underneath the size names. For example, the baby size is designed to fit a head 16″ in circumference. The adult M fits a 22″ head. It’s important to note that the pattern will fit these sizes only if you achieve the pattern gauge – more details on that in a minute.

Next up, the materials section contains four parts: yarn, gauge, suggested needles, and notions. Let’s look at how to interpret each section in detail.

Yarn: 70 (80, 90, 110, 150, 170) yards worsted / aran weight yarn (samples shown in Madelinetosh Tosh Vintage in ‘badlands,’ ‘thoreau,’ ‘twig,’ and ‘winter wheat’)

The yarn section indicates the amount and approximate weight of yarn needed. It also provides the specific yarn brand, type, and colourway used to make the design samples. Six amounts are given: 70 (80, 90, 110, 150, 170) yards. These amounts correspond to the six pattern sizes: Baby (Toddler, Child, Adult S, M, L). This means that for an Adult S size, you will need 110 yards of worsted or aran weight yarn.

Worsted weight and aran weight yarn are two weights of yarn, each of which will work in this project. (Learn the basics of knitting yarn here.) In this pattern example, Madelinetosh is a yarn brand; Tosh Vintage is a yarn type produced by that brand; and badlands,, thoreau,’ twig,’ and winter wheat are the names of the specific colourways used to knit the design samples. To convert yards to metres, multiply yards by 0.914, e.g., 110 yds is approximately 100m (110 x 0.914 = 100.54).

Gauge: 18 sts & 22 rounds / 4” in stockinette
14 sts & 28 rounds / 4” in garter stitch
(both gauges given on larger needles)

The gauge section indicates the design gauge you’ll need to achieve for your finished knit to come out in the size expected (i.e., to the finished dimensions listed in the size section).

This gauge means that you’ll need to select a needle size that will result in a finished knit gauge of 18 stitches and 22 rounds in a 4″ square of stockinette stitch, and 14 stitches and 28 rounds in a 4″ square of garter stitch. In Tin Can Knits patterns, the gauge listed first is generally the more important one to achieve, if you cannot achieve both numbers using the same needle size.

Gauge is an important topic, so we have created a separate in-depth tutorial to explain just what it is, how to swatch for it, and how to measure it. Other posts on gauge include the following:

The beginning of a small tube knit on double pointed needles (DPNs).

Suggested Needles: US #6 / 4mm 16” circular needle,
US #8 / 5mm 16” circular needle and DPNs*
(or as required to meet gauge)
*Alternatively, you can use the
magic loop technique to knit in the round using a single long circular needle.

Knitting needles, which come in many types and sizes for different uses, are a fairly complex topic, and we have an Introduction to Knitting Needles post here. The needles suggested for the Barley hat are:

  • US #6 / 4mm 16″ long circular needle
  • US #8 / 5mm diameter 16″ long circular needle
  • US #8 / 5mm diameter double pointed needles (DPNs) or a long circular needle to use with the magic loop technique

What this means, in practice, is that you’ll need a smaller diameter needle for the brim ribbing and a larger diameter needle for the body. You’ll also need a set of DPNs, or a long circular in the larger diameter, in order to decrease at the crown.

It’s very important to recognize the line that says:

(or as required to meet gauge)

You may start with a US #8 / 5mm needle to make your gauge swatch; however, if you cannot achieve the tension stated in the gauge section, you’ll need to try again with a smaller or larger needle size, until you determine the needle diameter that allows you to achieve the design gauge.

For example, I might use a US #7 / 4.5mm needle to achieve the gauge of 18 sts / 4″ in stockinette. In this case, I would likely select a US #5 / 3.75mm needle as my ‘smaller needle’ with which to work the brim ribbing.

Notions: Stitch markers, darning needle

The notions section is a simple list of extra tools or materials you’ll need to complete the project. In this case, only stitch markers and a needle are required for the Barley hat.

Example B: Flax sweater

The free Flax sweater pattern, with seven child sizes and 12 adult sizes, uses a table, along with a schematic diagram to communicate the sizing information.

Diagram of Flax Pattern Page highlighting Materials, Schematic, and Sizing sections.

The sizing table lists finished garment measurements. This means that the dimensions listed for each size are the dimensions that the sweater will measure, assuming you follow that size’s instructions and knit to the design gauge. They are the dimensions of the garment itself. The pattern says to:

Choose a size based upon your chest measurement plus desired ease.

This means that, when knitting this sweater for yourself, you should consider your own body measurements and how much ease you prefer your sweaters to have – and then choose a size that will allow that much ease from your body. Learn about choosing your sweater size here.

The schematic works with the sizing table to visually indicate where the various dimension are measured. You can see that ‘d‘ is the key for the upper sleeve circumference, and then make sure that size XXL, which has a finished upper sleeve measurement of 17″, will work for you.

Four children in sweaters with rainbow stripes on the shore of a calm lake.
The Flax sweater is an excellent project for adding cute details! Read all about Alexa’s unreasonable September sweaters here.

Next up, the materials section in the Flax pattern contains four parts: yarn, gauge, suggested needles, and notions – same as for the Barley hat pattern. Here we’ll briefly touch on the ways that this sweater pattern is different from the hat pattern.

Yarn: Worsted / aran weight yarn – see table for yardage
(samples shown in SweetGeorgia Superwash Worsted ‘deep olive,’ ‘hush,’ and ‘tumbled stone’)

The yarn section refers you to the sizing table, which has a column that lists yardage for each size alongside that size’s finished dimensions.

Gauge: 18 sts & 22 rounds / 4” in stockinette using larger needles

Because a sweater will take between 12 and 60 hours to knit, it’s incredibly important to ensure that you’re achieving the correct gauge. Not sure why? Check out our post, Gauge in Knitting, to be convinced!

Suggested Needles: US #6 / 4mm & US #8 / 5mm
(or as required to meet gauge)

0-6 mo – 4 yrs: 16” circulars and DPNs in each size*
4 yrs – XS: 16” circulars, 24” circulars, and DPNs in each size*
S – XXL: 16” circulars, 32” circulars, and DPNs in each size*
3XL – 6XL: 16” circulars, 48” circulars, and DPNs in each size*

*Alternatively, you can use the magic loop technique to knit in the round using a single long circular needle.

Because there’s such a wide size range in the Flax sweater pattern, you need to look at the needle lengths and types suggested for your size. If you’re knitting an XXL for example, you’ll need a 16″ circular needle, a 32″ circular needle, and a set of DPNs (or a long circular) in each of the two needle sizes, larger and smaller.


The sizing and materials section of a pattern contains loads of information, and now that you’ve learned how to interpret it, you can take the next step and learn about abbreviations and charts. Then you’ll be ready to cast on!

~ Emily and Alexa

Understanding Knitting-Pattern Abbreviations and Charts

October 8, 2020

K2tog, ssk, yo, k1, p1, SM, DPNs, inc, dec, and kfb. Is this just gibberish to you? As you learn to knit, you’ll learn to interpret a number of abbreviated terms. Here’s an example from the free Flax sweater pattern:

Set-up round 1: [kfb, knit to 2 sts before raglan marker, kfb, k1, SM] 4 times [8 sts inc – 2 per section]

This single instruction, for example, includes five abbreviations: kfb, sts, k1, SM, and inc.

Patterns have been written this way for years to pack maximum information into minimum space on the page. While it may seem inconvenient, when it comes down to it, there are relatively few terms to learn with each new pattern – and for most knitters, interpreting abbreviations becomes natural with practice.

This post is part of our How to Read a Knitting Pattern tutorial. Follow the links below to read the other topics.

Free Barley hat pattern

Knitting abbreviations

The free Barley hat pattern begins with the following instruction:

Using smaller needles, cast on 66 (72, 78, 84, 90, 96) sts, PM and join for working in the round, being careful not to twist the cast-on.

To follow this instruction, you need to know that sts means stitches, and PM means place a marker. To decipher the shorthand used in a knitting pattern, review the abbreviations section below.

Illustration of the page of a pattern with abbreviations list highlighted
The abbreviations list is located on page 2 of the free Barley hat pattern.

If there’s a term you’re unfamiliar with, but it’s not included in the abbreviations section of the pattern, check our comprehensive abbreviations list. A quick google search should also give you the answer you’re looking for.

Note: Tin Can Knits’ PDF patterns include highlighted links and question bubbles; clicking these will take you right to our helpful resources.

Knitting charts

Another shorthand used in knitting patterns are charts. Charts illustrate stitch patterns in a compact and concise way, and they also give visual clues about how the knit fabric will look when it’s completed. With practice, most knitters find charts easier to follow than lengthy text instructions, so we describe stitch patterns in chart format where practical. For more help, check out our in-depth tutorial, How to Read a Knitting Chart.

A pale minty green cabled hat with ribbed brim.
The free Antler hat pattern is a great pattern for learning to knit cables!

When a pattern includes a chart, the pattern abbreviations are often found alongside the chart in a key that explains the meaning of the symbols. For example, the free Antler hat pattern includes the chart and key shown below. This pattern includes both a chart and text instructions, to aid learners and those who cannot use charts.

A diagram of a knitting chart, key and abbreviations

Now that we have covered abbreviations and charts, the next step in this pattern-reading tutorial is Reading Multi-Size Knitting-Pattern Instructions, which will cover what all the odd brackets ( ) [ ] mean!

Ready to get started now?

The Simple Collection is a free, learn-to-knit series that covers all the basics of knit and purl through to turning a heel and knitting your first sweater. Check out all the free patterns and cast on now!

~ Emily and Alexa

Reading Multi-Size Knitting-Pattern Instructions

October 8, 2020

Knitting patterns can seem like a dense thicket of numbers, numbers, numbers, and more numbers – all corralled by several types of brackets. For a beginner, this is understandably confusing, so we’ve written this tutorial to answer some of the questions you may have as a new knitter. Remember…with each project you knit, this will get easier!

This post is part of our How to Read a Knitting Pattern tutorial. Follow the links below to read the other topics.

Knitting-pattern text instructions

Once you’ve determined what size you’ll be knitting and gathered the materials you need, it’s time to move on to the pattern text, which explains how to knit the project, stitch by stitch.

The first thing you’ll find under the pattern heading is a bit of information about how the project is constructed. In the free Wheat scarf pattern it’s simply one line:

The Wheat scarf is worked from end to end.

In the free Flax sweater pattern, however, more information is given:

This sweater is worked in the round from the top down. You cast on at the collar, the yoke is knit, sleeve sts are placed on hold on waste yarn, the body is completed, then sleeves are knit last.

This description helps you orient yourself within the context of the overall project, so you know which part of the knit you’ll begin with, and which direction you’ll be working in.

A diagram of a top-down sweater project
The Simple Collection’s free, learn-to-knit patterns include construction diagrams to help you visualize the process – and to help you understand where you are in the project at any given point along the way.

Pattern sections

Next come the instructions you’ll follow line-by-line to work the project. In a garment pattern, the pattern text is broken down into sections, for example yoke, yoke separation, body, sleeves, etc. For a simpler pattern, all instructions may fall under the pattern heading.

Reading and understanding the text instructions that make up a knitting pattern take some practice because, often, many sizes are described in a single instruction – and there are so many different sorts of brackets!

Multiple sizes in the same instruction – brackets, brackets, and more brackets

Once you’ve identified and learned the abbreviations that apply to your pattern, you’re ready to jump into the pattern text. But first you’ll need to know a few things about how brackets, both (round) and [square], are used in knitting patterns.

Brackets that list instructions for multiple sizes: small (medium, large)

Tin Can Knits patterns use the convention of round brackets ( ) to indicate the instructions for multiple sizes. In the free Barley hat pattern, there are three child sizes and three adult sizes, listed in this order: Baby (Toddler, Child, Adult S, M, L). The first size, in this case the baby size, is always listed outside the round brackets. The other five sizes are placed inside the bracketed set and separated by commas. We bold the adult sizes. The pattern begins:

Using smaller needles, cast on 66 (72, 78, 84, 90, 96) sts, PM and join for working in the round, being careful not to twist the cast-on.

This means that you will cast on 66 (or 72, or 78, or 84, or 90, or 96) stitches. You’ll need to identify the number of stitches that corresponds to your size. Don’t cast on 66, then 72, then 78; find the number for your size, and cast on that number. So, to work an Adult S, which is the first of the bolded sizes and the 4th number listed, you will cast on 84 stitches.

When you see this same set of six numbers in other parts of the pattern, you’ll again use the number that corresponds to your size. The sets of numbers may describe a number of stitches to work, a number of inches (a length), or a number of times to repeat a pattern.

Further examples from the free Barley hat pattern include:

Set-up round: k22 (24, 26, 28, 30, 32), PM, knit to end

This instruction means that you will knit 22 (or 24, or 26, or 28, or 30, or 32), stitches, place a marker, then knit to the end of the round. For Adult S, you would work k28, PM, knit to end. Learn more about knitting abbreviations here.

Work rounds 1-2 until piece measures 4 (5, 6, 7, 8, 8.5)” from cast-on, measured at the stockinette side of the work, for a beanie.

This instruction means that you will work rounds 1-2 until the knitted piece of fabric measures 4″ (or 5″, or 6″, or 7″, or 8″, or 8.5″) from the cast-on point. For the Adult S example, you’ll work as described until the piece measures 7″ long, and then proceed to the next instruction. The instruction ‘Work rounds 1-2’ means that you’ll continue to repeat round 1, then round 2, then 1, then 2, then 1, then 2 – in pattern, until the desired length is reached.

Essentially, whatever portion of the pattern is being described, you can determine which instruction to follow from the format of the round brackets: sizeA (sizeB, sizeC, sizeD, sizeE, sizeF). Simply choose the option that applies to your size and ignore the rest.

Pro tip: highlight your size

If you’re working from a printed pattern or book, it helps to go through the pattern before you begin and highlight or underline all the instructions for the size you’re working. This will help you quickly identify the number that applies to your size as you’re working. You can also do this digitally using a PDF reader program.

excerpt from a pattern with a size highlighted
An excerpt from the free Flax sweater pattern, with the instructions for size Adult XL highlighted.

Brackets that indicate you will repeat an instruction: [repeat this]

To indicate a repeated a set of instructions, Tin Can Knits patterns use square brackets [ ], round brackets ( ), or both. The set of instructions is called a repeat. Here is an example from the free Barley hat pattern:

Establish ribbing: [k1, p1] around

This means that you’ll repeat the pattern k1, p1, k1, p1, k1, p1…continuing in this way for the entire round. Some repeats are worked a specific number of times, and others are worked ‘around,’ ‘to end,’ ‘to next marker,’ or ‘to last 4 sts’ – as many times as needed to fit to a defined point in the row or round.

This complex example contains a repeat within a repeat, using both square and round brackets:

Increase round: k6, [k1, m1, (k2, m1) 3 times] to end

This means that you’ll first knit 6 stitches, and then repeat the pattern within the square brackets – k1, m1, k2, m1, k2, m1, k2, m1 – again and again until the end of the round. The round bracketed repeat (k2, m1) is set inside a square bracketed repeat [k1, m1, (k2, m1) 3 times] to save space and to make it easier to read. This level of complexity is not very common in our pattern writing, but it does exist!

Interpreting both uses of brackets within a single instruction

Brackets are starting to seem a little complicated about now, eh?! Well, we need both kinds because we often must describe both repeats and multiple sizes within the same line of instruction. Here’s an example from the free Barley hat pattern:

Set-up round: [k9 (10, 11, 12, 13, 14), k2tog, PM] around
[6 sts dec, 60 (66, 72, 78, 84, 90) sts]
Markers now separate the work into 6 equal sections.

This means that to work the set-up round, you will repeat the instructions contained within the square brackets as many times as you can within a single round because ‘around’ means the same as ‘to end of round.’ For the Adult S example, you would k12, k2tog, PM, and then repeat that same pattern – k12, k2tog, PM – as many times as will ‘fit’ in the 84 sts you have on the needles. Because this repeat uses 14 stitches, it will repeat 6 times, i.e., 84 total sts / 14 st repeat = 6 repeats).

The conventions described in this tutorials are the ones used for Tin Can Knits patterns. However, keep in mind that while all knitting patterns require ‘repeating’ of instructions, different pattern writers use different conventions. For example, it’s relatively common to use an asterisk * instead of brackets to indicate the beginning of a repeat. For example:

Next Round: k3, *k3, yo, ssk, k2tog, yo, repeat from * to last 6 sts, knit to end

This would be worked the same as k3, [k3, yo, ssk, k2tog, yo] to last 6 sts, k6.

Brackets around stitch counts

Not to be confused with repeats or multiple sizes, brackets are also used to define stitch counts within our patterns. Stitch counts are often given after an instruction that results in a change to the stitch count on the needles. For example:

[2 sts decreased]
[12 (14, 16, 18, 20) sts]

These brackets aren’t really doing much but visually separating the stitch counts for the rest of the active pattern instructions.

Nearing the finish line!

Now that you’ve learned how to interpret the pattern size and materials section, how to read pattern abbreviations and charts, and how to read the pattern text itself with its many sizes and types of brackets, we have just a couple more tips to help you make sense of knitting-pattern finishing instructions.

We hope this in-depth review of pattern reading is helpful to beginner knitters who find the semantics of patterns difficult to follow!

~ Emily and Alexa

Making Sense of Knitting-Pattern Finishing Instructions

October 8, 2020

Once you complete the fun knitting bits of a project, there are always a few final steps before your knit can be completely finished.

This post is part of our How to Read a Knitting Pattern tutorial. Follow the links below read to the other topics.

Our free Flax sweater pattern includes the following finishing information, which is typical for Tin Can Knits patterns:

Block your sweater and weave in all ends, using yarn tails to sew up the small holes at underarms. Put on your fabulous new sweater and show it off!

Sweater Blocking

Because Flax is a very simple sweater that uses top-down seamless construction, there is very little to be done after the knitting in order to ‘finish’ it for wearing! But many other projects have more finishing steps and techniques.


two blanket squares being seamed together
For the Vivid blanket, we suggest using a simple whip-stitch seam.

Garments and blankets may need to be seamed before they’re ready to use. For example, pieced blankets like Vivid, Polygon, Fly Away, and Dogwood require blocking and seaming to complete them. Some require knitted edgings as well.

Sock toes and those pesky sweater underarms need to be seamed closed using a Kitchener Stitch, and some projects need a few extra little details like icord ties, a regular old pom pom, or a fancy pom pom.

Collars and button bands

Playdate Cardigan Pattern
The Playdate cardigan features a delicate little button band, which looks sharp with lots of small buttons.

Cardigan patterns may include very pithy instructions like ‘make up and work button bands.’ Our patterns generally include more specific details, and you can refer to How to Knit a Button Band for the general techniques.

The pattern may not explicitly say it, but once the button bands are complete, you’ll need to select and sew on the buttons. (Button selection is an important topic all on its own!) If the yarn used for the knit is sufficiently durable – and thin enough to pass through the holes in the button – I usually use that. Otherwise, a durable sock yarn or thread in a matching colour works fine.

Striped Playdate Cardigan blog post
I considered four different button colours(!) for this tiny Playdate cardigan before settling on the olive green ones.

Weaving in ends

Either before or after blocking, I weave in my yarn ends – or most of the time I do. To be honest, sometimes I leave them hanging for years!

Detail of the inside of a colourwork sweater yoke with dozens of hanging yarn ends.

Blocking garments or shawls

Blocking is a woolly item’s first bath. It should not be overlooked because the final nature of the garment or accessory is not revealed until it’s had a first blocking. If you’ve never learned about blocking, start with our Blocking Basics tutorial for a solid overview.

For lace projects, blocking is imperative to reveal the delicate stitch pattern. (See our tutorial on How to Block a Lace Shawl for detailed instructions.) For garments, the final fit is determined by blocking, so take a minute to review How to Block a Hand-Knit Sweater.

How to block a hand-knit sweater
For projects like the Windswept sweater, blocking is really helpful for revealing the intricate beauty of the lace.

Caring for your knits

Last but not least is something that’s never mentioned in patterns but is always worth considering: caring for your knits. You’ve enjoyed countless hours of knitting; you’ve gained skills and overcome obstacles to create a beautiful thing – so you’ll want to keep it looking good for years to come. Of course, we have a tutorial for that, too! Learn how to properly care for your knits here.

Get knitting!

We’ve arrived at the end of our in-depth series, How to Read a Knitting Pattern. Hopefully these posts have been useful and cleared up some of the questions you may have had about the technical language around sizing and materials, abbreviations and charts, and the various and sundry ways that brackets are used.

If you found this tutorial helpful, please take a minute to share it with a friend or a newbie in your knitting group. From your very first scarf to designing your own colourwork yoke sweater, we love creating and sharing tutorials that help you take that next step and knit that next stitch!

~ Emily and Alexa

Gramps Sweater pattern

The Simple Collection Revisited

September 24, 2020
A woman in a hand knit sweater and hat.
Francine’s face perfectly encapsulates my love of the Simple Collection.

Emily and I want all who encounter our work to find it useful, joyful, and welcoming. In that spirit, we recently revisited and revised The Simple Collection, with the intent to make it even more welcoming for a broader range of knitters.

Going back through this collection was like taking a walk with an old friend. That’s kind of how it feels to knit these patterns, too – relaxing knits and purls and straightforward construction…always guaranteed to be beautiful when finished.

I love the way The Simple Collection’s basic stitches showcase the woolly goodness and beautiful colours of my favourite yarns. Simple stitches always bring me joy, and I hope you take some joy from them, too. Whether you’re headed out on an adventure, trying something new, or just knitting up a classic, The Simple Collection is perfect for any journey.

The Simple Collection has grown to include 12 patterns! Pictured here are Wheat, Rye Light, Barley Light, Maize, Flax, and Harvest.

What’s new, at a glance

  1. Added sizes for Flax, Flax Light, and Harvest – now sized up to 6XL (finished chest measurements of 66″ – 68″).
  2. Added short row shaping and cropped length options for Flax and Flax Light.
  3. Updated printer friendly layouts, with clear tutorial links.
  4. Revised pattern writing for further clarity.
  5. Some new photos of fresh knits and friendly folk.
a woman and 2 children sitting on a bridge wearing knit hats
The Barley hat is sized for the whole family!

The simple beginning

The Simple Collection was conceived back in 2012 to meet a need that Emily and I saw while working in the knit shop and observing the in-person classes there. Although they were a fun way to gain skills in a supportive atmosphere – and often marked the beginning of fruitful and woolly friendships – the in-person classes had two main challenges. First, not all knitters had access to them. Second, instructors were often in need of simple, reliable patterns to teach in their classes. With our experience, we wanted to create a resource that would solve both those problems, and we wanted to make it available for free.

To be clear, free does not mean cheap. We put the same time, effort, and resources into The Simple Collection that we do for all of our patterns (perhaps more!). We just wanted The Simple Collection to be accessible to as many knitters as possible.

Need a little help? We have a whole bunch of tutorials to go along with the Simple Collection!

Taking the fear out of next steps

We also wanted to create a collection that would take the fear out of trying something new. We hear from a lot of knitters who are afraid to take the next step. That first sweater, heel turn, or knit in the round can be scary! To help alleviate those fears, we developed tutorials alongside The Simple Collection, to help you through each step of every pattern. So go ahead and give those next, new stitches a try!

Alexa is standing on the sidewalk with her yellow Flax sweater, smiling at the camera.
Me and my Flax sweater. Photo credit to Sylvia McFadden

Size-inclusive design

Another important update for us was greater size inclusion. We’ve always sized our patterns up to 4XL (per the Craft Yarn Council), with finished chest measurements somewhere between 56″ and 62″, depending on the ease indicated in the pattern. However, we wanted to do even better, so we committed ourselves to including sizes 5XL and 6XL in all of our future patterns. Sizing up the sweaters in The Simple Collection was the first step in that process.

I personally know the frustration, shame, and exclusion of shopping for patterns and clothes for a larger body. (I’ve shared some of my feelings on knitting for myself here.) We definitely don’t want to be part of the problem for anyone else.

A woman in a hand knit sweater and hat

From us to you, with love

Knitters come in all shapes and sizes, ages and races, genders and sexualities, talents and abilities. Many different people come to the simple craft of knitting for many different reasons, but we all share in the joy that comes with it. The Simple Collection was created, and has now been updated, to spread that joy to as many people as possible, and Emily and I offer it to you with all our love.

~ Alexa

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