Common Beginner Knitting Problems

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I’ve written a number of posts now on how to knit. However, there are some common problems that beginner knitters struggle with that don’t necessarily fit in a how to knit post. They cover a variety of topics, but definitely deserve to be addressed. Many of these problems can be very frustrating, and I would hate for you to quit knitting because of them. Learning to knit is like anything else. It’s learning a new skill. It takes time. It takes some level of muscle memory and some brain memory. If you have to keep looking things up, that is absolutely okay! For example, if you delve into something like socks that require grafting (stitching together), you will come across the Kitchener stitch. I have met so many people that don’t remember how to do it, and they get frustrated. It can be so hard for people to remember, that you can actually buy key chains and other things with the directions on it. Having to repeated look up anything is completely normal, and I would very much encourage it. For the first year or two, depending on how many projects you do, you will probably need to continue to look up how to cast on each time. I know I did. I kept forgetting. And with my brain fog, some days I still get confused and have to go look it up to reassure myself that I’m doing it right. 🙂

One of the initial problems that knitters have, and I covered this briefly in the first how to knit post, is gauge and tension. Gauge is how many stitches or rows/rounds you get for every 4″. This has a huge impact on garments. Tension is how tight you hold your yarn as you work. As a beginner, your knitting is going to be crazy tight. I mean really tight. So tight that as you try to knit, you are going to hear it squeaking. Again, this is normal! This is why I recommend starting out making dish clothes. As you learn to knit your stitches will loosen. If you are making a scarf, this will make for a very wonky scarf that is tight on one end and loose at the other. What you are looking for, are stitches where your knitting needle can be slipped in to knit or purl, with no effort, but not so loose that everything is just dropping off your needles. You want that stitch sitting on your needles to cover the needle, with just a small amount of slack. It’s hard to explain, but when your stitches stop squeaking as you try to knit them, you are there. To get there, you will need to figure out how tight to hold your yarn. When you knit a stitch, you are never going to pull it tight. When you hold your yarn, you are going to have it held just tight enough that it will tighten the stitch for you, but it will still slip through your fingers as you work the stitches. Unfortunately, the only way to learn this is repetition. Some people can figure it out quickly, others take longer. Your speed is just right for you.

When it comes to gauge, this is going to be a lifelong thing that you will need to keep in mind. This is not just for beginners. When a designer writes a pattern, they write it for their own gauge. Gauge is different for every knitter. It depends on so much. Your needles will change your gauge, the temperature in your house, how you are feeling. Everything can loosen or tighten your gauge. Depending on how much pain I am in on any given day can mean that I have to pay attention to my gauge. Especially if I am knitting a sweater. For example, in the sweater I am working on right now, I had to tear out the sleeve. My gauge really tightened up compared to the body. I am re-knitting it looser, and it now matches the body. The important thing is to not lie to yourself. If your gauge has changed, accept it and work to fix it. Don’t do what I do, and think oh it might be okay. It’s never okay. lol Your gut understands more than you do. Take the time early to do the fix.

Another problem that new knitters run in to is the randomly added stitch. You are chugging along just fine, and then realize you have 3 extra stitches on a row. You will do this less and less as you improve, but this is terribly common with beginners. We’ve all done it. But, how did it happen? Well, when you are dealing with stitches that are too tight, you can very easily knit a stitch, and split the yarn that is the stitch of the left needle. That inadvertently makes two stitches. You get two stitches from one thread of yarn. You have bisected the yarn. And 9 times out of 10 you don’t even notice. The number of times you do this, will decrease as your stitches loosen, but it’s good to keep your eyes open. Here is what a split stitch looks like:


As you can see the needle has split the yarn. It can blend in so well that you can keep on going and really not notice. When you split it, you will notice that all your knit stitches make nice lines going up your piece, but then there is this little hole, which you can see to the right of the knit stitch in that second picture. This is the split part of the stitch that should not be there. As you get more comfortable with how your stitches should look, it will get more obvious. Now, this isn’t just a beginner problem either. Some yarns have a very loose twist or are just fluff that makes it super easy to split. You might hear talking about how yarn is ‘splitty’. This is what they are talking about. They get cruising on a project and their needles just keep splitting the yarn. Sometimes they are left with an extra stitch, but something the entire yarn comes off the left needle, and you are left with a stitch to the right with only half of the yarn caught. This can create a weak point, and can be very annoying. Just know that this can happen to even the best of us. If you find a spot like this, check out my post on fixing errors. You can either rip back to fix the stitch, or you can drop down to it to fix it. That post will give you details on how to do that. You can use these methods if you have split your stitch and have extra stitches now. Or, depending on your pattern, if you can find where you split the yarn, you can head over to the post on decreases, and just knit the two stitches that were supposed to be one, together. It will reduce it back to a single stitch. I’ve done this many times, and it’s a super easy “cheat” to get back to the count you need.

This last bit is all about confidence. When you start learning a new skill, it can be a mess. And it can be that way for a while. You will need to learn to embrace the process. Even the ugliest of dish clothes will still clean your dishes. 🙂 And everyone has started somewhere. Never think that you can’t do something. I was told that for a long time, and it caused me to stop knitting for about 15 years. There is nothing you can’t do. Whether you can master it is a different statement, but you can certainly do it. Who cares if it looks a bit messy the first time. Like anything, practice makes improved. Again, that’s why I love small projects when you start. It gives you so many options to learn a multitude of techniques with so little commitment. 😀 But, if you want to branch out into something bigger, do it! Pick a pattern and dive in! Read through the entire thing before you start, and if there are parts you don’t understand, head to the internet to look it up. There are so many people that have blog posts or video’s on how to make a garment, or how to do certain types of stitches that you will quickly have all the information you need to conquer it. Also, ignore the difficulty rating on patterns. All that means is that if it’s harder than a beginner level, there are techniques that you will need to look up and learn. You’ll never grow as a knitter if you don’t dive in to the more difficult patterns. However! If you just want to make simple scarves and that is your happy place, then darnit keep making those! Knitting is all about your happy place. I have friends that feel bad for only ever making garter or stockinette scarves. But they enjoy every second of it! Sometimes it’s because they don’t think they can learn something more difficult, which should never cross your mind. Of course you can, but only if you want to. This is all about your happy place, not mine or any one elses. Rock what you make and have fun!!

So you want to knit 8 – Fixing Mistakes and Life Lines

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Welcome back! It has been a busy few weeks for me, but I am finally sitting down to continue with this series. I debated on what to do next, but I decided that before I move on to other techniques, that I should take time to look at how to fix mistakes in your knitting. I will go through a couple techniques. First up will be the simple, but very time consuming option, which is ripping out your work. Most people will refer to this as frogging because rip it sounds an awful lot like ribbit. hehe A fun word for a pain in the behind task. lol This is very time consuming, but it is also the easiest way to get back to your mistake. I will use this if I find I made a huge mistake, like I completely missed a row in a chart, or there is a larger section of error. Technique two is the scary one, and will require an understanding of the make up of the stitch. However, it is the method I use the most. If I find that I purled a stitch instead of knit, for example, and it’s 3 or 4 rows back, it’s a lot easier to fix that one stitch than it is to rip back those 3 or 4 rows. Now, while this can be a difficult technique that will require some thought on your part, it’s not impossible. And after a few attempts, you will find it gets much much easier. It also gives you a great understand of the structure of your piece. I would not consider this a beginner technique, if I were to rate it on difficulty, but it’s absolutely something a beginner can learn, and it’s something that can really benefit them, skill wise. I will try to take the best pictures possible to explain everything that I am talking about.

Before we get into the fixing of the mistakes, there is a get out of jail free card, so to speak. When you are knitting lace or have a particularly complicated pattern, it can be scary to contemplate frogging all those rows or dropping your stitch down to fix a mistake. My preferred method when knitting lace is to put in a life line. This method uses a spare piece of yarn (waste yarn) to thread through each stitch on your needles, so that if you find a mistake, you can just pull out your needles and pull out the yarn, until you are stopped by that waste yarn. Once you get to that, you have a piece of yarn in each stitch, holding it in place for you to simply slip your needle back into, to begin knitting once again. Also, when you put in a life line, it’s important to mark what row of the chart or written directions you were on, so you can pick up with little thought. To insert the waste yarn, thread the yarn onto a tapestry needle, and then thread the needle through each stitch on your needles. Pull the yarn through all those stitches, but leave them on your needle. Those stitches are now secure in case you need to go back to that spot.

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Now what if you want to just go back a couple stitches in your work. Perhaps you made a mistake on the row you are on, or you don’t have a lifeline and need to keep frogging back to fix a larger mistake? Knowing the construction of your knitting will help you know where to insert the left needle to get the old stitch back. First, we’ll look at knit stitches, since they are easier to see. Looking at the right needle, where your new stitches are, you want the loop that is below the needle.

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Insert your left needle into that loop, so that your new stitch falls off the right needle, and you can pull the yarn out from the stitch. You will now how the old stitch back on your left needle.

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If you are purling, you will be looking for the bump under the needle.

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Insert your left needle into that bump to pick it up, and then let it drop off the right needle and pull your yarn free. You now have the old stitch on your left needle.

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One of the more difficult fixes is when you have one stitch that is wrong, but it’s a few rows down. You don’t want to spend hours frogging stitch after stitch to fix just that one stitch. The fastest way, but for many the scariest, is to drop the stitch down to where the mistake is and pick up all the little threads of yarn to get back to where you were. In the picture you can see a little purl bump where a knit stitch should be. A crochet hook will make this much easier to do. The first step is to use your crochet hook to catch the stitch that you need to fix, so you don’t pull down too many stitches. In this case, you slip the hook under the purl bump to hold it in place. If you don’t have a crochet hook, many places sell small hooks that are made for fixing stitches. Amazon even has a set of three little hooks to give you a range of sizes to match the yarn you are using.

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Next, pull that stitch off your needle, and gently pull the yarn out of each loop until you get to your crochet hook.

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In this case, the last thread of yarn is sitting in front of your stitch. You will want to adjust it so it sits behind it, like all the other threads.

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Once everything is where you need it to be, and is neat and tidy, you can begin recreating your stitches. All of these stitches need to be knit stitches. Grab the lowest strand of yarn, and pull it through your loop to make a new stitch. Do this for every strand of yarn, working from the lowest to the highest.

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Once you have worked every strand, place the loop back on to your needle.

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If you are trying to fix purled stitches, you will want to have all your strands in front of your loop.

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Just like the knit stitches, you will grab the lowest strand of yarn first, and pull it through the loop, working from lowest to highest until they are all used.

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As you are fixing your stitches like this, you may find that you get a line of stitches that is looser than the stitches around it. You can fix this a bit, by pulling on your knitting both lengthwise and knitwise. This will pull the yarn a bit to even it out among some of the stitches. The other thing to be careful of, is that when you are pulling the yarn out of the stitches to get to the one needing to be fixed, make sure you don’t pull too hard on that yarn. Same as when you are pulling it back through the loop. If you pull on it too much, it will tighten the stitches beside it, and give you too much slack when making your new stitch.

I hope these tips help you as you increase your knitting skills. Fixing a mistake can be daunting, but it can be done easily. If you are knitting lace and want to use the lifeline method, don’t be afraid to put a lifeline after every 10 rows, or every repeat of the chart, or however often you want to put in a new one. You want to be able to rip back a few rows, and not have to redo too much of your work. I prefer to go no more than 10 rows between lifelines, but that is just my personal preference.

Thanks for reading and happy knitting!!

So you want to knit 7: Reading a chart

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As you progress in your knitting, you will inevitably come to a pattern that contains a chart. The chart is simply a pictorial depiction of how the pattern is to be worked. Many patterns will also come with written directions that you can use instead of the chart, but this is not always the case. Either way, it’s a very good skill to learn, and it’s not as intuitive as many people think. We’ll go through a simple chart that I have created, and I’ll try to answer many of the basic questions I see. Also, a chart is read differently depending on if you are knitting flat, or in the round, so I will be sure to give the proper instruction for both.

First of all, here is your sample chart (this is just a simple triangle shape, but I wanted to show how decreases and yarn over’s work in a chart).

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To start, lets look at the numbers on the side and bottom. Every time you begin a chart, you will begin at the lowest number, in this case 1. You may find if you are working a large shawl, this will not always be a 1, because there could be multiple charts and the shawl progresses. The number on the right (and left) sides of the chart are your row numbers. The numbers on the bottom are the stitch numbers. In this case, you begin by working stitch row of row 1 on the chart, on the first stitch of the row on your needles. You also have a key with your chart, which in this case appears to the right of the chart. It will tell you what each symbol and box means. For the very first stitch of the first row, the box is empty and white. The key explains that this is a knit stitch on the right side of your work, and a purl on the wrong side of your work. Since row 1 is our beginning, that is our right side, and will be a knit stitch for us.

Box 2 of row 1 is a circle, which the key tells us means we are to do a yarn over. This takes up a box, even though it creates and extra stitch. That is because somewhere in our pattern we have an offsetting decrease that will bring us back down to the correct number of stitches we need. So, move your yarn to the front of your work, to create your yarn over, and get ready for box 3 of row 1.

Box 3 is an SSK. There is our offsetting decrease. As you can see this only takes up one box, even though we are working two stitches. Again, this is because that yarn over is the other part of that stitch count.

Box 4 through 8 are all empty boxes, so knit each of these.

Box 9 is another decrease. This time it’s a k2tog (knit two together). Like the SSK, this only takes up one box even though we are working two stitches. That is because we have a yarn over coming up that will balance it out.

Box 10 is our next yarn over.

Box 11 is the last stitch of our pattern, and it’s another empty white box, so knit this stitch.

This first row, is worked on the right side of our work, and will be worked exactly the same for in the round and flat. The differences begin on the even numbered rows. That is because when we are working flat, these even numbered rows are going to on the wrong side of the work, but if we are working in the round, we never have a wrong side row.

In this pattern, I have kept it pretty simple, and left all of the even numbered rows as blank white boxes. As you can see from the key, it has each item labeled as to how it is worked based on whether you are on a right side (RS) row or a wrong side (WS) row. Another difference between working in the round, or working flat is how you read the even numbered rows. Picture this chart as being how you are looking at your knitted piece. If all the odd numbered rows are the right side, then as the chart sits, you are looking at the right side. When working in the round, that means that you are always going to be reading your chart from right to left. However, if you are knitting flat, you turn your knitting piece. That means, you need to mentally turn your chart. So, when you start row 2 (and all even numbered rows), you are actually reading your chart from left to right. Then Row 3 you go back to right to left, etc. This is one area that can really throw people off. But, if you think of it as if it’s a piece of knitted work, and you turn put your finger on the last stitch of your right side row, and then turn your work, you will see that it’s like you are looking at the back of your chart. You are still working your knitted piece right to left, but it’s as if you now have to work the mirror image of your chart to get the pattern to line up. I hope that makes sense. 🙂 That means that if you are working a flat piece, you will purl all of your stitches back. If you are working in the round, you will knit.

As you work your chart, you work your rows in order. You begin with row 1, then do row 2, then row 3, etc, until you have completed the final row in that chart. However, if you are not done with your piece yet, you will likely be given instructions that say, “repeat the chart until you reach your desired length”, or “repeat the chart 3 times”, or some variation of those. The first one, which is the length option, means that when you finish the last row of the chart, you begin the chart all over again, back at row 1. And you do the chart over and over again, until you have a piece that is the length you want it to be. This instruction is very common in blankets, sweaters, etc. The second option tells you how many times to repeat the chart. That means you work through the entire chart once, then go back to row 1 and work the entire chart a second time, then go back to row 1 and work the entire chart a third time. Then you can move on to the next instructions in the pattern.

Another part of the chart that you will see quite often is that red border that I have around the chart. This is called a repeat. It can become very confusing, because you will hear the word repeat thrown around a lot. Repeating the chart until x length or x times, refers to how many times you repeat all the rows of the chart. However, what happens if you piece is 33 stitches wide, but this chart is only 11 stitches. You will be given instructions that say “repeat the chart across the row 3 times”, or some variation of that. This repeat means that those first 11 boxes of the chart will be done again and again, until you have finished 3 repeats. So, in the case of our chart, after you have finished stitch number 11, you go back to row 1 box 1 and work all 11 stitches again. There are a few reasons for it be done like this. One reason is because you want to save space on your page. When a designer is working on something large, like a shawl, you don’t want to list all 300 something stitches in the chart. So, you showing all the ones that have this exact same section as a repeat, you can significantly reduce the number of stitches in your chart. You will very often see that they outline box (in this case the red box), will not be all the stitches, as I have it here. You will very often work a number of stitches, then see the outline box show up with instructions on how many times to repeat it, and then work more stitches afterwards. Again, this is very common in shawls because they have so many stitches, but they also have increases on the ends that need to be shown separately from the repeat chart.

Something else that you will see that can be very confusing is a grey box in the chart. They key will usually just label this as “no stitch”. Most people look at it and go okay, but then what. The reason this shows up is because stitches were decreased in the work somewhere. When you come across this grey no stitch box, you simply pretend it doesn’t exist, because that stitch no longer exists. It was decreased away in a previous row.

I really hope that this helps with chart knitting. If I have not answered a question you have, please let me know. Another great way to double check that you are reading the chart properly, is to compare it to the written directions. They should be identical.

So you want to knit 6: Decreases

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It’s time to increase your knitting skill repertoire once more. 😀 This time, we are talking about decreases. We have gone over basic knit and purl stitches, and have talked about increases, but now we should move to decreases. That will give you the tools you need to be able to make hats, or lace things. After this post, we will be able to focus more on just enhancing skills. Like anything, most of your skills will grow with just good ole practice. I really hope that this has helped you increase your basic knitting knowledge. One of the complaints I have heard from so many people, is that they feel that the ‘fancy’ knitting projects are out of their grasp. That knitting is a very guarded skill. I have found that with many things, if you know how to do it, it is regarded as some special club that only the select are part of. I strongly disagree, and feel that if someone wants to do something, we should all be able to sit here and let them know that we are here to help them grow. With this series of posts that I have done on how to knit, I want to make sure that you understand that none of this is out of your reach. I will be continuing these posts to explain how to knit various things. I already have a series out on how to knit socks, but that assumes a level of knowledge on how to either knit in the round in some manner. So far, these how to knit posts have not looked at this. I will probably look at how to specifically knit in the round and flat in the next post. It’s important that you are able to get even what many would consider the most basic information, because unless you already know something, it’s not basic. Beginner is not a term that should be shunned. Everyone was a beginner at something before they practiced and improved. Another important thing, is that you should never regard yourself as a lower class knitter because of your materials. I have been designing patterns and making lacework and other knitting things for years, and I still greatly value acrylic yarn. So many knitters will turn their nose down at it, but it’s not the hard plastic yarn of the 80’s. Besides, not all of us can afford yarn that is $20-30 for a single skein. That is why I love to tout Knit Picks yarn. I can get sock yarn for a much lower price than other places, and it’s still fantastic yarn. You need to be able to work within your means! Okay, now that I have gone through all of this, it’s time to move on to the actual learning portion of this post. 😀

Decreases are used to reduce the number of stitches you have on your needles. This could be for the toe of a sock, the crown (top) of a hat, or to work a lace pattern. The great thing is that once you know how to do a particular decrease, it is the same regardless of what your project is. I’m not going to go into every single kind of decrease, because there are many variations of a stitch. For example, I will go through the stitches called “knit 2 together” or “purl 2 together”, but there are variations where you might knit or purl 3 or 4 together. They are worked identically, just with more stitches. Once you know how to do one, you can work on how to do them all. 😀 Decreases also have leans to them. So you will find, as I go along, I will tell you which way the stitch will lean (and have photos, of course), which is needed for the detail of the decrease. It directs how the knitting piece will lay down. I’ll get into that more as I describe each stitch.

First up, will be the knitting decreases. These tend to be the most used stitches. That is because if you are knitting in the round, you are always knitting, but also when you work lace, many patterns will have the decreases on the knit (right side) side only. So, these will be very advantageous to have in your skill box. One of the common things I will say during the decrease instructions is slipping a stitch as if to knit, or as if to purl. So, I will put those two pictures here, so you can refer back to them, but I didn’t want to clutter up the instructions coming up with too many extra pictures.

Knit 2 together (k2tog): Knitting 2 together is exactly as it sounds. Slip your right needle into the two stitches on your left needle, and knit them as normal. Then slip both stitches off the left needle. This creates a single stitch, where there was once two. This gives you a stitch that will lean to the right. It is used on the left hand side of socks and hats, because when you look at the toe or the top of the hat, the left side of your toes or hat leans to the right. It helps to give it a smooth line of stitches.

Slip, slip, knit (ssk): Slip the first stitch on to the right needle, as if you were knitting it. Slip the next stitch on to the right needle, as if you were knitting it. Slip your left needle into those two stitches that were moved to the right needle, and yarn over to knit them together. Once again, this gives you one stitch, where there used to be two. The SSK will lean to the left. This get used a lot on the right hand side of socks and hats, because it helps direct that line of decreases to the left.

Slip 1, Knit 1, pass the slipped stitch over (S1, K1, Psso): This stitch sounds complicated, but it’s really just a blend of the first two. This stitch can be used quite often in place of the ssk, because many feel that it creates a neater stitch that will lean left. To work the stitch, slip the first stitch on your left needle, as if you were knitting it, knit the next stitch on your left needle, then insert your needle into the slipped stitch that is sitting on your right needle (it will be the second stitch from the end), and lift it up and over the first stitch that is on your right needle. Drop that stitch. This will decrease a single stitch.

Slip 1, Knit 2 together, pass the slipped stitch over (S1, K2tog, Psso): This stitch is a variation of the one above, but is used for different reasons, which is why I wanted to explain it. To work it, you slip the first stitch of your left needle onto the right needle, as if to knit. Then knit the next two stitches together. Pick up and lift the second needle on the right needle (the stitch you slipped), and pull it over the first stitch and drop it. This stitch will decrease two stitches. The counterpart to this stitch will be the Knit 3 together (k3tog), which will also decrease two stitches at once, and leans in the opposite direction. It’s the same method as the K2tog, so I’m not going to get into the how to’s on this one. I just wanted to make sure you knew what the opposite leaning version of this stitch is.

Central Double Decrease (CDD): This stitch is used very often when you want a decrease that does not lean in any direction. For example, when working a lace pattern where there are k2tog’s and ssk’s that come together in a bit of a point, the CDD is great at bringing them together to accentuate that point. It’s also used quite often when knitting a sweater neckline, particularly when you have a V neck sweater and want the neckline to keep that neat little V. To work this stitch, you will slip the next two stitches from your left needle, at the same time, as if to knit, on to your right needle. Knit the next stitch. Slip those two slipped stitches that are sitting as stitch 2 and 3 on your right needle, over the first stitch and let them drop. This creates a stitch that looks like a fatter little knit stitch. It keeps that knit stitch look, with no lean.

Now we’ll move on to the purl stitches. You will find that the language is very similar, and the main change is just moving from knitting the stitches to purling the stitches.

Purl 2 together (p2tog): Slip your right needle into the two stitches on your left needle, and purl them together. This creates a single stitch out of two.

Slip, slip, purl (ssp): slip the next two stitches on your left needle to your right needle, as if you were going to knit them. Slip your left needle into those two stitches that are now sitting on your right needle, and purl. This creates one stitch where there used to be two.

Slip 1, purl 1, pass the slipped stitch over (S1, P1, Psso): Slip the first stitch on your left needle to the right needle, as if to knit. Purl the next stitch. Pick up and lift the slipped stitch (2nd stitch on your right needle) over the first stitch on your right needle. This creates a similar stitch to the SSP, but many use it before they prefer the way that this stitch lays compared to the SSP.

As I mentioned above, there are fewer “common” purl decreases. There are other purl decreases, but they are not used often enough to showcase them here. If you are working on a project that lists a different stitch than these, please remember that a quick search online will provide a wealth of video instruction to help walk you through them. I recommend bookmarking ones you like, because you may not use them often enough to remember where you found them. I’ve been there many times, and have kicked myself because I could not remember the search string I used to discover my favorite videos.

We’ll be slowly increasing in difficulty as these posts progress, to learn how things work apart from just the stitches. If you ever have a question, or if I have not described something well enough, please send me a message. I want to do everything I can to help you in your knitting journey.