I was just sitting here, plugging away at the latest in the blanket series for my kids, and I realized that I simply can't rely on reading patterns from the book and ticking or clicking off rows in order to keep on track. I try to take that shortcut but I always end up knitting two or three rows and then backtracking one when I find I have an extra stitch or two at the end. When you're working on a small project, it's not a big deal. Blankets, on the other hand, or shawls (even worse) are not pleasant to have to frog or tink. So, I'm going to pass on one of those little gems that I read quite a number of years ago in hopes that it will save someone else a bit of frustration, too.
One of the reference books on my knitting shelves is Knitting in Plain English by Maggie Righetti. I stumbled upon Maggie's book after meeting her at a writer's group and have recommended it nearly as much as any Elizabeth Zimmermann classic. Her instructions are very clear and she teaches you to think about what you are doing as opposed to the blind pattern following that normally results after years and years of doing just that. One of my favourite things that she pointed out was that people's bodies just happen to be cylindrical (torso, arms) so why do we knit flat and then sew up the seams when we can knit circular???? Yeah, duh. Also, she taught me to really look at the poses of the models in books and magazines to see if they are standing awkwardly...possibly hiding some fitting issue with the garment??
Okay, so on to Maggie's tip that has saved my sanity many times. If your pattern stitch involves anything more difficult than, say, stockinette stitch or straight garter stitch until the cows come home, make your own copy of the instructions. And, by that, I mean this: using a different index card for each row, copy the pattern's instruction out, word for word (or, in my case, use your own shorthand for the method if you prefer to use a different way to describe knitting in the front and back of a stitch, or some such). That's right...a different card for each row and NO CHEATING! I like to find the index cards that are spiral bound so I know I won't get them out of order. Or, I'll use a small notebook that's close to index card size. I note on the first page the name of the pattern stitch and, underneath that, "Row 1". Then, on each subsequent page, I write "Row 2", "Row 3", etc. The only time I fudge on this is when I have plain knit or purl rows. Then I might add that notation (in large printing, so I don't miss it) on the lower half of the card with the previous row at the top. It's also not a bad idea to highlight the actual row number.
So, when you're knitting a lacy shawl pattern with a 24-row repeat, the only instructions that are staring you in the face are the ones for the row you are knitting. Period. When you finish that row, flip to the next card and proceed. I also keep a pad and pencil to mark off the rows, of course, or use my handy little sheep counter (no, not for counting sheep - it's just shaped like a sheep.)
Anyway, after taking out 114 stitches per row about 3 times on this blanket (and I'm only on about row 15 or 16) I realized I was trying to just look at the chart and hope I didn't screw up. Bad knitter - no cookie. So, out came the little notebook and now I'm back on track. Of course, charts are often confusing anyway so writing out the instructions often makes following them much less of a challenge. And don't ever hesitate to verbalize those confusing parts - who cares what people think if you're mumbling to yourself, "Oh, Bee, Oh, Ess Ess Kay, Knit 5" over and over. If it keeps you from making one less booboo, let the folks around you think you're speaking in tongues. If you really want to have some fun, find some tune that your directions fit and sing them to yourself. Now you're really cooking. ;-)