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Annotating your Stitchmastery Charts

Sometimes when designing, you want to separate design elements by a large block of repeated stitches. Unfortunately, that means that you need to count boxes in the grid to know where the next design element begins. This is where annotating your knitting chart comes in handy. This tutorial will help you use this great Stitchmastery tool to your advantage.

What are annotations?

First, let me show you a simple Stitchmastery chart where the lace elements are separated by a background of stockinette stitch. As you can see, you will have to do a bit of counting to know where to begin the next lace element. (click on the photos to zoom)

But with annotations added, you can tell at a glance how many knit stitches there are between these lace elements.

How do you add annotations to a chart?

So, how do you add these cute little numbers? First, click on the Diagram tab at the top left of the Stitchmastery pane.

Then, select Edit Diagram Properties from the drop down menu.

This will take you to the main Diagram editing pane.

From this pane, you can adjust the most of the customizable elements of Stitchmastery. In this case, we want to adjust annotations so we will click the arrow next to “More on annotations.”

In the annotations menu, you will be able to customize the appearance of the annotations. You can select how often they appear, the horizontal and vertical position in the chart,  and the amount of buffer space around the text. You can also select the repeated stitch to annotate.

Stitchmastery even allows you to customize the font style and color to fit your brand.

Are there other uses for annotations?

Even if you don’t leave the annotations in the final version of the chart, they are handy for working out math for the increases, decreases, and transition sections in your design. Simply turn the annotations on when you start charting, use them to get all of the elements of your design placed just where you want them. Then go back to the Edit Diagram menu to turn the annotations off.  Notice how easy it is to check the stitch counts in each row. This is a very simple chart so the annotations aren’t really necessary but I am sure you can see how useful this could be in complex lace or cables. It is even handy with colorwork.

I hope you find annotations a handy tool with your designing. If you have found another way to use them that I haven’t covered here, leave me a comment or email me so I can add that to a future tutorial.

You can find out more about Stitchmastery software on their website.

Supplies gathered for garter tab cast-on

Seamless Garter Tab Cast-on (Without Tears)

One of the things I do regularly is scroll through knitting groups on social media to see what techniques or pattern wording knitters are struggling with. I then use this information to make my own patterns better and suggest things to help you make yours better too. Something I hear a lot of people whining about is the garter tab cast-on. Some people utterly despise this rather innocuous cast on. Why all the hate? I decided to investigate.

The Problem

The complaints about garter tab cast-on come down to two main issues – the crochet provisional cast-on and picking up stitches along a cast-on edge. The grumbling about a provisional cast-on centers around the technique. First, it requires you to find a crochet hook, then to remember how to use a crochet hook to do a knitting cast-on (since it isn’t a technique most knitters use regularly), and then to remember which end of the cast-on to use for unzipping (because who wants to spend time picking out scrap yarn on stitch at a time). The grousing about the second method is that it leaves a seam or a ridge on one side of the work that rather spoils the uniformity of the edge. And to be honest, picking up stitches along a cast-on edge is fiddly at best.

The Theory

So, I set about finding a way to do a garter tab cast-on that didn’t involve picking up stitches on a cast-on edge OR finding a crochet hook. Being an avid sock knitter, I wondered if the provisional cast-ons used for beginning toe-up socks could be applied. Turkish, Figure Eight, and Judy’s Magic Cast-ons are all create beautifully seamless, so I couldn’t see why it wouldn’t work. Armed with a double pointed needle (dpn), a circular needle, and my yarn, I set out to test the theory.

Before you tell me that finding a dpn is just as much trouble as finding a crochet hook, the following technique will work with any type of spare knitting needle, a cable needle, a tapestry needle, or if you don’t have one of those a bamboo skewer, a pencil, a toothpick, or an orange stick from your manicure kit will work if that’s all you have available. It will only have to hold a few stitches until you can knit the first row.

The Technique

To begin, hold the dpn and one end of the circular needle side by side. Then, cast on the required number of stitches using your favorite toe-up sock cast on. In the sample, I cast on five stitches using the Turkish cast-on method. I choose Turkish because it is the fastest (just wrap the yarn around the needle) but if you like Judy’s Magic or Figure Eight cast-on better, either one of those will work equally well.

Turkish cast on

Next, slide the circular needle so half the cast-on stitches are resting on the cord and the other half are on the needle ready to knit.

Slide half the stitches to the circular needle cord.

Using the circular needle as the working needle, knit the first half of the cast-on stitches (I knit 5 stitches). If you were knitting a sock, you would now rotate the work and knit the other half of the stitches but instead, you will leave those stitches on the cord and ignore them for a bit.

Knit the first half of the cast-on stitches

Turn your work, because you will be working flat for a bit, and knit the 5 stitches you just knit, leaving the other half of the cast-on held on the cord for now.

Knitting the garter tab (leaving the second half of the cast-on held on the cord.

Continue working flat until you have knit the number of rows required by the pattern (usually twice the number of stitches that you will pick up along the edge). Here I have knit 30 rows because I plan to pick up 15 stitches along the garter edge. You now have a long strip of knitting with half of the live stitches on the needle and half of the live stitches resting on the needle cord.

Garter tab complete

Now, rotate your work 90-degrees clockwise and pick up one stitch for each garter ridge on the edge of the piece. In my example, I picked up 10 stitches.

Picking up stitches along the edge of the garter tab.

Now, you are back around to the stitches held on the cord.

Back to the stitches held on the cord.

Slide those stitches onto the left needle.

Slide second half of cast-on stitches onto the needle.

Now, knit the stitches that formed the other half of your provisional cast on.

Completed garter tab cast-on.

Boom! You have finished your garter tab cast-on without having to pick up cast-on stitches or find a crochet hook. This approach produces a seamless tab that is completely reversible.

You may commence your regular shawl knitting now.



Measuring knitting gauge.

Round and Round – Unit Conversion and Its Impact on Knitting Gauge

Not long ago, I stumbled upon a discussion of unit conversion in knitting patterns.  There was some concern that converting units from imperial to metric units introduced error in a pattern. It was even suggested that each unit should be calculated separately to prevent error. But I started checking the math and discovered that sometimes simpler is better.

Read more

Drop Spindle Spinning – Adventures in learning to spin

In which I prove that stubbornness is sometimes a useful trait

I have been trying to learn to spin for years. Every year at Tour de Fleece time, I get the itch to learn drop spindle spinning. This trend started in 2010 when I received a Learn to Spin kit. The kit included a VHS tape on drop spindling, a cheap spindle, and a sample of practice fiber. I also received 4 ounces of hand-dyed roving. Everything I needed, or so I thought.

First Attempts

Supplies assembled for my first spinning attempt

2010 – My first year, I managed to get a small leader made before my yarn started falling apart. I gave up in despair.

2011 – My second attempt was no better. I did learn that one of the reasons I was having trouble was that I was trying to use a top whorl spindle like the bottom whorl demonstrated in the video. Oops.

2012 – The following year I signed up for an official Tour de Fleece team. I even posted a spinning project on Ravelry. I found an Abby Franquemont video on Youtube and managed to make about a yard of fiber. But I was never able to duplicate the results of my first spin. Again, I gave up with only a yard of singles to show for my efforts.

2013-2014 – Embarrassed by my epic failure in 2012, I spent 2013 recovering from the shame. The next year, I bought a copy of Respect the Spindle by Abby Franquement and tried again. This time the fiber kept pulling apart (maybe because it had been sitting around for 4 years). I gave up in frustration again.

2015-2016 – The following years, I hid when I heard the first whispers of Tour de France. I basically avoided the internet for the entire tour so I wouldn’t feel the need to try and fail again.

Success finally within reach?

My first successful spinning2017See? I told you I was stubborn.

This year, being egged on by my fellow officers of Starfleet Fiber Arts Corps, I decided to try it again. I reread Respect the Spindle. I watched the companion video. Abby assured me that 5-year-olds in the Andes could spin. Surely, a college-educated adult with a modicum of knowledge of yarn could figure this out. I purchased new fiber recommended for beginners and set out. The first week was a battle of wills – mine against the spindle’s.  (

The first week was a battle of wills – mine against the spindle’s.  (the spindle was winning again)  I was finally making something that looked vaguely like yarn but it was inconsistent. The strand size was all over the place-bulky one minute, lace weight the next. I was ready to give up yet again. Then someone mentioned that the spindles in the beginner kits were often too heavy for thinner yarns. Lightbulb! I got some recommendations and ordered a lighter spindle. I plodded away with the boat anchor while waiting for the new spindle, just so I could say I had completed spinning for the day.

New spindles and successful spinningNew Equipment

My new spindle arrived on Day 9 of the Tour and I promptly gave it a try. My spinning changed almost immediately. With the better balanced and lighter spindle, I was able to spin yarn more consistently. Naturally, I ordered another spindle to mark my second week of spinning.

After two weeks of spinning a little every day, I had gained enough confidence (and was bored enough with white fiber) that I decided to try out the pretty hand-dyed fiber I’d been hoarding since 2010.

Another Setback

Felted fiber fluffed and being spunWhen I tried to pre-draft the fiber, I discovered it wouldn’t draft. Abby informed me this usually means that you have your hands too close together. I moved my hands farther and farther apart, pulling on the strand of roving until my hands were at least 3 feet apart. I don’t know a lot about different breeds of sheep, but I am pretty sure that there isn’t a breed that has a 3-foot fiber length. Something was definitely wrong with my fiber. On closer inspection, I discovered that the fiber had been partially felted during dyeing.

A smart person would have pitched the fiber right then and there. But I am the stubborn type (and since I liked the color of the fiber). So, I asked around to see if there was any solution to this problem. I was told that sometimes fibers can be separated until they can be drafted again. I was so sick of undyed yarn, I decided to give it a go.

To make the yarn, I had to pull the fiber apart width-wise until I could get a piece to pull off. Then I had to go down the length of that piece of fiber pulling it apart and fluffing, turning and fluffing some more,  until the fibers would draft. After that was done, the spinning part began. It required park and draft spinning because the fibers really wanted to cling together. I needed both hands just to draft it. It was a slow and tedious process but the lovely new spindle probably helped my persistence.

She Can Ply

My first plied yarnFinally, I had enough yarn spun that I could try plying. I decided this yarn was a good candidate for my first attempt at plying simply because I probably couldn’t ruin it any further.  By this time I had acquired a third spindle that was one recommended for plying because of its size. I had transferred the yarn to wooden dowels as I filled my spindle because it was easier than trying to wind balls.  So when I had two dowels with close to the same amount of singles, I built myself a makeshift lazy Kate using a tissue box rather than trying to wind a double strand ball.

Armed with my new Kromski spindle, I set out to ply (without really knowing what the heck I was doing).  Plying turned out to be surprisingly easy, compared to the spinning. I am sure I probably did loads of things wrong but I am happy with my first attempt. Sure, I have a lot of room for improvement but the adventure gave me a ton of knowledge about fiber that I probably wouldn’t have gained otherwise, and the result is at least something that I will be willing to knit.

Sample of ssk and k2tog decreases

So How DO You Work an SSK?- A Tutorial

I am constantly amazed at how many ways people describe and work the left leaning decrease known as ssk. I am beginning to think every knitter has her own variation of it. Being the curious sort, I have been researching the different methods you see the stitch presented. I wanted to share a few of these with you.

The wrong way

I know in knitting we say there are no “wrong” ways but with this stitch there is indeed one wrong way. Many new knitters see the definition of ssk as slip, slip knit so they slip 2 stitches, then knit one. While there is nothing wrong with working that sequence in knitting, it does not decrease a stitch so that method is wrong when you are trying to produce a left leaning decrease.

The older way

I discovered quite by accident that ssk is a relatively modern technique in knitting keeping in mind that the craft is centuries old. But if you read vintage knitting patterns you will find ssk conspicuously absent. In older publications, the most common left leaning decreases were sl1, k1, psso (also called skp) and k2tog through the back loop. Some will tell you sl1, k1, psso is the exact same decrease as ssk but that is inaccurate. While they both are left leaning, they do not look the same, nor are they worked in the same manner.

The most common way

The most common definition of ssk is:

Slip 2 stitches one at a time knitwise (this reverses the stitch orientation), place the tip of the left needle in the front of the 2 slipped stitches and knit them together (i.e. working through the back loop of the stitches).

Working the k2tog through the back loop works the stitches without changing their order or orientation.

The not quite as common way

Another fairly common definition you will see for ssk is:

Slip 2 stitches one at a time knitwise, knit the sts together through the back loop. (sometimes the instructions tell you to return the stitches to the left needle).

This produces the same results as the previous method. The only difference is that the definition makes it clearer that you are working the stitches through the back loop and is a little more concise.

The abbreviated but ambiguous way

This one appears on the Craft Yarn Council website and a couple of other websites who use that information for their stitch definitions:

Slip 2 stitches one at a time knitwise, knit these two stitches together.

The concern with this definition is that it either produces a different result or it assumes knowledge. If you work the decrease exactly as written, when you knit those stitches together, you will be reversing the order of the stitches, causing the decrease to lean more to the right than to the left.  That said, to knit those 2 stitches in through the front loop takes a bit of maneuvering. They will need to be transferred back to the left needle to make the k2tog work through the front loop. The more natural way to work it would be to leave the stitches on the right needle and work them through the back loop as defined in the first method so knitters who are accustomed to doing this decrease will work through the back loop instinctively. So, this definition can produce the correct result but it leaves lacks a bit in clarity.

SSK variations compared to k2tog

SSK variations – the matchy-matchy ways

There are many variant ssk techniques that are intended to better match k2tog in patterns with mirrored decreases (like the shoulders of a sweater). Some of them produce results that aren’t significantly different than a plain, old ssk so may not be worth the trouble. And others are so involved that only the most OCD knitters would be willing to go through that many steps just to have their armhole decreases neater. Here they are, in the order I discovered them.


I have seen this technique called dozens of different names but the main change between it and the common ssk is that instead of slipping both stitches knitwise, the second stitch is slipped purlwise (or not slipped at all but I will get to that in a minute). The definition becomes:

slip1 knitwise, slip 1 purlwise, knit the 2 slipped stitches together through the back loop.

Slipping that second stitch purlwise flattens out the decrease a little so it matches the k2tog a bit more.

A variation on this that I alluded to in the previous paragraph is:

slip 1 stitch knitwise, return that stitch to the left needle and then k2tog through the back loop.

This keeps the orientation of the second stitch the same as if you had slipped it purlwise but doesn’t stretch the stitch when you work it and it is a little faster because you skip a step.  In my own knitting, I get a neater result this way.

Slip, yank, twist, knit

Techknitter came out with this method (that I will link rather than try to explain. This method removes the excess yarn from the second stitch so that the stitches lie flatter and look more consistent with a k2tog. Honestly, while it does beautifully match the k2tog, unless I am looking at the tutorial I can never remember what stitch I am supposed to yank so I rarely use this method. And if you will notice, I ended up getting a bit of distortion on the next stitch after the sytk.

Slip, Twist, Turn

As with Techknitter’s version, this method from YarnSub does produce beautiful results but at a time-consuming cost. At 14 steps, how many people are going to be able to work in unless they are looking at the tutorial? And how many people are going to be willing to do that many steps to have perfectly matching decreases? Not me.  Turning the work and working a p2tog-tbl was a deal breaker for me. The stitches I did for this tutorial will be the last I work using this method.


YarnSub has this method of improving the ssk. This is a further attempt by YarnSub to have perfectly matching left leaning decrease. This way produces neater results, is much easier to remember than the previous method, and doesn’t take significantly longer to do than an ssk.  Still, it is tricky to execute and this method is technically no longer an ssk.

Easy but effective

I found this unbelievably easy method on the Cocoknits website. The results are quite lovely. The stitch matches the k2tog nicely and it doesn’t require lots of extra steps. To work it, you work your ssk in the most common method (slipping 2 stitches knitwise and knitting them together through the back loop) or slipping the 2nd stitch purlwise. Then, on the row following the decrease, the stitch created by the decrease is worked through the back loop. In stockinette stitch, you would purl through the back loop. The only tricky part is remembering to work that back loop stitch on the next row.


There you have it. Every way on earth (or at least every way I could find) for working an ssk decrease.

Happy knitting!



Yarn: Smutzerella Yarns Fondle (100% worsted weight merino) in Dress to Arrest

Needles: Knit Pro Zing double pointed needle US 7 /4.5 mm

Photography supervisor: The Ginger Menace (aka NinjaKitty)