I’ve never been particularly good at rote memorisation. It’s just never really clicked for me, and my least favourite parts of school were those bits where you just had to learn a long list of information with no sense. For me to be able to learn something, it had to have a logic to it. A poem, or lines of a play made sense. They had a rhythm and told a story and every line was just the next step along the path. Theorems and mathematical formulae were fine, I understood the reasons for their shape and could usually derive them myself in a pinch. Lists of rivers, or foreign language vocabulary, however, just didn’t click for me at all and it was painful to try to force them into my head.
I think this is why I find being able to read my knitting so useful and enjoyable. Reading knitting means being able to tell what each stitch is by sight, and being able to “read” the sense of a pattern. If you can read you knitting, you’ll know exactly where that k2tog is supposed to go to make a smooth decrease line and which direction that line will go, without having to count the stitches running up to it. It also means you can tell what row you’re on, and what point in that row.
When I’m knitting lace, I find this is the easiest way to spot errors before they become issues. I can go with minimal stitch markers, and often memorise a chart easily. In one shawl I’m making, I know that I start a particular section by knitting 1, starting a line of holes, knitting four as the gap between the increase and decrease, ssk, then knit 5. I know that all I have to do is follow those lines in the pattern until I run out of stitches at the end, and start over. I don’t have to check and count every row, just make sure that my stitches all line up in the pattern.
Of course, this doesn’t always work. For my Paisley Swirl Shawl, the body was no problem, but part of what made the boarder so painfully slow was that I couldn’t manage to memorise the chart. I was able to trace out some parts that made sense, but there were a few increases and decreases that weren’t obvious based on the previous row. So I had to check the chart every patterned row, 12 per repeat, for 39 repeats. It’s no wonder it took me six months!
Despite reading your knitting being such a useful skill, there aren’t very many resources out there on it. Most beginner’s books will tell you how to spot your knits and purls, but once you go beyond that you’re on your own. I did find this tutorial that looks interesting, but perhaps this will be a topic for another blog post.