You know the feeling ... you pick up your knitting (enter the woods), happily knit a few rounds (gather flowers for Grandma), and before you know it you've done something horribly wrong (get eaten by a wolf). Maybe you lost track of your stitch count and fumbled your pattern, or you knit the wrong strand when double knitting, or what could be more natural than decreasing properly on the back of the sweater vest, but improperly on the front of the sweater vest, leaving you having to join at the shoulder two pieces of fabric, one 13 stitches wide, one 25 stitches wide (eat candy from house, meet the owner, get shoved in oven). Have fun with that, foolish knitter!
This isn't just for beginning knitters either--yes, the dangers of the woods are more plentiful for them, as they foolishly pick up their knitting mid row and knit in the wrong direction (get thrown into a magic well) or fail to swatch at all to test gauge (get glued to a magic goose). Even intermediate or advanced knitters can find they've lost their way, as they forget to change needles to the smaller size (are fed poisoned apples by a step-parent in disguise), or misintrepret "knit 16 inches" as "knit 16 more inches," which is not the same thing at all (be forced to do housework by a step-parent not bothering to disguise themself).
So when knitting, I try to stick to the path. I don't want to get lost. In order to avoid the dangers of the Knitting Wood, I like to keep track of things. You may have a different method of keeping track of things, and that's great (unless your method is telling your husband what row you're on and hoping he remembers, in which case I suggest to attempt a different approach at once). But if you don't particularly keep track of things, Uncle Stashley strong urges you to give it a go.
Uncle Stashley's System That Admittedly May Not Work For You
I have two types of knitting. Completely mindless, and Challenging. There's no particular middle ground for me. It has to be either easy enough that I can knit it without checking the pattern, or hard enough that the very thought of attempting it sans pattern chills me to my very marrow. Your completely mindless knitting will change over time--I have advanced from rectangular garter knit scarf all the way to ribbed beanie hat, for instance. I can carry this knitting with me, and knit at meetings about how best to label aboriginal students in our institutional dashboard, or while visiting loved ones at the hospice, or when other people are learning choreography during Broadway Chorus* rehearsals.
My challenging knitting has also grown, from rectangular moss stitch scarf, all the way to Fair Isle Sweater or Orenburg Lace Shawl. But this challenging knitting is done at home, in my knitting space (the corner of my garage, see earlier post), with the pattern beside me at my right. It's on my computer monitor. It's been retyped (or copied and pasted) into a document that I can edit, or if it's a chart, it's open in a PDF reader that I'm comfortable with, one that allows me to easily draw red boxes around the row I'm on, and move them up as needed.
Here's what I do. I go to to my editable pattern. I type in "I'm on row 1 next" (or round 1, or whatever). Every time I finish a row, I edit it to say "row 2 next" etc. If I stop mid-row (or round), it's clear where I am. If I finish, and return to my knitting, it's clear where I am. I try Very Hard not to stop mid-row, as we all do, hence the utter familiarity of the phrase "I'll be there in a second, I've just got to finish this row first." If a pattern is Particularly Complicated (much lace, for instance) I have been know to actually cursor through the instructions as I complete each section.
When it says "*k2tog, yo, ssk, yo, k4, p2, k4* repeat four times" I will literally copy and paste the repeated section 4 times, so that I can cursor through it and not lose my place. I am 100% actually that anal/compulsive/incompetent.
Now, as you learn to read your knitting, you may get more confident (I certainly have). But I still use stitch markers* (SMs), because while yes, I can count and figure out where I made a mistake, but it's so much better to find out about 10-20 stitches later you've goofed (depending how often you place a SM) then to come around again after 200 fingering-weight shawl stitches and happen upon your mistake--if you even notice it.
If the pattern calls for complicated decreases (e.g. "k2tog at end of every third row until you've decreased by 6 (6, 7, 7, 8, 9) stitches, simultaneously ssk at beginning of every 5th row until you have 42 (44, 46, 48, 50, 52) stitches left on needle") then I bite the bullet, do the math, and write all the rows down one after another:
row 1: knit in pattern
row 2: knit in pattern
row 3: knit in pattern, k2tog at end
row 4: knit in pattern
row 5: ssk, knit in pattern
etc., until all the decreases are down. I daren't/durstn't make a mistake! That's when the wolves get you (or a dwarf threatens to steal your first-born, a huntsman menaces you with a knife, or the giants start smelling you despite your brilliant hiding place).
This is a wonderful opportunity to use ALL CAPS. Some people intrepret all caps in text as a way of SHOUTING AT PEOPLE but in knitting notes, it's really SHOUTING AT MYSELF. So my patterns are liberally sprinkled with notes like REMEMBER TO CHANGE NEEDLES HERE because it's effective for big ole dum-dum me. When I really get going, out comesBOLD ALL CAPS IN A DIFFERENCE COLOUR IF POSSIBLE. I'm very absent-minded, so all these precautions are absolutely necessary. Plus, I'm knitting while watching Australian Competitive Reality TV shows, which are a bit distracting.
So that's how I manage to avoid being eaten by wolves, these days. Most of the time.
On the Needles
(I will mark with a ! when I have advanced beyond last mention)
!Cabled Viking Hat (On 25th round)
!Sophie's Universe crochet project (Round 10 done, see photo)
!GGN Norwegian Ski Sweater (basically knitting until it's 16 inches, and I'm more than halfway there)
!Vice Versa scarf (double knitting!) starting the fifth row of squares
!Persian Dreams Blanket (row 32 of the second hexagon)
!A Random Blanket (about 1/3 through)
On the backburner:
Feather Duster Lace Shawl (I'm repeating, for the first time, the body section)
A Church Mouse sock (post-heel)!
World's Simplest Mittens (prior to thumb)
A Hitchhiker Scarf (started over a year ago. It's for when I'm needing mobile knitting and every other project is stuck at a complicated point. I will be in the middle forever, I guess)
Simply Ribbed Scarf (again, it's ancient, intended for emergency mobile knitting, and I'm in the middle)
*Broadway Chorus = the musical theatre group I'm Artistic Director of in my spare time.
*Stitch Markers (SM) = small round thingummies that you stick on your needle to mark off sections of knitting. When you get to one, you just slide it onto your right needle, it's literally the easiest action imaginable when it comes to knitting. The only down side is you don't want to stop beside a stitch marker as it will fall off and be lost forever. So make sure you always stop at least one stitch before or after.