Q for You: Do you add it up?

Q for You: Do you add it up?

I recently did something I try never to do: I calculated stitches and rows and yardage for something at the ultra-granular level. It was the collar of my blue Bellows. I realized I didn’t think I was going to have enough yarn, which is a thing that happens, right? Normally in such a situation, I’ll weigh my yarn, knit a row, re-weigh to see how much the row used and thus how much yardage that was, and assess the situation based on how many rows are left. However, I try to keep it as general as possible. I only want to know as much as I actually need to know. With that shawl collar — it’s basically like knitting a third sleeve — there are short rows involved (not as straightforward to calculate since each one is literally a different length), plus I had the idea that I might reduce the total number of rows. There were variables and mitigating factors. The only thing I could do was knit a row, calculate the weight/yardage used; do the math to figure out exactly how many stitches a short-row sequence amounted to; count the number of full rows and short-row sequences; and tally it all up. Only by knowing exactly how many stitches it would be could I determine how much yarn I needed. (Spoiler alert: I didn’t have enough.)

It’s the first time in my knitting life that I ever could answer the question “How many stitches is that?” And let me tell you: I did not love knowing. In fact, I’ve since repressed the number. I remember only that it was in the thousands — and that’s just the collar! At bulky gauge, no less. Since then there was that hat where I did increasingly gain a heightened awareness of how many stitches x how many rows, just because it was so much more knitting than a typical worsted-weight hat and I was on a deadline — but I still never multiplied those numbers!

I’ve always been amazed at how many people do this math regularly and on purpose. There are those of you who like to be able to say how many stitches, how many miles of yarn, how many minutes or hours were involved. In so many facets of my life, I am like that. But with knitting, I don’t want to know. The only thing I ever do in that regard is sometimes I’ll time myself to see how long one repeat of a chart takes, or two inches of knitting, or something broad like that, and I do it to set realistic expectations with myself. Like: If one chart repeat takes 1.5 hours, you can expect to knit maybe a few repeats per week, so what does that mean for the expected lifespan of the project. That’s the most I ever want to know.

Yardage-wise, I typically weigh a finished project to see how much yarn got used. That’s it.

So that’s my Q for You today: Are you a tabulator? Do you add it all up, or keep yourself in the dark, or are there in-between cases like mine? I look forward to your answers, and wish all of you a very happy weekend!

Oh, and p.s.: the Wabi Mitts kits are back in stock!

Pocket notebook from Fringe Supply Co.


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55 thoughts on “Q for You: Do you add it up?

  1. Sister Meg says I should never ever ever do the math or I’ll just give up and she was almost right. It came up when I was doing that first state fair blanket, the fifty states one. It was easy to figure out and once I said out loud that I had only 150,000 stitches to go, I just wanted every state west of the Mississippi to secede.

  2. I’ve only done it for very small sections, more for time management than yardage estimates. But if I think about it like that, I’ve probably knitted over a million stitches in my lifetime. That is a strange thought.

    • I realized late last night that my stitch tally is actually in that photo – 4000+ stitches, just for a bulky-gauge collar. And I’m pretty sure that’s after I cut four rows, not the original scope. So it’s easy to see how quickly it must add up!

  3. I’m like you, I’ll weigh, knit a row, weigh, if I think I might not have enough yarn. That’s mostly for shawls. For sweaters I always just get at least one more skein than my highest yardage estimate (right now making slippers with the excess). Might do some weighing if working with hand spun for a sweater. I’ve never counted stitches – that way lies madness, at least in my mind. I don’t keep track of my time either. Lots of stitches, lots of time, no need to quantitate further….

  4. Depending on the project, I do the math. I knit a lot of shawls and the shape can make it feel like I’m almost done when I actually have 55% of the knitting left to go. I’m a monogamous knitter and there’s usually a point late in the project where I start to feel like, “Are we there yet?” Knowing how long the rows are, how they’re growing and roughly how long each row takes helps me to keep going. Doing the math serves a similar function to progress keepers, especially when I’m in the doldrums of a big project.

    Another good thing about knowing my approximate speed over long rows is that I am now better able to estimate how long it will take me to knit a smaller item (except socks; there’s some kind of time warp with socks). A lot of my instagram posts make reference to how many rows it will take to get to the next section, how long the rows are taking and how many stitches until x.

    • I tried to do the math on a triangle shawl once — just trying to pinpoint what percentage I’d done and how large it would get with the yarn I had left — and I could not figure it out!!

      • I tried this too, for a border on a square shawl/blanket (Quill) and it was a decently challenging math problem. My husband and I worked away it for some time and ended up doing it with geometry by cutting up the chart and filling in the empty areas and using those to calculate. My explanation is clear as mud because I forget the details! By that point it was more of just a fun shared question for us than a desire to know how much of the border was left.

  5. I will confess to being a tabulator, although not a record keeper. As probably my only manifestation of OCD-ness, I am a counter of things, and I kind of like to do math in my head, so when I knit without distractions, and my mid wanders, I have sometimes calculated such things in my head. I am a devoted player of Yarn Chicken, and such calculations come in very handy when you are literally going to use up every inch of yarn. I also keep an electronic food scale on the coffee table in front of me, and use it regularly. But thats all mindless diversion. When it comes down to really knitting, I am pretty much just winging it, but years (decades really) of doing these odd little calculations in my head do save a lot of heartbreak when knitting without a pattern to guide me. You know you have gone over to the dark side when you start calculating stitches/gram.

  6. I count how many skeins at the beginning of the project, and how many I actually use. At least this way, I know how many to buy for the next sweater although I always add a skein in case I decide to do cables or something that takes up more yarn than stockinette. I buy yarn first and then invent a garment.

    • I do always buy at least one more skein that I think I’ll need. In this particular case, I bought several more in the first place, not knowing what it might be and the yarn being limited. Then an additional four when I decided on a project. And it was still not enough! Happily, I was able to get one more when I needed it.

  7. Do you have a resource that you can share for those of us who are new enough to the game that we need a tutorial?

  8. I’m a multiple tabulator. There are numerous fun and satisfying ways to approach this type of question – here’s a favorite:

    Measure an exact yard (or two, or ten) of the yarn you’re knitting with*, starting at the most recently knit stitch, and mark that yard with a small, not-tight slipknot that can be pulled out when reached. Then continue knitting, counting the number of stitches you work til you reach the knot.

    Of course, you then have to be game for figuring out how many stitches needed to finish your project! (fun!)

    And you need to know your remaining yardage – figured out by grams remaining times yards/gram.

    *You can also do this with a separate, ‘spare’ yard of your yarn, and then rip out after counting; or with the ‘other end’ of your ball/skein/cake, if it’s accessible.

  9. Never! Altho I’ve been told instead of having a million scarves/shawls, with the same number of stitches I could have sweaters! And honestly, I’d rather. But I now worry about fit, esp since I now think I need bust darts, which is scarier to me than steels. (Not that I’ve done them either.)

    Long time reader first time comments. Love your posts.

  10. Oh, yeah. With larger projects, I tend to work out about how long I can expect the project to live on my needles if I knit ‘x’ number of rows/rounds per week – it kind of helps with WIP planning & figuring out how quickly I need to produce yarn for the next big project. As for yardage produced, I don’t worry too much about that because I always have projects in planning where I’m using up odds & ends from other projects – kind of like how I cook: perpetual left-overs, ’cause I’m always making more of something than we’ll eat. On purpose, so I can use the balance in another dish.

    I’m weird like that. :)

    • I almost always time for some sense of the pace of progress. Like the sweater I cast on Monday night, I’ve managed to knit about an inch each night, so I need to just expect it to be a good 12-14 days of the stockinette tube before I get to the underarms.

  11. Mostly I live my life (knitting & otherwise) in a state of jaded optimism, so I won’t be surprised if I run out of yarn, but I’m hopeful I won’t. That said, I’ve been know to get the scale and try to figure out how much I have left (have you done the “figure out yardage on an unlabeled skein?” Fun! Sort of). It reminds me of how most teachers/professors would never try to figure out what their salary means in an hourly rate. It would depress us to the point of not being able to do our job. Jaded optimism, that’s what I’m saying.

  12. Most of the time I don’t have to resort to torture, er math, but there was this one time when I didn’t pre- and post-weigh my yarn for sleeve #1 and therefore didn’t know if I had enough left for sleeve #2. So I was faced with sitting down with my calculator app and pencil and paper. After much self doubt, scribbling and erasing, I managed to figure out that I had enough yarn to make a second sleeve. Boy oh boy was I proud of myself for getting my numbers right! Mr. Brajcich (best grade 8 math teacher on the planet) would have been so proud of me.)

  13. Counting & Shawls – OhMyYarnGoddesses! The shawl I’m doing for my daughter’n’law is bigger than I’ve ever done and, dah!, requires exact count for the pattern to work out. Over and over, counting counting counting millions of stitches (seems like.) Ok, I’m not big into it and the shawl, growing quite large, finds itself languishing at times while I knit a simple hat or my own small garter stitch shawl that will never care if I forgot the increase in row 41.

  14. Once in a while I’ll look down at my work and wonder if I’ve actually hit 1,000,000 stitches this time. Never have tried to figure it out though!

  15. Such an interesting Q. I am definitely a tabulator (and I have clinically diagnosed OCD – so I come by it honestly!). But I don’t care how many stitches I’m knitting in any given project. I am compelled to alter every project I make (for good reason – I care tremendously about achieving great fit and so I modify to ensure I can achieve that). So I do PAGES of math to ensure I’ve got the right fit. If I run out of yarn, I pick it up on the flip side and get creative – racing stripes anyone? – but that has only happened on a couple of occasions because I do make sure to buy enough yarn. I’m most compulsive about using up every inch of yarn, so I make a lot of striped projects. And your log cabin mitts are on my list for this reason!

  16. I am like you – sometimes I tabulate because I have to, rarely do I do it for the fun of it. I recently did it in answer to a question – a sweater I am working on has 57 more rows, will increase twice more for a total of 80 additional stitches, and I already am close to 400 stitches. The answer is over 20,000. Ugh. It does make me wonder why I thought a light fingering weight swing cardigan was needed, and you can be sure my next sweater will be a bulkier yarn!

  17. Yeah, it pretty much depends on the project.

    Currently, I’m working on an improv cardigan, using twelve balls of a discontinued colorway. After knitting the back, the left front, and half of the right front, I started doing meticulous math, because I still have two sleeves and the button band to go. IF my calculations are correct, I won’t have to unravel the gauge swatches to get enough yarn to finish this thing.

    If all that counting misled me, I’ll have to find another solution.

    You should see my notes on this cardigan. So. much. math.

    Strike that: no one wants to see these notes. They make it look like this thing is more work than it actually is.

  18. But numbers lie, too! How else to explain the time I knit a pair of socks and found I had what looked like enough to knit a third – each sock weighed precisely 32 oz, and there were 32 oz left, but (and you could see this coming, right?) I ran out of yarn before I finished the third.
    Still don’t have any idea why.

  19. I am not a tabulator, but I actually would like to be. I don’t tend to have miles and miles of yarn in my stash, so it would benefit me to do some maths. I had no idea the yarn for your Bellows was so complex!!! I am really digging that scale too.

  20. Like you I feel one can know more than wants, especially in regard to number of stitches in a given project or part. Therefore I only know as much as I feel I need. I do use my scale, wholely and in intervals as needed. When stash-busting I really use this extra step before, during knitting and after. But, on the other hand if I have ample yarn on hand for what I need I don’t weigh in. If I am getting close to it appearing as if I have enough yarn, I check at appropriate intervals to determine yardage or even just weight used and extrapolate adequacy of yarn. I would only look at the “demoralizing” number of stitches, needed, made or hoped for if it were a true necessity.! I enjoy knitting calculations, but shiver at knowing the mind-numbing number of stitches involved.

  21. Knitting for me has always been about the process primarily, and the product secondarily. I just like doing it. It is meditation. Been doing it for 62 years, since 5.

  22. I enjoy a good game of yarn chicken, as long as I win! I do sometimes make a spreadsheet while designing, based on a previous design, to guess if I’ll have enough yarn to make a design work with the number of rows I want, but that doesn’t happen a lot. It might save me heartache!

  23. I agree with you, I’d rather not know. I’m working on a sweater that is knit side to side, and has inch-wide vertical stripes (also with short rows). I have been working on it mainly at this event that I go to frequently that I know gives me about 45 minutes of knitting time, and I found that I can get one stripe done per occasion. This is the closest I’ve come to knowing how much time it will take to finish the item I’m knitting, and I definitely don’t want to know how many stitches, at least while I’m still working on it…

  24. What an interesting question! I definitely fall more on the “not-wanting-to-know” side of the spectrum. More often than not, I’ll go by ‘feeling’. The only time I really go into the nitty-gritty details is if I’m writing my own pattern (because of course for that I don’t really have a choice!).

  25. Just recently bought a pocket scale but only so I could weigh yarn to divide it evenly for 2 at a time magic loop socks.

  26. I do math in my head constantly, almost without thinking, so I always know how many stitches are in every project. I can’t help it, I don’t even try to do it but it just comes into my head as I knit.

  27. I did this once when designing a shawl using very expensive yarn and I wanted to use as much as possible of the yarn without having to double the price by getting into 2 more balls. I had everything calculated on Excel.

  28. I never know exactly how much yarn, time or stitches go into my knitting. I remain happily ignorant! If I need to buy yarn for a particular project, my method is to compare the yardage of the yarn I want with the yardage of the recommended yarn, and buy an extra skein just in case. Then if it is yarn that I love, and I want to make another project with it, then I buy enough more to make the second project + an extra skein just in case.

  29. That’s an interesting question : I calculate mainly twice: before the project, to ensure I get enough yarn, and after.
    Before: I just use the yardage provided in the pattern and make the total of my yarn to check I have at least the yardage recommended, or equivalent if I’m using another yarn that the one recommended. It works every time: the few times I did not have enough yarn and had to frog, I kind of knew before because of the math but tried it anyway. I do not calculate based on my swatch, I kind of trust the designer, as they tend to put the maximum amount of yarn used in terms of skeins, not the exact yardage.
    After: I take the weight I had before the project and remove the remaining weight. So I know exactly how much yarn I have left, if any. Measuring the finished project would not take into account the swatch and all the bits and pieces I used to sew for example. But it is because I like to know exactly what’s in my stash.

  30. Interesting, how different human beings are! I am fine with a scale and doing calculation just for the pattern. Actually, it never ever occurred to me to count the single stitches of a project…

  31. I absolutely do not add up individual stitches. I don’t even add up yardage, except to the extent that I know I started with (say) 1750 yards, and I finished with some proportion of the last skein left, so the total was less than 1750 yards. It is sort of amazing for someone to be able to say “I knit [however many] stitches in this project,” but I really really don’t want to know, because I am a bit of an Eeyore/glass half empty person, and if I know a project has however many gazillion stitches in it, I will instantly think, “I can’t knit a gazillion stitches!” (Large numbers intimidate me. I can knit one sweater. I have a hard enough time knitting 5 pieces for a sweater. X,XXX stitches is just going to convince me I’ll fail.)

    In fact, I’ve never really heard of anyone counting stitches until this post!

  32. When I put my Rare Sheep Corral blanket together I used garter grafting. It was a new stitch for me and I am not good with these tiny needles. I thought I would never finish. And to define how long „never“ is I calculated: roughly 1200 stitches to go. No plans to do calculate more stitches.

  33. While I do not do the math myself unless I need to for yarn estimation purposes, I will confess I love Helen Stewart’s patterns because she has done all of the row and stitch count math and tells you exactly how much percentage-wise of the garment you have knitted.

  34. I like being in the dark. I guess because I have knitted for so long and learned in the olden days no one ever thought of those things. Maybe some did, but not anyone I knew. So, I just knitted. If I follow the pattern exactly most things turn out but when I make for me and I fiddle with the stitch counts it may not turn out so hot so it gets frogged and something else gets made. Oh well. So what. Thanks for showing us how far some will go to get exact info. I think I’ll stick with the dark. Linda

  35. Pingback: Q for You: Do you keep a knitting journal? | Fringe Association

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