Stitch markers. They’re brilliant if you know how to get the most out of them, but a mystery to the uninitiated novice. This guide will teach you everything you need to know, including: what is a stitch marker, how to use a stitch marker, the differences between knitting stitch markers and crochet stitch markers (not all stitch markers work for both purposes), how to DIY stitch markers in a pinch, and more!
What is a Stitch Marker and What Are They For?
Stitch markers mark a place in your work, so that you have a reference point to count from (or to). This way you can track progress, line up repeats, mark a position for pattern features like shaping, lace or cables, or track your beginning or end of round (BOR or EOR) when working in the round.
They have a few supplemental uses as well, such as preventing crochet from unravelling and securing dropped stitches.
Types of Stitch Markers
Stitch markers come in a wide range of shapes, styles, and aesthetics. But they fall loosely into three categories: stitch markers, locking markers, and split ring markers.
- Stitch markers are any markers that have a simple ring or loop at the top. You must slip the ring or loop over a needle. You can only use these for knitting.
- Split ring markers are a simple open loop with a pointed leg. You can use these for both knitting and crochet.
- Locking markers have some form of hinge or opening mechanism. When closed they form a complete shape. You can use locking markers the same way as stitch markers, but they also have extra uses. You can use these for knitting or crochet.
There are slightly different uses for each type of stitch marker. Here’s what they are.
How to Use the Three Types of Stitch Markers
Closed loop or ring stitch markers can only be used for knitting. You must place them on the needle between stitches. You will usually encounter two notations in knitting patterns relating to stitch markers: pm for Place Marker and sm for Slip Marker. Here is how to act on those notations.
- If you see pm, place a marker.
- Work to the point indicated on the pattern.
- Place the stitch marker on your working needle (usually your right needle)
- Continue working your stitches.
- If you see sm, slip a marker.
- Work to the marker.
- Slide it off your holding needle to your working needle (usually left to right).
- Continue working your stitches.
When you do this, the marker will travel with your work. But it is not attached to your work in any way. When you get back to the marker location it will just drop out of your work. So, as you add rows to your knitting, the marker travels up each row, tracking that position. You can then use that position to help you determine where to do certain techniques or stitches.
For example, your pattern may tell you to place a marker, then knit for another 20 stitches before working a pattern feature (an increase, decrease, cable, etc). It may also tell you to place a marker on one row, then on the next row tell you to work until a certain number of stitches before your marker to work your pattern feature.
Your pattern may also tell you to place several markers in one row, if you are working several repeats. This way you can ensure that each repeat falls between the markers.
Split ring markers
Split ring markers are designed to be inserted into a specific stitch. Then they travel with the stitch in the surface of the fabric. They can be used for knitting and crochet. These can be used in several ways that regular stitch markers cannot.
- Counting rows in your knitting between increases/decreases or other pattern repeats.
- For example, if you have a pattern instruction that requires you to “repeat, working decrease every sixth row for a total of 10 repeats,” you can slide the stitch marker into the decrease stitch and then use that to count how many rows you have worked since that decrease. That way you can check when your next decrease is due.
- You can also count the total number of markers to see how many more times in total you need to work your decreases. This is useful when working colourwork, lace, or cabled arans that have different numbers of rows between different pattern repeats. If you use the marker to mark each pattern repeat, you will find it much easier to do one cable every sixth row and another cable every fourth!
- For crochet, split ring markers are useful for marking the end of a round when working in the round. This is because, unlike knitting, standard stitch markers are not removeable from crocheted fabric!
- Insert the marker into the final stitch of a round. Then when you get all the way back and work into that stitch you’ll know you have completed the next round and can move the marker to your new end of round.This is also useful for counting all your stiches in a round, especially when working many increases – count from the stitch immediately after the last one marked all the way around the last stitch.
- Also for crochet, you can use the marker to record stitches for later placement of attached pieces, such as other parts of an amigurumi. For example, if you know that you should add legs at row 23 and arms at row 42, you can mark these rows as you go to save having to work it out later.
- When crocheting, it can be very easy to unravel your work when you put it aside, because the last loop is not secured. Insert the marker into the loop to prevent unsavoury outcomes!
- In a pinch, if the gap between the loop and the leg is smaller than your needle, you can use a split ring marker as a regular marker.
Locking markers do everything that stitch markers do and also everything that split ring markers can do! In addition, if you are using a locking marker as a regular stitch marker and realise it is in the wrong place, or have missed placing one, no worries! You can add, remove or move it without having to move your stitches back to the right point, provided it opens wide enough to slide over the needle or cable.
Considerations When Choosing Your Markers
- Stitch markers come with all sorts of fun and pretty dangles attached. However, remember that your markers will be rubbing against the fabric of your work when you are working or when it is in your bag. Markers that have sharp edges or pointy bits may catch on your project and pull it, so look for markers that are smooth and snag-free. The more delicate your work, the smoother you want your markers to be to avoid catching.
- Your working yarn will be carried over stitch markers and locking stitch markers that are placed on knitting needles between stitches. If your marker is thick and stands quite proud of the needle, this will make the distance the yarn travels longer, which can influence your tension and cause a looser spot where your marker was. The slimmer your marker, the less impact it will have on your tension.
- Stitch markers that have fun decorative dangles are pretty, but if you are working on a pattern with lots of markers, it can add extra weight. So consider if you want smaller, lighter markers to avoid weighing your work down.
- If you are using markers to mark a few different things, for example BOR/EOR and shaping, you want to be able to tell your markers apart by purpose. So consider using different colours, shapes, or designs to help distinguish them from each other.
- In my experience, split ring markers are very easy to knock out of place. So for this reason I prefer locking markers, not to mention the double duty that locking markers can do as regular markers.
DIY Stitch Marker Options
If you are caught short on a project and need more markers than you have, you may think, “What can I use for a stitch marker?” You absolutely can DIY stitch markers. There are alternatives in your house that are readily accessible!
- The easiest method of stitch marker DIY is to use small lengths of scrap yarn in a contrasting colour. Tie them into little loops.
- In a pinch you can use safety pins, paper clips, rings (but maybe not your fancy diamond ones!), lever-back earrings, milk carton rings, rubber bands, hair ties, the small pins that attach the swing tag to brand new clothing, or other small round things you have! When you choose what to use, remember the considerations mentioned above. And also take into account that things like rubber bands and hair ties can get fibres wrapped around them. This especially happens with fluffy yarns like mohair. Use all of these options with caution!
While I’ve described many ways that markers can be used, the pattern designer may intend for you to use stitch markers in other ways. So the best bet is to trust the pattern designer and follow the instructions!
On the flip side, you of course absolutely do not have to use stitch markers where instructed. They are a tool to help you. You get to decide if they help you or not!
Stitch markers are the jewellery of the knitting and crochet world. They’re functional, they come in a wide variety of aesthetics, and you can never have too many. A lot of knitters and crocheters end up collecting them in all colours, shapes and styles. Enjoy the fun they bring to your creative time!
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