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Learn how to knit without a pattern

Learn how to knit without a pattern Go where the yarn takes you blog post main image

Raise your hand if you feel like you need your GPS, or at least a map to find your way anywhere. And, now raise your hand, if you feel like in order to learn new knitting techniques, skills, or anything you have to have a pattern. Well my friend, it’s time we go off-roading with our knits! I’m going to help you learn how to knit without a pattern!

When I was a new knitter, one of the first things I did was ditch the “learn to knit” book thingie I had and create my own path. And my path was somewhat unorthodox. But it gave me tremendous courage. A total lack of fear, and also a rather cavalier attitude when it comes to failing at knitting. 

It’s weird for me to say that. Because, like most people, I’m kind of a perfectionist. In fact, it’s actually what stops me from doing 99.9% of the things that I want and need to do. Because if I don’t have time to do it perfectly, it can’t be done. Simply put, I don’t have enough time. Now, this is not some psychology post, we’ll leave that for my therapist to figure out. 

The point is… for me, to feel in any way, shape, or form that it’s ok to just not know what I’m doing, to try out crazy things that 99.9% of the time won’t work, and be happy about it – that’s just crazy talk! To conclude, it’s totally outside the Lois comfort zone. Yet, that’s where I love to knit. 

Have you ever cooked or baked without a recipe? That’s what it’s like when you knit without a pattern!  

I don’t know anyone who cooks exactly from a recipe. Except new cooks, who should, because they are learning. However, once you learn a few things, most of us just improvise as we go. Am I right? I mean, most of my recipes do not call for me to use Chinese Five Spice, but it’s SO good, on like, almost everything. It goes in a lot of my dishes. 

No one has to know how I’ve changed or improvised a recipe. Except me. And when it works, and it’s like, “What was that flavor?” I proudly announce I sprinkled some Chinese Five Spice into it. And when it’s weird, I blame me. Honestly, it’s never the Chinese Five Spice’s fault. 

And because I know you cook and move a bit with the recipe, I also know you can learn how to knit without a pattern! Don’t worry, I’m about to give you the basic guidelines, then whatever you do to make this be YOURS, is up to you. Let’s get started!

A headband knit using bamboo stitch and a cowl knit with a lace pattern

When is a knitter ready to knit without a pattern? 

I do recommend that you know these skills before you begin exploring: cast-on, knit, purl, bind-off. That’s it, knitters, because exploring is PERFECT for skill building!

You are missing out, if you only ever stick to a pattern and never go off exploring with your knits. Because sometimes patterns can look intimidating as heck. And you may feel intimidated by the overall look and elements the pattern incorporates. Then you won’t try it. But if we break a new skill down to its most basic parts and practice each skill first. You’ve totally set yourself up to ROCK THAT DIFFICULT PATTERN! 

I mean, who starts baking by making a souffle? No one! And that’s exactly why I want to teach you how to knit without a pattern.

Additional requirements will be to have the yarn you want to use with its label. Because we are going to use a lot of information from the label. And the appropriate size knitting needles (according to the label), maybe some stitch markers, and possibly a calculator. 

Handknit Baby Blanket
This is a pattern!What new knitting territory would you like to explore? When you knit without a pattern it’s completely up to you! 

Let’s dive in! Do a google search and look for a stitch pattern that looks interesting to you. Or if you have a stitch dictionary, open it up and find what you like. Also, sometimes you can borrow stitch dictionaries from the library, if you don’t own one yourself. Plus, there are SO many websites with great stitch patterns. One of my favorite stitch pattern websites is New Stitch A Day. (not an affiliate or a sponsor)

Knitting book with yarn balls and knitting needles
Here’s my knit stitch dictionary from Vogue, but there are many options out there! | Not an affiliate or a sponsor.

First find a stitch pattern that strikes your fancy.

Second check out what skills are needed.

Third ask yourself, are you familiar with the skills that are used? Then you can do it! 

Do you know most of the skills and are learning one new one? Go for it! 

If you are learning a bunch of skills, I would not do it yet. Save it for next time. Look again and find one that is a bit more accessible. 

Learning one new skill at a time is best. 

If there is a specific pattern you want to try out, but feel intimidated by all the new skills, can you find a stitch pattern that uses one of those skills? That is a great place to start when you learn how knit without a pattern.

Headband knit with bamboo stitch and without a knitting pattern

Time to math up or shut up

Zombieland anyone? This is a twist on one of my favorite quotes from Tallahassee. It’s so funny. Oh right, math…

Look at your stitch pattern notes (like below), it will usually say the number of stitches and repeats required to create the stitch pattern. For example, if you were going to use my “tag-a-long stitch pattern” you can see that it says it is a two stitch, four row repeat, with one additional stitch. Let’s unpack what all that means. 

Tag-a-long stitch pattern sample
Sample from the Tag-a-Long stitch pattern

The first number is the number of stitches required to make this stitch pattern, and in our case it’s two. This simply means that when we make this stitch pattern, we need to cast on in multiples of two to create this specific stitch pattern. We’ll get into the math of how to calculate our cast-on number in a bit. 

The second number is the number of rows required to create this stitch pattern. In this example, it’s four. This information is important because, especially nearing the end of your knit. You will want to be sure that you end on a row four. You will also need to keep track of your rows so that you can continue knitting as long as you want your fabric to be.  

The third and final number is not always given in a stitch pattern. However, following the same example, it’s one additional stitch. Now this is the number of additional stitches required to complete this stitch pattern. This means that you will repeat the two stitches over and over and over, as many times as you want, and then add one additional stitch on the end.

Did you know this is actually one of the processes knit pattern designers go through when designing patterns. So when you learn how to knit without a pattern, you are also learning how you can design things on your own!

Yarn labels have SO much valuable information!

Besides the stitch pattern, we need more numbers. So, let’s grab our yarn label and take a look. First, we need to know what the “sample gauge” is from the label. There should be a box, sometimes one with knitting needles and one with a crochet hook. Or as in our example just a box by itself. This box will say how many stitches and rows you can get with a certain needle size over stockinette stitch. 

Yarn label sample of what you can get form the yarn label

For example, in this picture, my yarn label has 10×10 cm and 4″x4″ with a square beneath it. The number on the right is 24, and on the bottom is 20.  

This means that in a 10×10 cm or 4×4 inch square I can knit approximately 20 stitches and 24 rows. If I use this specific yarn and a pair of 3.5-4mm knitting needles. If you missed how I know what size knitting needle to use, look at the label again. Next to the square for gauge is a pair of knitting needles with suggested size and then a crochet hook with suggested size. This is how we know what approximate size knitting needle to use for our knits.

Of course, if I want the exact measurement, I’m going to need to swatch. But since we’re knitting for fun or just to pass the time, then approximate size is good enough. 

Bring all the numbers together

The first thing you need to decide is how wide you want your fabric. This is completely up to you. However, you can look up standard sizes for things like dishcloths, blankets, etc. On the other hand for things like scarves and cowls, it’s more up to you how wide you want it. For a summer scarf, think thinner, and a winter scarf or cowl should be wider. 

Next we’re going to gather all of our information and begin doing some math. You can read through this section to learn all the steps involved, or just have your numbers and jump ahead to my calculator.

Yarn label math

For example I want to take this yarn, and turn it into a scarf. And I want it to be wide, say 20 inches. I will give you the equation to use and then plug in the numbers using the yarn label photo above and the tag-a-long stitch pattern below.

Number of stitches from gauge divided by number of inches or cm from gauge = number of stitches per inches or cm. 

20 sts / 4″ = 5 sts per inch

Number of stitches per inches or cm x number of approximate inches I want for my knit item = APPROXIMATE number of stitches to cast-on

5 sts x 20″ = 100 sts

Add in the numbers for the specific stitch pattern you are using

(Approximate number of stitches to cast-on minus additional stitches)/number of stitch repeats = good to go or tweak your numbers. 

(100-1)/2 = 49.5 (need to tweak the numbers)

If when you did this last equation you got a whole number – congrats you are ready to cast on and start knitting! However, if you got a fraction, like in this example, you now have a decision to make. Would you rather go up in stitches or down? There’s no wrong answer here – you are off-roading!

Whether you decide to round up or down, get to the nearest whole number. In this example, I got a 49.5. I decided to round down to 49. Now I can use that number to plug in my information and get the correct number of stitches to cast-on.

(Number of repeats x number of stitches repeated) + additional stitch(es) = number of stitches to cast on. 

(49 x 2) + 1 = 99 sts

And that is it. I have now determined to get a scarf that is approximately 20″ wide using the tag-a-long stitch, I will need to cast-on 99 sts.

or gather your numbers and just use the calculator i made!

Is this math too much? Guess what! I made a calculator! I can’t help it guys, I love math and spreadsheets! This calculator will round down for you. I know, math is not everyone’s jam, so you can click here to go to the calculator, plug in your numbers and bam! Get your cast on number. 

To get access to this calculator you need to do three things:

  1. Sign up for my email list
  2. Confirm your email
  3. Click the link and save it to your google drive or computer

So that’s it. You are now ready to cast on and knit. Continue knitting, until you’re done. Bind-off or seam. Weave in ends. Block. 

Congratulations you have just knit without a pattern!

Simple fabric uses for off-roading

  • Dishcloths
  • Washcloths
  • Coasters
  • Scarf
  • Cowl
  • Headband
  • Fingerless gloves
  • Placemats

Whatever you want! I have honestly, knit a fabric square just to have it. And I don’t even use it for anything. I just like it. It was fun to knit. I learned a new technique. It’s awesome! 

If you have any questions, you can always reach out to me by email, or send me a message on Instagram @ozzylosiknits 

If you try exploring new knitting territory using this tutorial, let me know about it and tag me on Instagram @ozzylosiknits or send me a pic in email. I love to see what everyone is knitting! 

Hugs & Happy Knitting!

Intarsia knit blanket without a pattern or stitch dictionary!
Blanket I’m working on – no pattern! Not even using a stitch pattern for this one, just making it up as I go.

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  1. Hi I have a jumper which was purchased from Madeira and would love to have it copied
    Can you help please

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