How to Use Stitch Markers in Knitting

May 21, 2021

Stitch markers are a knitter’s (inanimate) best friend! They make knitting much easier and smoother. But what are they exactly? They are a device used in knitting to get your attention so you can do something other type of stitch or technique. As you are knitting along there are times where you need to change the stitch type or do some shaping. The stitch marker is there to remind you of what the pattern says. It can also help with counting. If you have a long stretch of knitting and have a hard time keeping track of your counting, you can place stitch markers at convenient intervals. Using stitch markers in your knitting life will reduce frustration, enable you to relax more while knitting and reduce errors on more complicated patterns. Sounds great to me!

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Why should I use stitch markers in knitting?

You don’t technically have to use them BUT in they make knitting so much easier.

Imagine knitting a long stretch of the same stitch and watching a show or kids outside. The pattern call to put a decrease in there ‘somewhere’, without a marker you’ll have to count every stitch of every row if you want the decrease to land in the right spot. OR simply use a stitch marker to mark your place so you do not have to count every stitch and use the stitch marker as the cue to do the decrease.

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Closed vs Open

Stitch markers come in two basic varieties – closed and open.

Closed stitch markers (sometimes called ring markers) are a solid shape with no openings, they can only be used by slipping them onto the knitting needle at the exact spot they need to go. They come in different sizes, usually in circles but some companies make triangular shaped markers.

Open stitch markers have an opening allowing them to be put on at any time. They can be placed on a needle a few stitches away from the one you are working on or on the stitches themselves. Some have just a notch, enough to slip over the needle. Some work like a lock, hence their name, locking stitch marker. The piece that goes onto the needle can be secured so the marker doesn’t fall off. These are more secure and the only kind I really use. Except for the occasional yarn piece if I have lost all my markers while out on the road.

No matter what kind of stitch markers you use, they will fall off if they are at the end of a needle! I sometimes forget this… duh.

CROCHETERS – Only use open stitch markers, otherwise your closed stitch marker will be worked into your project FOREVER…

I do not own many closed stitch markers. I have given almost all of them away. Also, I’m not a fan of the circular, open stitch markers that have a little pointy bit sticking out, I have given all of them away too! They snag yarn and I don’t like anything that snags yarn, unless of course it’s a kid or cat.

Here are a decent selection to choose from, get a lot because they aren’t very expensive!

Assorted Stitch Markers
Stitch Markers

What kinds of patterns need stitch markers?

Lace, anything shaped with increases or decreases, pieces with short rows, anything where you need to change what you are doing and need a reminder to make that change and you don’t want to count every stitch.

Simple straight scarves/washcloths that have only stockinette stitch or garter stitch do not really need it, you will be reading the stitches to know what comes next.

Places in a knitting pattern that stitch markers are useful

The markers mark a special part of the knitting pattern. They mark where you need to do something. It can be a place where you need to increase, decrease or anything else that is different from the regular stitch pattern.

At the beginning of a round in circular knitting. (See below for more information specific to knitting in the round.)

Any time you have parts of the pattern that need to be spaced equally, like for sleeves or fingers on a glove.

To separate pattern repeats. If you need to repeat the same 8 stitch pattern, place a stitch marker at the beginning of each pattern repeat so that you know you need to repeat it between the stitch markers. This also helps prevent errors. If your last batch of stitches counts 7 instead of 8, you know you have an error between those two stitch markers. It is also easier to count small chunks of stitch after you complete each one.

Long runs of the same stitch or a super long cast on. Place markers every 5, 10, 25 or whatever number you decide, so that you can count in smaller sections.

Pattern notations for stitch markers

The abbreviations for using stitch markers in a pattern are:

PM, place marker– Place marker on the right needle after the last stitch you worked.

SM, SL M, Slip marker – Slip marker from left needle to right needle, the same way you would slip a stitch. Put needles tip to tip and slip the needle to the right needle.

That’s all! Easy peezy, lemon squeezy!

How do you know where the markers are supposed to go?

Patterns will have directions for you to follow, usually one line at the beginning of the pattern so that everything you do after that will rely on the stitch markers. This is sometimes called a set-up row with a lot of PMs. This way, if you double check (or triple check if you’re me) the set-up row to be exactly sure what the pattern calls for, you can knit the next rows using the stitch markers to remind you when to look at the pattern.

To make a pattern more concise, pattern makers will use directions such as: K until 1st marker. Which translates to ‘knit every stitch until you reach the first marker’. If you decrease at that stitch marker, the count changes. This marker saves the pattern maker from having to give you a count between the stitch markers every time.

Here is a sample pattern to show how stitch markers are used:

CO 20 st (I am using a sample that already has some rows worked, easier to see and for me to photograph)

Row 1 (set-up row): K5, PM, K10, PM, K5 (20 stitches)

This translates into:

Knit 5 stitches. Slide a stitch marker onto the right needle tip.

knitting with a stitch marker placed on the needle

Knit 10 stitches. Slide another stitch marker onto the right needle tip.

Knit last 5 stitches. You have reached the end of this row.

Row 2 (first row after the set-up row) – P. Slipping markers as you get to them. (Means purl all stitches across row, this is a typical notation about the stitch markers but patterns can vary).

Not much to see here, I have purled back so I can start again on the knit side row.

Row 3: K5, M1R, SM, M1L, K10, M1L, SM, M1R, K5.

Here we knit 5 (K5)

M1R – a single stitch, right leaning increase – before the marker.

Slip Marker (SM)

M1L – single stitch, left leaning increase – after the marker.

We repeat that again when we get to the next stitch marker.

You’re going to have to believe me when I say I did a M1R.

Slip the marker, are you seeing a pattern here?

slipped the stitch marker to the right needle

A M1L on the other side of the stitch marker.

Finish the row. Now you have from right to left between the markers 6 stitches, 12 stitches and 6 stitches.

Row 4: P. (Since you have already seen the direction to slip the markers, you’ll not likely see it again, it is implied).

Purl back – BORING! but so necessary!

Row 5: K to marker, M1R, SM, M1L, K to marker, M1L, SM, M1R, K to end. You can’t really see anything here, unless you look real closely at the area just under the stitch markers. It looks a little out of alignment, you don’t see those nice “V’s” that knit stitches produce.

Here is a brighter shot to show you what we did. We used the stitch marker to tell us where to put some increases. Those increases that happened on both sides of the stitch marker created this nice, even “V” addition to our knitting. Putting these increases on both sides of the stitch markers and both sides of our project make it balanced and allow us to shape things evenly.

It would be very hard as a beginner to know where to put those increases without the stitch markers guiding us.

What kinds of stitch markers are available?

Stitch markers are usually plastic or metal. Sizes and shapes vary, make sure they fit the knitting needle size you are using. Most are large enough for a big range of sizes.

What to buy in store that is made for knitting/crocheting/crafting:

Actual stitch markers – utilitarian or decorative – Joann, Amazon, Knit Picks
Coil-less safety pins – Amazon
Regular safety pins

Many different types of stitch markers for knitting and crochet
A variety that I found in my big knitting storage bag.

Things that will do in a pinch or if you do not want to spend money:

Bobby pins
Contrasting yarns or threads
Pieces of the same color yarn, just make it really long and visible
Twist ties
Itty bitty or really thin hair elastics

It doesn’t matter what you use, as long as it does what you need it do and doesn’t mess up your yarn or stitch spacing. Choose one that is larger than your needle, but thinner than your yarn. Choose the size and style of marker based on the yarn and project.

Be aware. They can and often do get in the way, messing up tension between stitches if you are not careful. Always check that your stitch marker has slipped cleanly and the yarn is not caught on it in any way. This is a typical issue with yarn getting caught on stitch markers. It helps to have the larger part of the stitch marker either forward or backward. Having the yarn lay on the thinner part that goes around the needle is ideal.

yarn tension changed with stitch marker

It is good to have a variety as well as a lot of them. Working on a lace project will likely need very small markers and a whole lot of them. Thicker projects with really thick needles will need jumbo sized markers.

Get your copy of the Knitting Needle Size Chart

Those stitch markers sound boring! I want something cute!

There are tons of ways to make them cute and decorative. I find the charm ones to not be as contrasting or obvious. I like the bright plastic ones, they are there to get your attention, I want them to actually get my attention!

The dangly, charm like ones are the most diverse and creative, but are more expensive. I have seen gnomes, teacups, pretzels, sweaters, dog heads, vegetables, pretty much anything you can think of you could probably find! Some come on bracelets so you can always have them with you. Some have numbers on them or a place you can write on to keep track of special situations. I have even seen some that are the millimeter size of the needle used so if you need to borrow the needles from one project, you can remind yourself what size needles were used on the first project. I personally would just write all this information down!

decorative stitch markers are like charms on a bracelet
Picked these up in Colorado a few summers ago.

I prefer the kinds that look like a little padlock (see the orange one on the right in the first photo). I do not like heavy ones that will more likely fall off the needle if I am not careful. I do not like stitch markers that have any pointy bits or cute dangly things. I know there are so many cute ones but if there is a place for yarn to get caught, it will get caught. That slows down my knitting and possibly messes with the yarn, so I do not do it!

Using stitch markers while knitting in the round

If you are using circular needles or double pointed needles (DPN) and you will want to mark the beginning of a round.

If the first stitch is at the end of the needle, more likely for circular needles than DPN, the stitch marker will not have anything to hold onto or to keep it in place. Don’t tip your needle, it’s going to slide off!

Stitch marker about to fall of knitting needle

I like to move the stitch marker in one stitch, so it rests between the first and second stitch of the round. I am consistent so it does not mess up my counts and I make a note of it.

You can also connect the locking stitch marker to the first stitch instead of the needle, you will not be able to slip it the regular way, but you can just undo it and attach it to the ‘new’ first stitch. Or attach it to any stitch that marks a change, doesn’t have to be just in the round.

Use a different color stitch marker at the beginning of a round when knitting in the round if you need to use more than one marker. Having the stitch marker marking the round a different color, you will be able to tell where you are, otherwise you could go on and on without knowing which is the first marker if they all look the same. If you don’t have another color, add another of the same color stitch marker to differentiate them.

Ways to use stitch markers & tricks

● Use a locking stitch marker to mark and hold onto a dropped stitch if you cannot fix it right away.

stitch marker holding onto a dropped stitch so it can't go anywhere

● Get more than one color stitch marker. Often times there will be a need for two or three special situations and they need to be easily discernable.

● If you only have one color of stitch marker, you can either add other stitch markers to it to make it appear different or add another piece of yarn to differentiate it from the other markers. For example, the image below can mean that you have done two rows of a 4 row repeat. Or whatever else you can think of to help you keep on track.

multiple stitch markers designate a change in stitches

● Make notes on your pattern of what the stitch markers mean. Example: Orange – beginning of round, Green – start cable pattern

● Allows you to mark the front and back of an item. Just keep good notes.

● Help you differentiate between sides or doubles, such as socks if you are knitting two at a time or sleeves on a sweater. Use a different color on each or different number of stitch markers, just keep good notes.

● Place a stitch marker on a row to help keep track of row count. Some patterns require a specific number of rows to complete the sequence. Use a stitch marker to designate the first row of every repeat, then you will know where you are in the pattern.

● If you have a lot of different techniques to use on one project, write it down in abbreviated form to keep yourself in check and attach to the corresponding marker. Having stitch markers dividing the stitches and noting the technique you have to do cuts down the need to check the pattern as often, making knitting faster.

● Use the open style stitch markers to hold together sides that need to be seamed or matched up. It helps to line them up using counted rows. If you need to match up two sides, mark every few rows consistently on both sides, then just match up the markers when joining.

● Immensely helpful for color work, use the marker to designate changes or counts of stitches.

● Mark a reference point, even if temporarily. If you need to knit 4 inches in the middle of a row, you can mark the beginning of what needs to be measured, either stitches or rows, measure and if you do not have enough length, you don’t have to guess where you started to measure from, simply recount.

Stitch markers don’t stick around

Just like socks, hair elastics and coins, you will find them everywhere but in your knitting bag. Buy a lot and in a lot of different colors and sizes. Many find themselves abandoned with a project that has been on a hiatus. They end up in the couch and under the hutch in my dining room. If you knit in the car, you will inevitably lose stitch markers in neverland. We call that area between the seats and the arm rest, neverland. I am sure we’ve traded in cars that still had stitch markers in them…

Storage Ideas

If you plan on putting down the needles for an extended amount of time mid-project, write down important info, punch a hole in the paper and attach it to the marker on the knit piece.

I like using small pill keepers to keep them organized and tamed. Use small ones for your project bags and a larger one to keep at home.

pillbox filled with stitch markers
This is my favorite. Thanks Mom!

You can always use some sort of ring, hair elastic or a piece of yarn tied into a circle and hang them all on it to keep them together. Some varieties come in their own envelope or tin, helpful for keeping in a small project bag. Or use a safety pin to hold onto a small set.

stitch markers kept on a hair elastic

I recently bought myself more stitch markers. I think I’ll be set for a little while….

big box of colorful stitch markers

Any questions? Let me know!

Get the Supplies for the Beginner Knitter Checklist
Get your copy of the Knitting Needle Size Chart

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6 Comments

  • Reply Maureen May 23, 2021 at 3:48 pm

    I love stitch markers and my knitting friends call me the stitch marker queen. My projects jiggle with all the stitch markers I use since I like to put one every 10 stitches just for easier stitch counting. Then I have my BOR marker, markers to remind me where to increase and decrease, markers at the beginning of any lace pattern and it’s repeats, a fun marker for the middle front of a project/sock as well as another for the middle back of a project/sock, etc. See – jingle. I hate the plastic “open” markers even though I own 100+ of them since I bought a box of multicolor ones.
    I do use them occasionally to mark a hole that will need to be sewn shut with the project is done. They frequently don’t stay closed and hence catch on my knitting. I much prefer the metal ones which I also have in every color of the rainbow. I have a rainbow of closed rings in 3 sizes so they fit my sock and sweater needles.

    • Reply Marissa June 10, 2021 at 12:04 pm

      Hi Maureen, Just seeing this comment, so sorry! Glad you love them and that is a great nickname! I’m seriously contemplating making a necklace with all the locking ones on it for ease of use. It would be really colorful! Thanks for commenting!

  • Reply Gloria May 22, 2021 at 11:03 am

    I use locking stitch markers to provisionally cast on a few stitches for thumbs and even use larger ones for underarms in small sweaters.

    • Reply Marissa May 22, 2021 at 1:43 pm

      Hi Gloria, great suggestion! Thank you for sharing.

  • Reply Karen May 22, 2021 at 9:24 am

    I usually use scraps of yarn as stitch markets but now I think I might try the locking stitch makers. I especially like the idea of using the daily pill holders for storing the various markets. Thanks for the tip.

    • Reply Marissa May 22, 2021 at 1:43 pm

      Hi Karen, Thanks for reading the post. Yes, I started with yarn scraps but once I found the locking stitch markers, there was no turning back.

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