I'm thinking it's time to do a little knitting P.S.A. around here because I've been tooling around and seeing blog comments and questions and frankly, I think it's time.
The one most important thing you can learn in knitting, that will help you in the long run and I think is above and beyond knowing how to make the stitches even... is how to RECOGNIZE your knitting.
How many times have you heard of people making the following mistakes?
1- Accidental yarnovers (adding more stitches!)
2- Purled or Knitted on the wrong row in Stockinette
3- Turned around the work while working in circular knitting and ended up
4- Lost your place in a stitch pattern and didn't know what to do
5- Lost your place when doing short rows and ended up wrapping and turning at the wrong times
The list can go on and on- feel free to leave a comment if you've got something else you add in there. Now, the truth is, everyone makes these mistakes. Some of them more than others- For example, I probably would never make the mistake of purling or knitting at the wrong time in plain old stockinette, and very very rarely do I ever turn my work around in circular knitting. Now I've had accidental yarnovers but I always notice them on the NEXT ROW and I just drop them and usually that doesn't leave any holes. When I lose my place in the stitch pattern, I can find it, and the same with short rows.
Now, why is it that these mistakes are easily avoided or fixed when I make them? It's because I know how to read my knitting, I know how to look at it and understand what is going on. There are tons of other knitters out there who do the same thing- they're the ones who can diagnose your problem with a snap of the fingers and can probably help you fix it.
But you know what? There's no reason YOU can't do the same thing! All you need to do is pay attention to your knitting, learn what the stitches look like, and learn a few really really simple rules about what your knitting is supposed to look like as you're working on it. Trust me- you don't have to finish that row if you don't want to. You can stop in the middle and come back later if you want to. It's not the end of the world if you stop in the middle of a stitch repeat- you can easily find your place if you know what the stitches look like.
I'm going to try to do some picture posts to accompany this, but what I really want to say to you today is just to pay attention to what your knitting looks like. If you're doing, say, 2x2 ribbing- you shouldn't have to keep count. The stitches should be your guide. Just look for a while- you'll see what I mean.