Knitting Hacks: Know Your Knitting Speed

Have you ever looked at a project and wondered how long it would take you to knit it?

Me, too.

If you are a frequent knitter you probably have an idea of how long it takes you to complete a project, give or take. For me, a fingering weight sweater in my size (36/38) usually takes about two weeks, barring unexpected events; a worsted weight sweater takes me about a week. Granted, this depends on how many projects I’m working on, how motivated I am, and how much wine coffee I’ve had while knitting. Results vary in both directions.

So how many actual hours am I knitting?

As we gear up for the Stillwater 4 Day Sweater KAL, knitters have been curious to know how much time I spent knitting the original sample. My guess was 8 hours a day, but I’ll be honest: I hadn’t done the math.  I spread my knitting out throughout the day with lots of breaks, so it was hard to guess how much time I’d actually spent stitching.

There’s a way to find out.

We know the value of a gauge swatch to help us predict our results, right? You can also knit a “time-gauge” swatch for your project to get an estimate of how long it will take you – in actual knitting time – to complete it. I don’t recommend this for every project (it’s just not necessary and there’s no reason to overwhelm yourself with information unless you just really really want to know), but when you’re on a deadline…

How to estimate your knitting speed with a time-gauge swatch

Let’s first try this with a current project on your needles (ideally, a stockinette project is a good place to start). Wherever you are in the project – and without cutting the yarn – measure the next 5 yards of your working yarn and tie a slip knot at the 5 yard mark so you’ll know when you get there. Grab a stopwatch, get comfortable in your knitting spot, and be ready to click “start” on the timer when you’re ready to begin knitting.

Before you start – take a deep breath. This isn’t a contest to see how fast you can possibly knit. Granted, you could use this trick to find out, but the real value is in finding your actual COMFORTABLE knitting speed. The goal is to replicate the speed and conditions of your normal knitting experience, minus interruptions. (Ideally not on a cast-on or bind-off row, since those aren’t indicative of the bulk of the project.)

Start the stopwatch and begin knitting. Work at your comfortable/focused pace until you hit the 5 yard marker and stop the timer. Jot down your time.

Next, take a look at the yardage estimate for the project you’re working on (in the size you’re making). Here’s an example:

Worsted weight sweater: 900 yards for size 38

Minutes to knit 5 yards: 5.65 (divide this number by 5 to get the yard-per-minute number = 1.13 yards per minute YPM)

900 yards multiplied by 1.13 yards per minute = 1017 minutes

Divide the minutes into hours: 1017 divided by 60 = 16.95 hours

Let’s assume, as in the case of the Stillwater KAL, I want to knit this sweater in four days: 16.95 divided by 4 = 4.24 hours of focused, non-stop knitting per day.

Remember: every time you check your phone, take a potty break, or make another pot of coffee, the time goes up a bit. The idea is to take a look at the estimate and be able to say: Wow – if I only need 4 1/2 hours of focused knitting, then if I give myself 5-6 hours a day to work on this, and do my best to avoid distractions, I can easily stay on track without feeling rushed. 

NOTE: If you’d like to check your speed on the wrong side rows, repeat the above process while working on the wrong side, then average it with your time estimate from the right side (add the numbers together and divide by two).

How do we apply this?

Remember these are ideal results and they don’t account for anything but actual stitch time. You’ll always want to estimate beyond that number to adjust for interruptions, diversions and distractions. But in terms of actual knitting time, and to get a feel for how to break down your project into hours-per-day to reach your goal, this can give you a place to start.

Keep in mind…

  1. Each project is different so you’ll want to do a time-gauge swatch for the project you have in mind (meaning, test your time with the same yarn, needle and stitch pattern for the project).
  2. Don’t skimp on yardage. Sure, you could estimate your time over 1 yard, but for the same reason a 1″ gauge swatch doesn’t give you enough information, neither will a 1 yard time gauge.
  3. Once you have your ideal time established, round up by a couple of hours to account for the many many MANY variables that slow things down (a dropped stitch, a knot in the yarn, a cable snafu). Give yourself wiggle room.
  4. Knowing the numbers can help you decide how to approach your goal in terms of setting aside the appropriate amount of time for the project, how many hours per day you’ll want to knit, etc. That said, it’s still an estimate. You might get into a groove and knit faster than usual, or have more interruptions than you expect – or who knows what. Don’t let the numbers discourage you or demotivate you from continuing; this is just a tool and it’s not set in stone.

Ready? Set? Go!


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