I recently taught my mother to knit and apparently glossed over a detail in knitting that seems basic to us veteran knitters, but not so much to a novice: how and where to place a marker in your knitting.
I've created a list of various ways in which you can use stitch markers to be the most effective for the knitting you might be doing - flat, or in the round. And I decided to break down the details if working in the round: using the different methods: 1 circular, 1 long circular for Magic Loop, DPNs or 2 circulars.
Markers in Flat Knitting
Let's start with the most basic - knitting flat. When working flat, the most common use of a stitch marker is to indicate pattern repeats or increase/decrease points. In this case a pattern might read something like (we'll assume you've cast on 35 sts) :
Setup Rnd (WS): K5, pm (place marker), k25, pm, knit to end.
Rnd 1 (RS): Knit to first marker, sm (slip marker), work as per pattern to next marker, sm, knit to end.
In a case like this, we're going to place our markers right onto our needle. You can use a ring marker that will stay on your work until you knit up to it, or a removable/locking stitch marker that you can clip on and off your work as desired. The biggest trick with any marker that you use directly on your needles is to make sure it will slide easily over the size of needle you are using.
Markers When Knitting in the Round
One Circular Needle
Here's where we can break things down a little further. If you're knitting a hat and you need a marker to indicate your beginning of round, your pattern will likely read something like this:
Cast on 80 sts using the Long Tail Cast On method. Place a marker and join for working in the round.
In this case, your marker will be placed similarly to when you are knitting flat - directly on the needle. You will use this marker to indicate that you have completed one full round of your hat. Once you reach the marker you will slip it from the LH (left hand) to RH (right hand) needle to start the next round.
TIP! If you are working in the round such as the above and you know you have to put your work down, be sure to end a few stitches before or a few stitches after the marker. If you put the work down with the marker loose at the end of a round, its quite likely it will fall off. Not only do you lose your marker, but you run the risk of picking the work back up and knitting without having a marker in place! The horror!!!
One Circular Needle - Magic Loop method
When working in the round using the Magic Loop method, where your stitches are divided evenly over the two needles of one long circular needle, placing a marker at the beginning of round in the traditional way mentioned above is pretty darn tricky! The marker will always fall off the needle.
Instead! This is a great time to use a removable/locking marker to clip directly onto the fabric of your project, rather than on the needles. And a great place to clip it is near the beginning of the round so you know which needle is the first needle and which is the second.
Take this sock I'm working on (left): I have ring markers on the needle itself to delineate stockinette from pattern stitches, but I also have a removable marker (that adorable shark face) clipped to the fabric just below the front needle to indicate my beginning of round. When both needles are pointed to the right and I'm looking at the marker (i.e.: it's not on the back side of the sock when both needles are pointed to the right) I know I've completed a round.
Two Circulars Needles and Double-Pointed Needles (DPNs)
The good news is that there isn't much more to learn - these methods of knitting in the round and their relation to markers is the same as the Magic Loop method above. You can clip a removable marker to the fabric to indicate beginning of round. You won't be able to put a ring marker on the needles as each time you finish working the sts on that needle, the marker will fall off.
Markers As Progress Keepers
The final use of a marker is as a progress keeper / point of reference. I recently knit the Novalja Sweater and in the directions we were told to place a removable/locking marker and to knit even from that point until a certain length was reached. So in the image to the left, you can see my adorable dino marker clipped directly to the sweater. I'm not using it to mark beginning of round or decreases, but as a measurement to knit to a certain length from that point before another increase round is worked.
I also find that the cuter the marker, the more excited I am to use them! SO! Collect a stash of functional markers for traveling - I highly recommend removable/locking markers for travel since they can function as a ring marker, too, and then a beautiful/cute set (or four) of styles that you love that you won't drop on a plane!