Whether you’re a wannabe knitter or you’ve already started dabbling with basic knit and purl stitches, I wanted to share a few things I’ve learned through experience….for what that’s worth. Keep in mind I’m not a fast knitter and I make plenty of mistakes. Just wanted to put this out there because so many people I talk to express interest in knitting but are either afraid to try it or have just begun and are wanting experiencing beginner’s frustration.
For those who haven’t started yet:
1) If you’re childless but intend to become a parent, learn as much and and quickly as you can before parenthood arrives. I have two reasons for saying this. First, you’ll obviously have a harder time finding the free time to learn a new craft when you’ve got young children to take care of. Second, when you’ve got an adorable child, you’re going to want to make them things. Awesome, custom things like newborn accessories for photos and gorgeous sweaters for chilly days. And sweet little mittens. Oh, the tiny mittens.
2) You don’t need to spend a fortune on classes. Between YouTube (how I learned), Ravelry and KnittingHelp.com, you can find all the info you need online. For free. However, sometimes a little class or two might give you the boost you need. I’m not telling you not to take classes at all, just don’t feel obligated.
3) Find a knitting group that is open to newbies, that is willing to help when you’re in tears over a dropped stitch, and that suits your personality. These people will likely become long-term friends, so settle in and enjoy.
4) This one is huge to me. I really, really wish I had known this before casting on my first project. There are different ways to knit! They get the same end product, but it seems that the way I’ve chosen is the slower, less efficient way. There’s Continental, English, Combination, and even Backward knitting. Don’t let this overwhelm you. I’m an English knitter simply because when I typed “how to knit” in the YouTube search bar that one fateful day, the first result was English. It’s great and I enjoy it very much. However, I am considering trying to retrain my brain and hands because, once mastered, Continental tends to be much faster. Research, experiment, and decide what’s best for you.
5) Have realistic expectations. You will not be good at it for quite some time. And that’s okay. You will have funky holes and mysterious mistakes in your projects for awhile. And that’s okay. You won’t be knitting complicated, beautiful things any time soon. And that’s okay. You will get there. Stick with it.
6) It’s not just for the ladies. Throughout history, many men have knitted out of necessity or just love of the craft. It seems that it has really taken off with guys lately. More than ever, I’m seeing guys posting knitting photos and publishing amazing, original patterns. It’s fantastic. I love it especially because I have this weird obsession with the fact that most men I know don’t have hobbies. They work. They work a lot and then they just want to chill. That’s understandable, but it’s almost painful to watch them hit retirement age and become restless and bored, depending on the tv to keep them busy day after day. But…that’s a different post for a different day.
7) You DO have the time and patience. People are constantly telling me they don’t have time. Well, that’s exactly why I knit. To use tiny bits of time to be productive instead of playing stupid games on my phone or scrolling through Twitter for the billionth time. I knit for maybe 30-60 min in the evening when the kids are in bed. I knit on road trips. I knit during swim class or ballet lessons. I’ve been known to knit while waiting in the drive-thru line. As for patience, I have very, very little. Or…had. Knitting has helped me develop patience and focus I thought I’d lost forever. Time–even 5 min here or there–can be found. Patience can be developed.
If you have just begun:
1) Don’t give up! Every time you pick up your needles, you may feel frustrated or try to convince yourself you’ll never master knitting. Do not give in. You are the boss. The needles and yarn do not control you. You control them. Take THAT, needles and yarn! Ha!
2) When that frustration hits, push your yarn back on your needles so it doesn’t slip off. Put it down. Make a note of where you’re leaving off on your pattern. Take a deep breath. Walk away. Even if it’s just for a minute, sometimes just changing mental gears is all it takes to suddenly make sense of that stitch you were having trouble with.
3) This one is big. BIG. I really wish I would have done this much, much sooner in my knitting life. Learn to “read” your knitting. That means that you can look at your stitches and tell what you’ve done. You can tell the difference between all the different types of stitches, increases, and decreases. I cannot stress the importance of this. I mean, if you can’t recognize a mistake for what it is, how the heck are you going to go about correcting it??
4) Experiment with different size needles and weights of yarn. Thinking along the lines of using enormous crayons in kindergarten, I started knitting with super bulky yarn and enormous needles. While you get a finished product faster, you may feel clumsy with those big supplies and just assume the clumsiness is just in your nature. Once I finally put tiny yarn and bitty needles in my hand, I could knit faster and more smoothly. Who knew? Just…well…you might need some of those drugstore reading glasses if you have old lady eyes like I do. Hey, at least I don’t wear them on a gold chain yet or have them on my head while I’m wearing my every day glasses. I’m saving that for next year. Sheesh, people.
5) Try different types of needles. In the beginning, I was so nervous when I was knitting that it showed in my yarn tension. My stitches were so freaking tight I could barely get my needle into them! Turned out that knitting on wooden needles made that even worse because sliding a tight stitch down a needle with that much friction will leave you with sore fingers. If you’re a tight knitter, too, try metal needles for less friction. If you’re a loose knitter, try bamboo or wood.
6) Try different fibers. Before I started knitting, I thought I had a wool sensitivity and assumed that I’d always have to use acrylic (ick!) yarn. It turns out that I had just reacted to some cheap, rough wool and that good quality wool is actually good for my hands (hello, lanolin!!). I love cashmere, merino, yak, alpaca, buffalo, llama…you name it. I despise knitting with cotton…or at least every cotton yarn I’ve tried. Just experiment and see what feels good in your hands.
Things I’ve learned NOT to do.
1) Don’t work with the cheapest supplies you can find. With any project I take on, in the beginning I don’t want to invest much cash at all until I know I’m going to stick with it awhile. However, if you buy cheapy, acrylic yarn that’s uncomfortable on your hands or some crazy novelty yarn that makes it hard to “read” your stitches, your frustration level will go through the roof and you’re as good as finished. No good. Same goes for needles….especially circular needles. There is nothing worse for me as a knitter than working with stiff, unyielding cables that are constantly in my way. Obscenities that would make Tony Soprano blush flow freely from me when I’m fighting equipment that makes me miserable.
2) Don’t work with the most expensive supplies you can find. These days, I barely blink an eye at buying a skein of amazing yarn with a $35 price tag. I know that I will use it to eventually finish a project that will last a lifetime. I have a custom set of circular needles coming in a few months with a $200 price tag. Would I normally do that? No. These luxuries, though, are not only motivation to continue to be a better knitter, but they’re rewards to myself for sticking through the tough moments, completing projects, and conquering knitting fears. Had I splurged on them earlier, I would have just felt guilty — as if these amazing goodies were going to waste on a lousy knitter like me!
3) Speaking of conquering knitting fears, yes, they’re a real thing. They will hold you back. Mine held me back for years. Ridiculous, right? I trembled at the thought of cabling, laughed at the idea of doing colorwork, and ran crying from the thought of trying to knit socks. You will have failed projects, but that’s how you learn. I had plenty! One by one, I conquered all of those things and it turns out socks and colorwork are my absolute favorite projects. Who knew?? Do not let your fear hold you back.
4) This is probably the most important thing on this page. Do not do not do not do not rely on someone else to fix your mistakes. I should never have done that. If you panic at the slightest mistake and have to load up your knitting and run to a friend’s house, you’ll never become a confident knitter. It was only when I stopped allowing myself to do this that I was able to fix my mistakes like a big girl. Once you can fix your knitting mistakes, you are freakin’ unstoppable!! You can knit all the things!
5) Don’t limit yourself. This, of course, is in line with conquering fears. If you only knit garter stitch scarves, you’ll never learn to make that gorgeous lace cowl you’ve been wanting. If you limit yourself to straight knitting because you’re afraid to knit in the round, you’ll miss out on the world of socks, sleeves, stuffies, hats, etc. I really don’t remember the last time I used straight needles now that I’m thinking about it. Don’t get me wrong…practice, practice, practice the basics. Just don’t be afraid to take off. You’ll blow your own mind and catch yourself doing happy little wiggles when you realize that scary project you’ve been wanting to try wasn’t so scary after all. Take the leap. You’ll know when it’s time.
I hope at least one little nugget in there was enough to help someone somewhere. If you feel alone as a knitter, reach out to me, and I’ll help if I can!
(Please pardon the phone photos. I have one shattered lens and one that has stopped focusing properly. Didn’t feel like fighting it today.)