Five Tips for Beginning Knitters

According to the Craft Yarn Council of America, knitting has caught on in a big way, with the number of practitioners almost doubling from 1996 to 2002. And it isn’t your grandmother’s hobby anymore, knitters today have a wealth of choices in yarns, classes, and patterns that would have boggled Grandma’s mind! Want to get in on the fun? Follow these five tips for a successful start to a lifetime hobby.

One: Choose Your Yarn Carefully.

One the one hand, you don’t necessarily want to make your first project out of hand painted artisanal wool that costs $35 a skein. But on the other hand, you don’t want to spend a lot of time and effort on your very first project, only to be ashamed to wear it out of the house because you got the yarn from the dollar bin at a dime store, and it looks it There is a high quality yarn to suit every taste and budget. Check the yellow pages to see if there is a yarn store near you, or check the yarn section at your local crafts store. Choose a high quality acrylic yarn, wool (if you aren’t allergic to it), or a wool/acrylic blend for your first project. Cottons, ribbon style yarns, and yarns with the look of fur or glitter are wonderful to experiment with, but too difficult for a beginner to handle. Wool is very forgiving of mistakes because of its natural elasticity, and can tolerate being taken out and re-knit without losing its good looks.

Two: Choose Your First Project Carefully

While you may fall in love with the wonderful sweater pattern with the tailored fitting, textured stitching and multiple colors, that isn’t a good idea for a first project. Neither is a king sized bedspread. Choose something with a simple shape that you can complete in a relatively short period of time, like a scarf, poncho, or throw. When you have completed something that you can wear or display in your home, and have mastered the knitting basics, then it is time to move onto something a little more challenging. But if you bite off more than you can chew for your first project, you will get frustrated, and never finish it.

Three: Find Someone to Knit With

The best book in the world will not teach you to knit as quickly and easily as a person sitting next to you. See if your local yarn store has group classes, or set times when knitters just bring in their current projects and hang out together. Then watch and learn! If you don’t live near a knitting store, or have blown your knitting budget on yarn and have nothing left for instruction, see if there is a knitting group in your community. Many groups meet informally at the local library or community center. Even if you wind up organizing your own group of beginners, you will learn technique just by watching each other and working out confusing details together. Knitting is a terrific group activity, as you get more experienced you can knit and chat at the same time, and making it social will also make it more fun to learn.

Four: Knit a Gauge Swatch

A gauge swatch is a small sample (usually about 4″ square) of the stitch you want to knit, using the needle size and yarn that you have chosen. NO ONE wants to knit the gauge swatch, they want to jump right in and knit up that new yarn while they are full of enthusiasm! Knitters, even experienced ones, can be like kids at Christmas wanting to play the game without taking time to learn the rules. But no two people knit exactly the same way, you may not knit to the exact specification that the pattern is written to. Or you may want to substitute a different yarn from the one the designer used, and while you can choose something similar, it may not work up exactly the same way. The time to find out that your gauge is different from the one in the pattern is when you are working on the sample, not when you are halfway through the sweater. When the swatch is finished, you measure the number of rows and stitches to the inch and compare it to the gauge of your chosen pattern (gauge information will be written near the beginning of the pattern, usually near the list of materials needed). If your sample is smaller than the pattern (ie. the pattern gauge is 5 stitches per inch and you are getting 6 stitches per inch), go up a needle size, and make another gauge swatch. If your sample is larger than the pattern, step down a needle size and try again. This is especially important when you are knitting garments. While a stitch here or there doesn’t seem like a big deal, they can add up to make inches of difference in the fit of the garment, turning a small into a large, or worse yet, turning a small into baby clothes! Take the time to check your gauge before you start your project, the small delay will be well worth it when your project turns out exactly the way you had planned.

Five: Have fun!

Knitting is supposed to be a fun hobby, not a college level chemistry exam, so have a good time with it! Sometimes you will be inspired to incorporate all the stitches you know or all the leftover yarns you have laying around, and if it makes you happy, then just go for it. If you make a mistake, you can incorporate it into your design, if your finished project turns out to be too big or two small you can find someone else who can use it. Knitting can be a relaxing way to pass the time, a way to express your creativity, and a way to beautify your surroundings and those of others. Like a musician practicing scales seemingly forever until one day he can do a jazz improvisation, every piece you knit builds up your skills, until one day you will be doing a beautiful improvisation in fiber.

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