I turned to knitting as a necessity 20 years ago wanting to make something different if not unique for my toddler son. Lessons taught by my grandmother became an inspiration, and the rest is history. Back then in Russia making your own knitted items inevitably saved money: the yarn was relatively cheap. Sweaters and hats were knit, worn, passed to the younger brother, and stored as heirlooms of sorts. Life presented other priorities, and knitting shifted to the background.
My first years in a new country were not the easiest, and suddenly knitting resurfaced as the ultimate stress reliever. I had needles and skill; I needed some yarn for my first project. To my amazement (forgive my naÃ?Â¯vetÃ?Â© of long ago) the good quality wool was not inexpensive at all. It was time to learn the skills of finding bargains, digging through “leftovers” bins in yarn stores, and waiting for sales. Acrylic yarns offered an immediate solution: they were affordable if not the “dream quality”. Large craft stores such as Michaels, and Treasure Island were well stocked with them. A beginner knitter contemplating her first adventure in the craft might find acrylics quite suitable to practice with.
In my opinion nothing could compare with natural fibers: the coolness and crisp hand of cotton, the ultimate luxury of alpaca and cashmere, the durability and elegance of linen, the seductiveness of silk, and incredible versatility of wool. These yarns usually come with a heavy price tag, making them prohibitive to those of us on a tight budget. It is, however, possible to lay your hands on these treasures at a fraction of the price: you need to know where to look.
Educate Yourself Select a fiber you want for your project, and learn about its qualities. Many knitting books have a chapter describing various fibers: “Vogue Knitting” the Ultimate Knitting Book, and “Knitting in the Old Way” by Priscilla A. Gibson-Roberts are just the first ones to come to mind. Go to the local public library and check out their collections: there is no need to buy every knitting book published, however, it is a good idea to have at least one good reference at home.
Local Yarn Store Go there and browse through the yarns of your chosen fiber, noticing manufacturer’s labels. Sometimes the storeowner may allow you to knit a swatch: do not pass up this opportunity. Who knows, you might fall in love with the yarn you’ve found, and the price will fit your budget. If not, at least you will gain experience.
Online treasure hunt Nowadays there are plenty of knitting groups and friendly online forums welcoming all sorts of questions from beginner knitters (http://www.knittersreview.com is one example). Visit them and post queries about your fiber/yarn: is it suitable for the project in mind, does it have the required durability, etc. Equipped with some answers and suggestions, check an online yarn database http://www.wiseneedle.com. You can enter your yarn name there and read other knitters’ comments (if you are lucky and they are posted). Finally, you may use a search engine, and hopefully find some comments about your yarn.
Online Yarn Stores Many yarn shops have online presence. There a few that can offer prices considerably lower than elsewhere: http://www.yarn.com and http://www.elann.com among them. Where is the catch? Elann often has high quality designer yarns only in a particular range of colors; their quantities are limited and you have to act quickly. Webs (www.yarn.com) gives a discount price if your order reaches a certain amount. Lately KnitPicks (www.knitpicks.com) started its own line of inexpensive natural yarns. Many other online stores have closeouts and promotional weeks; signing up for a newsletter will keep you informed about them.
Looks like the old craft of knitting experiences a definite comeback: new books are being published; new lines of yarns are constantly introduced. Hopefully, these simple suggestions will help you gain confidence as you begin your own knitting journey.