5 Potentially Helpful Tips from a Self-Taught Knitter
My Mom tried to teach me to crochet. I was young and there was TV. I think He-Man was on. I remember it came on right after school. I loved that show. Wait - what was I saying? Oh, yea, I got distracted - then as well as now.
The second attempt was Grandma. I think I was probably eight. My Grandma taught me to single crochet. I made one long chain out of an entire skein of variegated yarn - she said variegated was better for beginners because you could see the progression of your stitches more clearly. I thought it was great. I can remember asking her “What now?” after I finished my skein - I thought you got crocheted items by sewing chains together or something. Grandma told me to undo it all and we’d do something else.
After that, I used the basics she taught me and would make big single-chain afghans of wildly different sizes (usually they zigged in and out at the sides or curled in on themselves because she never showed me how you had to add stitches at the end of a row to keep it all even.)
And so my crochet knowledge grew and changed… and I will save that for another hub.
The bottom line is: having knowledge of some other craft - especially another yarn craft - will help you if you are trying to learn something else… like knitting.
I tried to teach myself knitting many times and it just never worked. Without someone who spoke my “learning language” (like Grandma) to help me, it just never stuck and it’s HARD to teach yourself a new craft. All I had was a book. You can’t ask a book questions. The upside being, of course, a book can’t look at you with an expression of thinly veiled exasperation that makes you feel like an idiot.
1. Keep it simple, stupid
All these fancy books that promise to teach you knitting in minutes, hours, days, “without tears” bla bla bla. That’s fine. If you follow the style they are trying to teach you with. I bought every kind of book imaginable and finally found luck with “I Can Knit: 11 Cool Knit Projects for Preteen Girls.” A kiddie craft book, yes, but it spoke my language and finally allowed whatever it was I needed to click and let me get on with the process of becoming an actual knitter. And I’ll tell you one thing, the garter stitch vest I made from the book’s pattern? Won me a ribbon at the county fair… ‘course it was the only entry on the category, but hey, a ribbon is a ribbon.
I will tell you this: you may have all these great ideas about what you want to make first, but your first project will be a scarf: a garter-stitch (garter stitch is the first thing you will learn = knit each row, purls come later… if you behave) scarf in GIANT (possibly novelty - meaning fuzzy or furry or generally cheesy) yarn with HUGE needles. It’s a rite of passage every new knitter must endure. Few do make sweaters as a first project, but these are rare and - because knitting is hard - don’t even think about the possibility of you being one of them. Pay your dues.
2. There is no ONE way to do things
If you have someone to show you how to knit, don’t let them convince you there aren’t other ways of doing things. Often, if you are a very traditional knitter, old-school - whatever you want to call it - knitter, you do find yourself returning over and over again to a certain set of things that always work for you. Things that worked “back in the day” or “when I was a young knitter.”
Casting on is the first thing you will learn. That’s the act of actually getting some stitches on your needle so you can start the process of knitting them back and forth from one needle to the other. I would puzzle through what the books said about how to do this, I would attempt it, rip it off, scream at it, try it all again. I thought I was doing it wrong! What I didn’t know until later was: there are probably a THOUSAND different kinds of cast-ons. I was accidentally doing a certain TYPE of cast-on exactly right and didn’t even know it.
A knitting friend and I attended a Casting On Clinic at a yarn store in the Dallas metroplex. It was taught by one of those traditionalist knitters I mentioned and while I did learn the cabled-cast on (adds a nice, finished looking edge to a project) and was glad for that, my friend and I were both put out by the teacher’s lack of regard for us after we told her we pretty much do our own thing and don’t think cast-on types make that much difference… especially the [DREADED - at least to me] Long-Tailed Cast On - her religiously adhered-to method of choice.
(I also hold my yarn and needles in a completely different way than most - I believe it’s called “continental.” I didn’t even know I was doing it ‘til someone else told me. I do it based on how I learned to crochet and what already felt comfortable to me. It’s another one of those things that drives traditionalists nuts.)
My opinion of cast ons and knitting in general: if you make something for someone and they go “ohhhh ummm yea it looks like you didn’t use a long-tailed cast on for this” or something equally snooty, punch them in the gut and take your meticulously crafted item back. Give it to someone who actually deserves it.
3. “Come together right now…” over crafting
A ‘stitch and bitch,’ as they are affectionately know here and there, is a great way to meet other crafty or proto-crafty people such as yourself.
There weren’t any groups like this that I was aware of here in my town when I started trying to teach myself to knit (probably 2007/2008). I started my own group through meetup.com. I met several very interesting people of varying ages and skill levels. The woman who volunteered to let us meet at her house was a great deal older than me and much more knowledgeable. Several of us would bring our knitting problems with us each week and she would help us figure out where we were getting stuck.
While my group has basically “broken up” up at this point, it was still crucial in my development as a knitter and as a person and not a hermit since these kinds of groups are also fantastic for social growth especially if you don’t normally have a lot of friends or outside hobbies/interests.
If you are lucky to have what those “in the know” call an LYS or Local Yarn Store - not a big retail chain like Michael’s or Hobby Lobby (I’m sorry, but I have never met ANYONE at a big chain like this who crafted and would therefore be able to answer a person’s questions) - but an actual independent store that stocks quality yarns made out of real materials that came from animals (that’s another thing you will learn on your crafting journey - the yarn they sell at Walmart, while good for beginners and your mom/grandma’s scratchy afghans, is not REAL yarn) then you probably already have a resource like what I have already mentioned at your disposal.
4. Join Ravelry
Ravelry.com is like Facebook… for spinning, crocheting, and knitting. There are message boards where you can get help, ask questions, talk smack - whatever you want.
There endless groups you can join. I’m not particularly active in my groups, but I think I’m part of groups for tattooed crafters, Texan crafters, people who play World of Warcraft, crafters who like Harry Potter, U2, Queen, crafters who are depressed - whatever.
The best part to me and what will help a new crafter the most: Ravelry features a huge, growing database of patterns. Say the pattern you are working on starts giving you trouble. You hop on Ravelry, search for the pattern, find it and then you have instant access to EVERYONE else on Ravelry who has made that pattern. Chances are good, the pattern’s designer is on Ravelry too and you can probably ask them a question directly.
My very first socks were Easy Aran Socks by Karen Konop. The pattern was on there as were a couple of other people who attempted it (today? 56 people have tried them!) - one who answered my message who would compare notes with me AND Karen is on Ravelry as well and she was kind enough to walk me through the parts that were giving me problems.
It may take a village to raise a child, but it takes an online community to finish a pair of socks. And excellent socks they were too.
My Ravelry ID is lizberry81 if you want to look me up. I’ll be glad to help you if you run in to problems. I’m not an expert at this point, but I do ok.
(oh, and youtube… how could I forget? youtube is fantastic for actually SHOWING you what things look like in real time.)
5. Be bi-craftial
As I mentioned, already having a base in crocheting helped me immensely. It helped me understand the mechanics of holding the yarn, where to put my hands/fingers, etc. I had a basic knowledge of what patterns looked like and how to read them (again - my grandma really only taught me to chain, the rest I figured out from books).
Also - inevitably you will burn yourself out. You will figure out how to knit, you will love it, you will live and breath knitting and spend all your personal time in this endeavor. But just as with all good things done to excess, you will get sick of it. Back when I would burn out on crocheting, I would put my hook down and maybe not pick it up again for a few YEARS. This is where knowing more than one craft is incredibly helpful. You can switch between crafts and not get bored (or as bored.)
Personally, I have avoided one of these crafting lulls by picking up knitting probably five years ago, spinning some time after that and then maintaining crocheting throughout. This has been one of the craftiest streaks I’ve ever enjoyed because I always have something else I can work on if I get bored with one certain thing.
I knitted gung ho for quite some time, have been crocheting afghans and baby blankets for the last several months, I can’t remember the last time I got my spinning wheel out and now have returned to knitting in an attempt to start making stuff for Christmas (crafting for the holidays needs a hub all its own one of these days.)
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So yes, knitting is awesome. More people should do it. In fact, I think everyone should do it. It would make the world a better place.