Why You Should Learn to Knit and Where To Start
Why Should You Knit?
Knitting is such a wonderful activity if you think about it. You can create something wearable, or useful in another way, or just pretty, simply working with some yarn. How amazing is that?
But wait! Why would you bother? After all, we can buy anything, most of the time much cheaper than the yarn and the needles we buy. Then work until we see a result. So really, what's the purpose?
In my case, knitting is a great way for stress-release. There is not much that can beat just sitting down with a pair of needles and some soft yarn and just start clicking away. Counting stitches, coming up with patterns takes my mind off things that might stress me otherwise.
Then there is that great feeling when I actually come up with a new stitch combination and it works! If the end garment even fits the person it was intended for, even better.
Knitting is a great way to keep my hands occupied while watching television. Even though it is not really exercise, it gives me the feeling that I am doing something constructive while watching a show. Of course this only works if I am working on something simple, where I don't have to pay much attention to it.
On long car trips it's a great feeling to sit in the passenger seat and occupy myself with my needles, especially if we are driving on the highway, where there is not much to see. Of course this only works if I'm not driving.
But the biggest draw for me is the creative outlet it offers. I admit, writing is my number one creative outlet. But when I can't write, I love to knit. In fact, the two go hand in hand as well. During knitting my mind is free to wonder, and most of the time a story idea comes along, and while knitting a scarf I might also come up with a whole story that only needs to be written later on, it is ready in my head.
Why Do You Knit?
In the Beginning
We all need to start somewhere, no matter what we do. Knitting is no exception.
In the beginning you learn the basic stitches. You simply learn to knit a few stitches. Simple. For me, learning it in school, in fourth grade, our teacher started our first project, since casting on is a bit more difficult than the simplest stitch.
For a first project we made headbands. We had to wear them it was part of our uniform, and they had to be white, as well - how boring is that? - so it was not a really fun project, but got us learning the basics.
Growing up in Romania, I learned what we call continental knitting. Of course at the time I thought that was the only way.
How to Learn or Teach Knitting Most Effectively
Regardless of what method you use, it is still the best approach to start with the simple knit stitch, and a headband, or a scarf. If you are teaching kids, headbands are faster and they can come up with something wearable soon, which naturally will make it more likely that they stick with it.
- So here we go, our very first project. Have someone who knows how to knit cast on about 15 stitches. Or if you are the teacher, cast on for your student. Knit to the end of the row, then turn. Knit each row the same way, until it is long enough for a headband. ending off. It is easier than casting on. Just knit two stitches together, then place it back on the needle, making one stitch out from two. Continue until no stitches remain. Headband finished, ready to wear.
- For the second project, learn or teach casting on. Use whichever method you prefer, there are many. I learned the long tail cast-on, but it took me a while until I got the hang of it. Some other methods might be easier. Then make a scarf, with the same simple garter stitch. You end up with the garter stitch when you knit every row.
- Next, you teach or learn how to purl, and knit a headband using stockinette stitch.
- Now that the basics are covered, you can learn/teach combinations of knit/purl stitches, and ready to have fun with them.
- Later on, you can learn/teach cables and lace.
Empirical Knitting versus Following A Pattern
Once you learn how to knit, you either become an empirical knitter or enjoy following patterns. I am mostly an empirical knitter, which means that most of the time I just come up with my own patterns, using ideas that just come from everywhere. The result is not always perfect, in fact is never really perfect, but I have no patience following patterns. In fact, for the longest time I din't even know patterns existed. In my town all knitters just learned the basic stitches or some tricks of the trade from each other, then made their own sweaters, scarfs, etc. with their own combination of stitches.
Some knitters prefer to read patterns and follow them. I have to admit, their garments always seem perfect. I understand the different kind of enjoyment when producing something they like, and it fits or it looks perfect, just like in the picture. It is a different kind of challenge and they are not any less creative than those of us who follow our own patterns.
I learned to read patterns because I wanted to learn how to write them. When I came up with something that really worked and I was proud of I wanted a way to reproduce it again some day if I wanted to. Of course, I never did, but that's another story.
Are you an empirical knitter or do you follow patterns?
Some empirical knitters eventually learn that what they do might be considered designing. So if they learn how to read/write patterns, they may and up with their own original designs that others can follow.
The first real designed pattern I had was in collaboration with my brother, while we were both still in college. He was an art student, I was studying languages, and knitting on the side. I decided one day that I wanted to make a black & white sweater with a unique design on it. So I asked my artist brother to draw the design that would go on the front. He did indeed draw a very intricate design. We had no idea about sizing, and when my sweater was done and long enough I only got to the middle of the design. I finished it the way it was, and I loved it. I still have it. I know it's not what it was really intended to be. My brother was a bit disappointed, since it would have looked best if it had the whole design on it....
Since then I never thought of anything I made as designed by me or anyone for that matter. Everything I made was just a unique piece, made for someone specific, with love. Now, I am learning that I can write down these patterns I've used and others may enjoy them. I started to design new things. I enjoy this process, as well, even the math part of it. I do need to use algebra to figure out sizing, which is just as well, since I used to like algebra, and had no reason to ever use it other than help my kids with their homework.
Continental or English Knitting?
There are as many styles of knitting as there are knitters. Really. But there are two major styles that differ in many ways, called continental and English knitting.
I learned about the different styles when I started knitting with friends, here in the US. I noticed that they were knitting very differently from me. It seemed more complicated and I was happy with the way I was doing it, so I didn't think much of it, I didn't realize that the outcome will be slightly different.
Continental knitting is faster and easier, for me at least, and while reading about it, seems that most knitters agree. However, most knitters in the US use the English style, and many of them use both.
Different garments will benefit from the different styles. English knitting ends up with smaller, more even stitches, so it's great for more rigid knits, like coats or stuffed toys. Continental knitting is beneficial if you need a more closely fitted item, since the stitches are much looser and they give more.
In the end, it doesn't really matter what which way you knit. It really is a personal preference. It's good to be aware of the differences though if you follow or write patterns.