Knitting Newbie & THE THREE BEARS of knitting + tips and advice about LEARNING TO KNIT
I taught myself crochet almost 8 years ago by watching YouTube and reading all about different stitches on the internet, practicing everything from washcloths to blankets to tote bags. I can definitely say I am a very confident crocheter but I kept seeing knitting patterns I loved and really wanted to learn to knit. So two years ago I took a “Learn to Knit 101” beginner class at a local yarn studio and completed a knit-only (K1 only) hat with 5mm circular needles working in the round (also called stockinette). Even after losing some stitches, going back to the studio to get them to help me fix a few dropped K1 stitches, I finished that one hat and I felt fairly confident in taking the next step so I took a Knitting 102 class and they gave me a free baby blanket pattern in a waffle weave pattern (K5, P5 repeated). They sold us some baby weight yarn and some 6mm circular needles, gave us two hours with an experienced knitter who helped us complete the long-tail cast on and showed us how to knit then how to purl and we got through several rows then I went home with that started project. Now, I am sure they meant well, the class wasn’t overly pricey and the pattern was very pretty but I’ve never finished it because Knitting 101 and a completed hat paired with two hours of K5, P5 in that Knitting 102 class was just NOT enough information to arm me with a truly solid foundation. I turned to YouTube for specific re-instruction, I’ve tried various patterns with the small needles I had purchased and suitable yarn for those size needles. And, I’m sure one day I will LOVE that blanket if/when I ever get back to it AND if I ever get the newbie practice in that I truly need to master what I have found to be The Three Bears of Learning to Knit. These three things should have been tackled after the Knitting 101 and before the Knitting 102 class so that I built better knitting motion, skills, and confidence:
- Moving my hands coordinated together the right way to move smoothly
- Have the ability to know what the knit and purl stitches should actually look like so I can “read” my work as it progresses (not after I’m so far beyond any mistake that I can’t back up)
- Get good tools: Big smooth lightweight needles and some bulky or very bulky yarn which will help with Bears 1 and 2!
If I had taken the Knitting 101 class* with the instructor showing me the cast-on method, helping me learn how to perform the knit stitch (and ensuring I wasn’t twisting my stitches), then showing me how to close the top of the hat, I should have FOLLOWED that 101 class with 5 Knitting Tips below that should have been practiced ome before thinking I could truly progress forward to level 102 with my knitting skill.
*Note: As an alternative to a Knitting 101 class: You could YouTube or Google search how to cast-on stitches, join in the round on circular needles and place a stitch marker, then K1 (or stockinette) in the round using either the Continental method (also called picking) or the English method (also called throwing). That would sufficiently cover all the things I got out of Knitting 101 class. FYI : I use the Continental method (picking) as it made more sense to me because I started as a crocheter.
My 5 Best Knitting Tips for Beginners
1. Find lightweight wooden needles:
I think the first metal needles I used caused me hand and finger fatigue plus metal needles caused me a lot of slipped stitches which made learning much harder! I had to give up after a couple hours simply due to tired hands and the slipped stitches added utter frustration. I then bought some plastic/synthetic needles and completed my Alpacowl project but really found they were much too sticky so it was harder to get the smooth motion of sliding through the yarn and past the other needles to get the stitch moved from one needle to the other.
Cut to the chase: I tried metal medium-sized needles (5mm and 6mm), I tried plastic/synthetic in large size (9mm) which were too sticky, and now I have found Clover Takumi bamboo needles (currently working with sizes 8mm, 9mm, and 10mm) and I’m simply loving them – not too slippery, not too sticky, they are JUST RIGHT (just like Goldilocks found with the bears’ porridge and with their beds).
2. Use big wooden needles and big yarn:
I started learning with small yarn and metal needles and I think nearly every single row I was dropping stitches and became so frustrated because I had no idea how to fix them and couldn’t keep running back to the instructor to help fix it, so I’d just start over – UGH! I started over so many times I just gave up not once, not twice, but several times and that baby blanket is still a challenge left unfinished, definitely do not look forward to picking it up again any time soon, either. Now I am using 16″ circular needles in Size US 15/10mm.
3. Use chunky or bulky yarn in medium to light colors for your first projects
Ever since I started using bulky yarn, I’ve been able to a) quickly work through a pattern and b) actually FINISH some projects! I am currently hooked on Lion Brand Wool-Ease Thick and Quick and find it SO much easier to see/identify my knits and purls, to quickly notice mistakes when I make them, and this yarn is not sliding around on the bamboo needles – WIN WIN WIN.
Note: I don’t recommend any very dark colors as a beginner, see my other post explaining why black yarn is the devil.
4. Choose a “forgiving” pattern, I recommend a hat or a very simple scarf
I’d say a hat is the easiest thing to do and typically uses 16″ circular needles. With circular needles, after you are certain you’ve joined without twisting your cast-on circle, every row follows the next very simply and you can use a stitch marker on the right needle before you make the the first stitch then mark a piece of paper every time you slip that marker from left to right needle to keep track of how many rows you have completed. READ #5 and MORE INSIGHTS BELOW for some recommended practice patterns.
5. Practice your basic stitching and “knit reading” skills with several projects that use:
- *K1, repeat from * (stockinette)
- *P1, repeat from * (reverse stockinette)
or make up your own simple pattern with rows alternating each (such as K1 for 3 rows, then P1 for 3 rows). When you are working through simple rows and repeats, it gets easier to “read” your work and you can practice reading your knit work by stopping to count how many rows you have on your needles, looking at the purls or knits you’ve just made so you can identify the Purl Bump and the Knit Loop so when you’re ready to get more complicated, you’ll start to interpret the stitches more easily. Pay attention to the “knit loops” and the “purl bumps” you see hanging from any given stitch on your needles because there are some patterns that require every purl to be knit, some that require every purl to be purled, etc. Once you can recognize what they look like on either left or right needle, it will become easier to see any mistakes you may make.
More Insights and Advice from my own Knitting Journey
Practice Stockinette/K1 repeatedly: My first hat was a “stockinette” hat worked in the round, it’s just K1 (knit 1) done on 16″ circular needles and repeated for the entire hat but I chose a really pretty worsted weight yarn (because nobody told me to go for the bulky!), you’re just continuing going round and round with the knit stitch for literally the entire project until you think it’s long enough (you can carefully try it on after 15-20 rows with bulky yarn by sliding the yarn back off the needles to the circular connector and holding the yarn on the needles together. Just get a rubber band wrapped around those needles quite tightly so the yarn can not slide back onto the needles. With the stockinette hat as my first DONE project, this practice helped me get the knitting rhythm and made me quite happy to actually get a whole knit project D.O.N.E. It’s not the prettiest texture but the yarn is beautiful and I felt that made up for my lack of real knitting skills. If you’re still feeling like you need more K1 practice, do as many as it takes to feel confident.
Practice Reverse Stockinette/P1 repeatedly: Then I suggest (for your next project challenge) do a “reverse stockinette” which is just all P1 (purl 1) repeated in the round for the entire hat. You’ll then get the hang of purls and can practice that motion for the entire project; I found it’s harder to screw up when you’re just repeating any stitch over and over.
Graduate to Knit and Purl Stitch Combinations: THEN! After you’ve practiced a bit with knits and purls, you may want to call up this Ample Sample Slouchie Hat patternto do some more advanced practice with K1, K2 and P1, P2 combinations that you will find in a LOT of different patterns. I’m calling this a sampler pattern because it lets you practice a bunch of sample stitch combinations with changes every 4-12 rows and keeps the project interesting. With the sampler hat, I was working on several stitch patterns, using my BIG Size 15/10mm Clover Takumi bamboo circular needles, and using Size 6 Bulky Lion Brand Thick and Quick yarn. I’ve found this nice thick woolly yarn to be the easiest for me as a knitting newbie.