Let’s start knitting, shall we?

(Cet article sera traduit dans les prochaines semaines. Merci de votre patience!)

This is part of our never-ended series. As we are gaining insight and experience, so will this blog post. Feel free to reach out to us via email or in the comments!

So you want to knit, eh? Alright, let’s get you started with as little fuss as possible. You probably already spend a little a bit of time online and already have a few ideas of how you’ll be looking wearing project #1 (with our help, you will, by the way.)

Before you start making that yarn fly, there are a few things we want to cover with you. We think that, by taking a moment of your time, your plunge into the craft will only get better. This post is a whirlwind tour of what we wished we had for advice when we started. Feel free to derogate from those “fast and loose” rules, but we are fairly sure you’ll end up going through all the process (we sure did!)

This post will be split in 5 main steps.

  1. Finding a suitable first project
  2. Getting resources to learn
  3. Establishing a budget and buying supplies
  4. Getting into the dark art of gauge and swatching
  5. Starting and finishing your project

Most of them can be completed rather quickly so you’ll be knitting in no time.

Step 1: Finding a suitable first project

Why start there? Why not! We encourage you to browse online and look at finished products. Maybe you’ll prefer the heft of tightly crocheted stitches or the appealing finish or a woven fabric (in that case, stay tuned for our take on starting with those!). Spending some time clarifying your goals and having an idea of the finished product will help keep motivation high.

There are a ton of patterns available freely online, each of them of varying quality. When starting, you want to avoid running into a poorly written pattern or having to adjust the sizing beyond simple maths. (Actually, do you really want to start your new hobby with maths?!)

We are looking here for a pattern without complicated sizing and yarn-independent. You’ll thank us when it comes to choosing your first (few) skeins. At Your Fiber Intake, we take a good pattern over a free one any day of the week. Fortunately, for a simple knit, we are lucky to have many possibilities without breaking the bank.

Let’s talk options. A scarf is the most obvious one (as a matter of fact, it was my first one!) We still think it is a suitable first project, as it is

  • portable
  • mostly rectangular (no increases or decreases necessary, depending on the pattern) and
  • repetitive (ideal to jumpstart that muscle memory)

The biggest caveat is the size of the project: you’ll spend a sizeable amount of time repeating the same pattern over and over again. Trust us, your patience will be rewarded.

Here are a few patterns that we think are good ideas:

  • The Golden Check Infinity Scarf, by Hands Occupied. Don’t be daunted by the apparent complexity of the pattern, you only have 3 stitches to learn and the repeat is predictable.
  • The One row handspun scarf by Toronto-bound Stephanie Pearl-McPhee — a.k.a. the [Yarn Harlot](http://www.yarnharlot.ca) — is basically a repeat of the same 4 stitches. An easy project to quickly gain confidence!
  • Finally, the Irish Hiking Scarf looks much more complicated than it really is. A nice, solid introduction to cables knitting.

You could also do a cowl. With bulkier yarn, it makes a fashionable accessory without taking the stamina of a larger project.

  • Simple Yet Effective, by Tin Can Knits. Their patterns are a standard to which every aspiring designer should compare themselves too. They are basically mini-classes, often coming with companion blog posts.
  • Red Rasta Cowl by Eweknit Toronto. This local yarn store (or LYS for short) used this pattern to showcase a specific yarn, but is easily adjusted should you want something less bulky.

The internet has many other free patterns available. A rule I set for myself is to seek a pattern with no more than two unknown techniques. If you want to err on the safe side, beside casting on (to start the knit), binding off (to finish it) and knit and purl (see section 3), look for one or two additional concepts so you’ll have fun doing it without getting overwhelmed.

If you are feeling more adventurous, you could also start with a smaller, albeit more complex project such as a hat or mittens. You’ll have a little more research to do, but it is real fun!

Step 2: Getting resources to learn

Once you have a good idea of the project you want to do, now it’s time to start acquiring the necessary knowledge. Here again, you have many choices depending on how you prefer to learn.

A self-learner might get away with knitting books or videos. I have a strong preference for videos, since you see the movements. I find that most of the books explain techniques using one photo less than what is necessary to learn, even the ones targeted to “complete beginners”. Your local library will probably have many you can go through until you find one you like.

As for videos, one of my favorite is Staci Perry of Very Pink Knits (freely available on Youtube). Save for the occasionally too loud introduction jingle, her videos are straight-to-the-point and of high quality. It might take a little organization to assemble all the necessary techniques you would get in a packaged medium, but everything is there. They can also serve as a reminder for when you forget something (and you will!).

If you are willing to spend a little money, it’s hard to do better than Craftsy classes. The quality of the videos is top-notch (especially compared to most YouTube resources), the instructors are often “knitting superstars” and the platform allows to watch tricky parts slowly or repeat them over and over again. Some classes we watched that are fantastic for newly-minted knitters are

  • Knit Lab, by Stefanie Japel, one of the friendliest teacher on the platform.
  • Improve your knitting: Alternative Methods & Styles, by Patty Lyons. Do not let the title impress you. This class is an excellent introduction to find the style of knitting you are most comfortable with. Once you get everything out of that section, jazz it up by learning another one or two.
  • I’ve heard excellent things about Susan B. Anderson’s Startup Library: Knitting but I have yet to watch it. It is much pricier than the two other options, but it covers two styles of knitting as well as many other valuable skills.

Finally, many stores will offer affordable knitting classes. They all require different levels of involvement and are available to fit any budget. In the Toronto area, some of the most prominent are at Knit-o-matic, The Purple Purl and Eweknit. Montreal folks should head straight to La Société Textile, which specializes into turning the common folk into a fiber-ninja. Remember that this is by no means an exhaustive list and that a quick google will yield many more results. Before registering, I advise you to take some time to visit the store and talk with the staff. While the three listed are excellent options, you may find that you feel best with one or the other. Most of them will also offer private lessons should you have more specific questions or are tackling an especially challenging pattern. Note that most classes will have a specific project, so make sure you like it (or politely ask if it’s possible to bring your own).

Step 3: Establishing a budget and buying supplies

No need to get a line of credit, it is very possible to get something you’ll enjoy at any price point. You can get two skeins of yarn and a pair of straight needles for around $301 while $50 to $100 will buy you super soft-merino and a cooler looking pair of needles). You’ll still want to visit a specialized store: the service is better and they usually carry tools at better prices. Bring one or two patterns to the store (printed or on your phone) and ask for yarn and needles suggestions. Some more complex patterns will require other gizmos (or notions) that are often quite affordable. Take some time to touch the yarn and check for store samples (most do have a large collection) to see how it looks once knitted. Buying yarn and supplies is a very personal experience, but here are a few guidelines so you can keep feeling your new-project-high:

  • I prefer using circular needles, interchangeable if possible. Some yarn shops won’t have singles available, preferring to sell them in kits, but it’s worth asking. Some previous-generation knitters (my mother being the perfect example) prefer to knit on straight needles, and they will work very well. Try both and see how comfortable they feel.
  • Come prepared and with a positive attitude. It’ll make a world of difference. It is really hard for a salesperson to answer open questions such as “I need wool for a project, what do you have?”.
  • If you feel uncomfortable inside a store or if the salespeople are aggressive or arrogant, leave. Try another one or come at another time (every store deserves a second chance. Ask me how I know.). While everybody may have a bad day, you deserve to feel at ease when purchasing.
  • Don’t be hesitant to be honest about your budget. A good yarn shop will carry something to suit most wallets. We will cover needles, yarns and notions-buying in separate articles (otherwise this would never get published!).

Step 4: Getting into the dark art of gauge and swatching

Before jumping straight into your selected project, you’ll probably want to swatch the yarn-needles combo you just bought. Swatching is nothing more than knitting a small piece, using either stockinette (knit one row, purl the next, over and over) or the stitch pattern of your project.

Why on Earth would I do that? Good question, I’m happy you asked. Swatching allows you to see on a smaller scale what your knitting will look like. It allows to measure for gauge (the number of stitches and rows per inch), which then allows to make sure you’ll end up with a well-fitting garment.

Even if you’re not knitting something size-sensitive (like a scarf or a cowl), it’s a good idea to swatch anyway. You’ll see how the stitch pattern look in your chosen yarn/color combo, using your needles. This will also allow you to make many mistakes and learn to fix them (or igno.. call them design features) before you actually start your project. I often crush hard on many project before swatching them and realizing that there is no way I’m doing this pattern for 900+ rows. See it as a small price to pay up front to avoid bigger trouble down the line, like an insurance policy (but softer).

How do you make a swatch?

A yarn band with the gauge and care information.
  1. Check the yarn band for gauge information. On this one, we see 20 stitches and 26 rows by 10cm.
  2. Cast on the number of stitches necessary to make a 4 to 6 inches swatch.
  3. Knit, using either the stitch pattern of your project or simple stockinette.
  4. Once you’ve made a square (or after a few inches), bind off.
  5. If you want, you can wash your swatch in cool water2 and let it dry. It’ll look much better after that.
  6. Marvel at your first (but certainly not your last) knitted swatch! Write down the yarn and the needles used (size and brand).

Here is the swatch I made for my latest project. Since it was a piece of garment, I wanted to make sure I enjoyed the yarn as well as got a suitable fabric.

This is a swatch. And I’m rather proud of it.

Step 5: Starting and finishing your project

Do it. By this time, you already know how to.

Don’t hesitate to reach out if you get into trouble. Most yarn stores offer minor help for free. Project clinics or 1-on-1 consulting might be necessary for more involved questions. Do not hesitate: you’ll learn a lot along the way.

If you actually made it this far, you must think that all this process is a little over-kill. We think that following it will prove useful in the long run. The steps are very similar when you’re learning a new technique or when starting a new project. You can also follow the same process for crocheting!

Let us know how your first (or second, or five hundredth) project is going. Do you follow similar steps?

  1. Two skeins of Cascade 220 are usually ~$11 each and you can find good 4.5mm bamboo needles for around $6. 
  2. Some yarns will tolerate the washing machine. Read the care label (or not, it’s just a swatch!) 

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