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Getting Started with Knitting

woman hand knitting from yarn
xuanhuongho/Shutterstock

Don’t worry if your grandma never taught you how to knit. There are plenty of online resources to guide you in making your first hat, blanket, scarf, even socks. And anyone can knit—including kids.

Knitting is a long-standing tradition, dating back to Egypt some time between the 11th and 14th centuries AD.

There are many great benefits to knitting—the satisfaction of learning a new skill, being able to make unique handmade gifts, and doing something besides wasting time on your phone. In fact, some view knitting as a form of meditation. So if you’re feeling stressed out, whipping up a blanket might be just what you need to recenter.

Decide What to Knit

Many people start with a basic scarf because it’s simple and easy. But does making a scarf excite you? Do you know anyone who wants a handmade scarf? We’ve found that beginners often give up mid-scarf, tossing it into the back of the closet because it took them too long and now it’s summer. 

We suggest doing something that really piques your interest for your first project. Perhaps try a hat or a headband (or stick with a scarf if that’s what you want). Making a hat might be more ambitious than you were thinking, but chances are this extra challenge will excite you, thus increasing the likelihood that you’ll finish the project.

As a bonus, knit beanies are not too hard to make and are easy to give away to friends and family.

If you know someone who is expecting, a baby blanket is another great starter project. It’s essential to try to set a goal or timeline; otherwise, the project can drag out too long and cause you to lose momentum.

If you’re stuck, you can always knit your grandma a pair of potholders—she’ll be thrilled and will most likely use them. Or check out this book, Stitch ’n Bitch: The Knitter’s Handbook. It offers you everything you need to get started on your knitting path, including fun beginner patterns.

Find a Pattern

Your knitting pattern is your blueprint to everything. Don’t buy yarn or needles until you’ve decided on a pattern. Inside your pattern will be a list of everything you’ll need.

You can also go the simple route and order a beginner kit, such as this easy hat kit. All your supplies will arrive at your door, without any guesswork required. Just keep in mind that buying a pre-packaged kit will cost more than purchasing the products individually. But it’s not a bad way to jumpstart your knitting hobby, especially if you put it on your birthday wishlist. 

If you have a local craft or fabric store, like Michaels or JOANN, definitely utilize their resources. Wandering up and down the aisles is a great way to familiarize yourself to all the options. They usually have free patterns hanging next to the yarn, making it easy to walk around the store and grab everything you need. And if in doubt, ask a staff member. They are super knowledgable and are ready to point you in the right direction. They may even know of some upcoming how-to classes or knitting circles in the area.

Ravelry is another excellent online resource for finding patterns. It’s free to join, and there are plenty of free patterns to use. Plus you can connect with other knitters and see samples of their work. 

A lot of patterns will list the level of difficulty, such as “easy” or “advanced.” Don’t be scared off by patterns that claim to be “intermediate” or higher. It’s not that it’s impossible for a beginner to complete; it’s just going to take a bit more time, research, and patience. We believe you can do it!

Avoid taking on multiple projects or gathering tons of supplies in the beginning. You want to make sure knitting is for you. Buy needles and yarn specifically for one project, finish it to completion, and then decide if you’re going to do more.

Needles and Yarn

You may be overwhelmed by all the available products out there. Here’s a quick guide on what to get:

  • Touch yarn before buying: If possible, go to an actual store. Touch the different types of yarn: wool, cotton, synthetic. If you need to order online, make sure to do some research about the different feels, so you have some idea of what you’re getting. Online options are WEBS and KnitPicks. And yes, you can also order yarn from Amazon.
  • Start with medium weight: Unless your pattern specifies otherwise, we suggest starting with medium weight yarn, also called worsted. Thin yarn means you’ll have to work a lot harder to get any distance in the project, whereas thick yarn means you’ll have a thick, chunky look to the project. That may be the objective, and that’s fine. But overall, it’s best to stick to the middle ground when you’re a beginner.
  • Buy simple needles: You’ll encounter all sorts of fun needles out there, from metal, wooden, bamboo, recycled plastic, the list goes on. The material of the needle doesn’t matter, but the size does. Either your pattern or the yarn you’re using will specify which size you’ll need. Be prepared that you may need to buy new needles for different projects unless you plan on making the same thing. If you know you’re serious about this hobby, consider investing in a multi-pack of needles.

Learn the Basics

You can either dive straight into your project, figuring out the steps as you go, or you can do a quick tutorial on each of the basics, practicing with a bit of your new yarn. Either method is totally fine; just figure out what works best for you.

Make sure to set aside all distractions when you’re first learning. That means turning off the TV, turning your phone to silent, and not engaging in conversation. Soon you’ll be able to balance all these things like a true multitasker, but for now, you want to focus on learning this new skill.

Also, remember that perfection isn’t required. Even the best knitters have a hiccup here and there. That’s what makes handmade projects so unique and special. Making mistakes during the learning process is normal—just don’t give up. We promise it’ll get easier.

Here are a few tips to get you started. If you want more video resources, check out KnittingHelp.

  1. Roll your yarn into a ball: Packaged yarn doesn’t unroll easily. Often you’ll be mid-way through a project to discover it has a knot or it’s lumped together in the middle. This is why it’s recommended to roll your yarn into a neat, tidy ball before starting your project. You can do this by hand, or try this unique method if you have an electric hand mixer. 
  2. Casting on: This is how you first get the yarn on the needles. Here are some samples of different casting on techniques.
  3. Knit stitch: The English method is the most commonly used one in America (and in England too!). This is the most basic stitch used in knitting, where the yarn is held in the right hand.
  4. Purl stitch: The English method is again the most popular way to purl in America. The term purl refers to what you’d typically see on the backside of a knit project. You can do purl stitch on the front to create a different look.
  5. Decreasing: Often your pattern will specify which type of decrease to use, with strange-looking abbreviations such as “k2tog” (knit two together) or “SSK” (slip slip knit). Usually, there’s a glossary to show you what these abbreviations mean (if not, you can find the answer on any knitting forum or on YouTube). You can see all the forms of decreasing, as well as videos, on the KnittingHelp site.
  6. Increasing: Your pattern may indicate which type of increase is required. You can learn all the different types of increasing here.
  7. Casting off: This is often called binding off. It’s how you end a project. Watch this tutorial to learn how to do it.

Knitting can be an enjoyable hobby to pursue, producing many unique items for yourself and others to enjoy. We wish you luck with your creative journey. And if you become a pro, check out How-To Geek’s guide on how to set up an Etsy shop.

Jill Chafin Jill Chafin
Jill Chafin is a freelance writer, aerialist, dancer, food enthusiast, outdoor adventurer, and mama, based in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Read Full Bio »

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