Learn the basics of knitting and understand the value of this ages-old form of creating homemade items to wear and use. Includes an explanation on what types of things can be knitted, what materials are needed and where to find them, how to choose patterns, and how to practice knitting.
Knitting (and its cousin crocheting) is a pasttime that began as a means of providing clothing and protection from the elements year-round. Blankets, scarves, mittens, shawls, hats, sweaters, and socks were just the basics. Depending on the era, people expanded their interests to include knitted pot-holders, tea-cozies, dresses, skirts, knickers, purses and toys. Today, just about anything can be hand-knit (or even machine knit), such as with clothes for brand name dolls (such as Barbie or American Girl) and a wide range of trendy accessories. It may have once been considered a phasing out hobby, but there has been a rise in its popularity in the past few decades again, as more and more people are discovering just how trendy and frugal and versatile knitting can be. You can knit for yourself, or make unique and useful gifts for others. For the purpose of this article, we are going to discuss information pertaining to hand-knitting.
Before you learn how to knit, watch a knitter in action - either in person, or via a how-to video. While books can provide some step-by-step instruction for those who process information better that way, it can be cumbersome and downright confusing to others. Whatever means you decide on, observe and read as much as you can, so that it makes sense to you. Knitting is somewhat like weaving, in that you have fibers of string that are woven together both vertically and horizontally. But unlike weaving, knitting enables you to do so anywhere, where the only tools needed are needles ranging in sizes and thicknesses, yarn, and a darning needle for projects that require knitted pieces to be sewn together. As far as age goes, children as early as age 7 or adults of all ages can learn to knit, and it is not limited to one gender over another, either. Many women and men have created beautiful knitted projects.
The Run-Down on Yarn
Yarn, wool, or "string" can take the form of everything from acrylic yarns to organic sheeps-wool, jute, cotton, cotton fleece, and even plastic. You can also make textures more interesting by adding beads, multiple colored yarn/wool, or by adding more than one strand of yarn/wool at a time. Also, certain projects require specific types of yarns to be used for best results. For example, cotton yarn works best for wash cloths, diapers, hand towels, and lightweight dresses or shirts, but heavier materials are needed for outer wear during cold months, and blankets or afghans.
Choosing Your Pattern
One of the easiest ways to practice your knitting skills is by picking something simple to make. Most beginners choose granny squares - which are merely square swatches of the type of stitch you use that you can make several of and then bind together to form a blanket. Even for advanced knitters, making granny squares are helpful in practicing various knitting methods before going on to do so on a specific project. Plus, it will give you a gauge for how much stitches you may need to knit per row, and what size needle to use, to be able to match a pattern's recommendations, which are usually found at the top where the instructions are.
Other great beginner's projects include headbands, belts, scarves, wash cloths, pot holders, towels, and one-piece blankets. These can all be done with or without an actual pattern to follow, so long as you understand how to at least knit in garter stitch. Add to your repetoire purl stitching, and you have the basis for other knitting techniques that require the creation of button holes, eyelits, bumpy ridges, various geometrical shapes, and borders.
As you probably could tell already, you can find millions of patterns for knitting by doing an engine search online. Look in forums, blogs, and yarn company sites for patterns that are free or nominally priced. Or go to your nearest craft and sewing store for selecting knitting books with patterns to follow, which may be ranked from easy to intermediate. Additionally, most balls of yarn/wool will have a project and pattern listed right on the label.
Reading a pattern takes some know-how. Some patterns will have the abbreviations defined and explained, others will not. Always read through a pattern completely, including the materials needed, how to finish, and knowing the differences in sizes (where applicable). Taking the time to ensure you have the correct yarn/wool and amount, the proper gauge, and a full understanding of the stitched involved will make the difference between you successfully completing the work, or giving up out of frustration.
An Overview of Knitting
When you first get started knitting, you start by making a slip knot. From there, you cast on your stitches that will be used for either the length or width of your piece. Casting on stitches involves knitting into one stitch and adding it back onto the left needle and going back to that stitch to create another new one until the left needle has the desired amount of stitches. In a regular knitting row, you instead knit a stitch from the left needle and transfer it to the right needle, and continue to do so until all the stitches are moved to the right needle only. After you have reached the desired length of rows, then it's time to cast off stitches. Casting off involves knitting two stitches, then slipping the first one off of the right needle, so that it binds together, instead of creating a hole. When you have one stitch remaining, you just draw the leftover ball of yarn/wool through the loop to complete the cast off row. A the beginning and ending of your finished piece, you will have a thread that will need to be woven in to avoid unraveling. This process is known as weaving in the ends. That's knitting in a nutshell.
To understand the methods used to actually knit stitches, you will want to practice instructions on how to knit a stitch. If you observe through a video or in person, watch how a knitter holds the needles, using the right hand to hold the yarn/wool at all times. Realistically, it will take a while for you to become coordinated enough to do the same, and most of your early work is likely to be loose or too tight, until you figure out how to create the appropriate string tension. When you do, your stitches will then start to look more uniform, making the rows straight. It is also best to practice casting on and casting off stitches as much as you can, so that you are able to start and end your work evenly. There is nothing worse than beginning or ending a scarf, only to pull to tightly during the cast on or cast off row, so that it becomes a diagonal row, instead of a straight line, making the entire work crooked!
Don't Give Up
You might get discouraged, but take heart. Eventually you will get better at knitting the more you practice. Who knows - you might also create your own patterns through trial and error! And remember, even the most seasoned knitter can get stuck a time or two, so just be patient.
About the Author
Natasha Polak has been knitting for over 20 years, starting at the age of 9, and continues to knit for fun, for charities, and for gift-giving year-round.