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Tips for Learning to Knit

Because of COVID-19, most of us have been on self-isolation at home for the past couple of weeks and we’ll be in full isolation a couple of weeks longer and likely social distancing for longer than that. During this time I’ve had a couple of people ask me for tips for learning to knit. And this is a great time to learn as it will give you something to do! 

This post will cover some tips for learning to knit, we’ll cover

  • The basic skills
  • The materials you’ll need to get started and where you can get them
  • Common mistakes and how to fix them,
  • Some recommendations for easy patterns

It’s not going to be a post that goes into the details of how to actually knit, but I am going to link to tutorials that will. 

Materials to get started

Well…you’ll need yarn and needles of course! 

Now needles come in a variety of sizes from very teeny tiny US size 1s (2.25mm in diameter to bigger US 19 (15mm in diameter). The size needle you use will determine how big your stitches are and they correspond somewhat to the bulk of your yarn. For example, you wouldn’t use a very small needle with a very bulky yarn. 

A thumb and pointer finger hold up a knitting needle to show the numbers on the side
Most needles will have the size written on the side

Like needles, yarn comes in different sizes as well, called weights. The lightest weight is fingering represented by a 1 and the heaviest is jumbo weight, which is number 7. You’ll know what weight a yarn is by reading its label.

A dark purple ball of yarn on a wood table
The yarn label will tell you the yarn’s weight and other useful information like how many yards there are in a ball and washing instructions.

For beginners I’d recommend starting with worsted weight yarn – that’s number 4 on the yarn weight range. And a US 5 or 5.5 needle. This yarn and needles are going to be not too thick, not to thin and will be easy enough for your hands to work with as you get started.

Knitting needles are commonly made of wood, metal, or plastic. For beginners, wood is the best choice as they have a bit more grip and will help keep the stitches from sliding off the end and getting dropped. 

Pick a light colour of yarn so you’ll be able to easily see the stitches. 

Where can you buy knitting needles and yarn 

For beginners, I’d recommend shopping at your local big box craft store like Michaels when you get started. They have a wide selection of yarns and will be more budget-friendly when you’re just getting started. 

You can also find a local yarn store (LYS) in your area. A LYS can be especially helpful as a beginner because most of them offer classes and knitting help if you get stuck or make a mistake you’re not sure how to fix. 

In addition to needles and yarn you’ll also need the following before starting your first project. 

  • A yarn needle (for weaving in your starting and finishing ends)
  • Measuring tape
  • Scissors
  • You might also need stitch markers
  • A crochet hook can also come in handy for picking up dropped stitches

DURING THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC

As I’m writing this during the time period of COVID-19 and you should avoid all unnecessary outings. I recommend you order materials online or find a store in your neighbourhood that is offering curbside pick up.

A hand holds two knitting needles with stitches and knit fabric hanging off them
Don’t go out during the COVID-19 pandemic if you don’t have to! Just stay home

Where to begin

It can be overwhelming to learn something new. But all you need to know right now to get started is that all knitting is basically made up of two stitches: knit and purl. You can do some neat things with them, lace and cables and there are increases and decreases. But the foundation of all of this is knit and purl.

And you’ll, of course, need to know how to get started – this is called casting on. And how to finish called binding off or casting off. Counting stitches and rows will also be something useful to learn right off the bat. 

I recommend you start by making a square or rectangle and just practice knitting and purling, casting on and binding off. You can unravel it over and over to keep practicing. 

Check out these video tutorials to learn the basics: 

Very Pink has tutorials for all the basic skills here

And you can find a video on counting stitches here also by Very Pink

Common mistake

You’re learning something new and you’re going to mess it up!! And that’s totally okay. Don’t get upset, don’t panic almost any mistake you make is fixable. 

Here are the most common knitting mistakes with resources on how to fix the ones you can and avoid the ones you can’t. 

Twisted stitches

Twisted stitches are a common mistake for new knitters. Twisted stitches cause your knitting to sit unevenly. 

This tutorial from Martha Stewart describes twisted stitches and what causes them

Dropped stitches

You are indefinitely going to drop a stitch at some point! This can cause a lot of anxiety and you may think you need to start over – but that’s not the case. Picking up a dropped stitch is actually very easy. 

Here’s a quick tutorial from The Spruce Crafts on fixing dropped stitches

Adding stitches at the sides

See #2 on this list of common knitting mistakes from Martha Stewart. This is a great resource that also covers dropped stitches, twisted stitches and tight tension. 

How to un-knit to fix an error or rip back your project

It’s unfortunate, but sometimes you’ll need to undo part of even all of your knitting to fix mistakes! 

This comprehensive tutorial covers two ways you can undo knitting to fix past mistakes. By unknitting stitch by a stitch or by ripping out all or part of your project. It also goes into how to decide which method you need to use. 

Where to go from here

Once you have the basic skills down it’s time to knit your first pattern! 

A pattern is going to provide you with the needle size and yarn weight you need. Make sure you use the specified yarn and needles. The pattern information will also tell you how much yarn you’ll need.

When knitting a pattern you’ll need to make sure you meet the gauge for the pattern, especially if it’s something like a hat where the size matters. Gauge is the size of your stitches and rows to ensure your item comes out the right size. You measure gauge by knitting a swatch and measuring your stitches. 

This post by Lion Brand Yarn will teach you about gauge

Knitting patterns are written in almost another language, there are a lot of abbreviations. The pattern will give you a “dictionary” for what all the abbreviations mean so make sure you read that before getting started!

For example this 

Row 1: K3, p to end of row

This means you will knit three stitches and then purl to the end of the row.

When you’re just getting started it can be helpful to write out the abbreviated instructions in full for yourself. 

Finding your first pattern 

Ravelry is a great place to find knitting patterns. You can set up a free account and browse through the pattern base. You can filter your search by difficulty level and the techniques involved. 

You can also buy kits from Wool and the Gang or We Are Knitters that come with everything you need. 

Tin Can Knits has this collection of easy (and free) patterns created for knitters who are just starting out!

A light blue knit sweater without sleeves sits on a white background
This is the beginnings of a Flax Sweater from the Tin Can Knits Simple Collection

You’re ready to get going with your brand new hobby!! Good luck and remember to enjoy it!