Learning how to knit

Many of us twenty-somethings grew up around grandparents and sometimes parents who knit.  Maybe we were the lucky recipients of a new sweater and a fuzzy scarf every year at Christmas. Fast forward to the present: how many of our own generation have picked up the needles?  More than you might think. There are as many reasons to knit as there are knitters but here are a few of the most common ones:

1. Knitting is good for your health. Not only is there evidence to suggest it can help ward against degenerative diseases such as dementia, knitting also helps relieve stress and put you in a better state of mind.

2. It’s a fun, cheap way to accessorize your outfits. Your budget may not stretch to a new outfit, but a couple of balls of yarn and a few days of your time can result in a lovely hat and matching pair of mittens to stave off the chill, and make some of your old outfits look like new.

3. You know how there’s always that one person who seems impossible to shop for? They might love a fashionable knitted accessory. As long as you keep a few things in mind (we’ll talk more about gifting guidelines below), this kind of gifting could get addictive.

The Learning Process
So now you’ve decided to give this knitting thing a try, what next?  You could just grab a ball of yarn, a couple of sticks and wing it, but that’s liable to leave you in a tangle your cat would envy. Once you’ve borrowed some yarn and needles from a friend or family member (or bought them from your local craft store, if you’re pretty sure about this knitting thing – 4 mm needles and worsted weight yarn is a good place to start) here’s a few methods you might want to try:

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1. YouTube to the rescue! There are knitting tutorials for pretty much every stitch and technique out there, including the basics.  Make sure to pick one with good lighting and clear instructions. GoodKnitKisses is one of my favorite channels for beginners: check out her Beginner Needle Knit Series.

2. Do you know someone who knits? See if they will teach you.  This can be the perfect way to learn but, as with all pursuits of knowledge, having the wrong teacher could also set you back big-time. Whether you choose someone you know or take a class from a local yarn store, be prepared: their way of teaching (or their way of knitting – there is more than one) may not jibe with yours.  Don’t be shy about finding another teacher.  We all learn in our own ways.

3. Check out a book from the library. After picking up the basics from my mum, I taught myself to knit in the backseat during a road trip with Sunny’s Mittens open next to me and the needles and yarn in my lap.  My work was full of mistakes but they were mittens nonetheless. One thing to remember: even the best of illustrations can’t always explain as well as a moving picture can, so sometimes combining a YouTube video with a book is the best course of action.

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Starter Projects
It’s all well and good to know how to form the stitches, but the question is what to make.  A scarf that goes on forever is hard to mess up; it can also make any but the most fervent novice give up due to sheer boredom.  Here’s a few projects that are both beginner-friendly and fun:

1. Dishcloths: we all need them to tidy up in the kitchen, so why not make pretty ones?  You can make one in your favourite colours and, if your powers of concentration are strong, you can even make one to reflect your favourite fandom, like this “Bowties are Cool” pattern.

2. Hats: you can tackle the challenge of knitting on four needles and/or a circular needle (not as hard as it sounds, once you get used to it) to use most hat patterns, or do one that is knit flat and seam it together at the end.

3. Scarves: yes, they can be deadly dull, but that all changes when you find the right yarn.  Splurge a little at your local yarn store and pick one that is luxuriously soft and gradients of your favourite colour.  There’s little better than the feel of it in your hands and the pleasure of seeing the ribbon of colour unfold in your lap.

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Before we wrap up and you run to the nearest yarn store, here’s a few final notes to help you on your newest adventure.

Gifting Guidelines
There are a few things you should keep in mind when considering gifting a knitted present:

1. Make sure what kind of yarn your intended recipient is comfortable with. Some skin is too sensitive for 100% wool, so try an acrylic or a wool blend (such as with silk or bamboo) instead.

2. Before you embark on stitching those gorgeous mittens for your giftee, do a little snooping. Alas, not everyone likes the look or feel of knitted things, or maybe they just have enough hand wear but could really use a hat.  It pays to be adaptable.

3. It’s always helpful to include a handwritten note with care instructions. Check the yarn label if you’re unsure.

References You Won’t Want to Miss

1. Ravelry is hands down the best online database of patterns for knitters. It’s free to join and many of the patterns are free, as well. It’s also a great place to keep track of the projects you make and ones you want to tackle in the future.

2. Knitting Needle Conversion Chart

3. Knitting Abbreviations Glossary

Learning to knit can be daunting but, if you stick with it long enough to see that first project through to completion, you’ll know: those who fall, fall hard, cushioned by the dreams of all the knitting to come. What will your first project be?