Learning to knit can be challenging, especially if you’re new to fiber arts all together. It’s even tougher if you’re teaching yourself and no one around you has any knitting experience. There are all sorts of little things, bits of tacit knowledge and unspoken rules, that you have to figure out! To help speed up your learning curve, I’ve complied this list of knitting tips for beginners that I hope you’ll find useful.
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Why Write a List of My Top Knitting Tips for Beginners?
When I first started knitting, I made a lot mistakes. I struggled a lot, and even gave up completely. But over time, I found that little things could make my knitting process more fun and easier. And when I started teaching I really enjoyed being able to pass these little trick on to my students. So, I wanted to write down some of the things I’ve found that really seem to make a difference, especially the ones I don’t see frequently.
If you’re new to knitting I hope these help you, and if you’ve been knitting for awhile feel free to let me know in the comments below what you think I missed or if anything surprised you.
Start with Variegated Yarn
For your first project (or ever your first couple of projects) avoid solid colored yarns, especially dark solid colors. The reason for this isn’t at all about aesthetics or hiding your flaws. I recommend it because it is just so, so, so much easier to “read” your stitches when you use yarn that changes color as you go.
When you first start knitting, it can be really easy to loose your place in a pattern. “Did I just knit 7 stitches or 8?” “Am I on a knit stitch or a pearl stitch in this ribbing?” “Did I drop a stitch or is something else happening here?!?” If you can look at your knitting and easily count your stitches or trace your pattern back, figuring these sorts of issues out will be so much easier.
Variegated yarn helps this process by making it easier to visually trace back the path of your yarn. The more dramatic the color change, the bigger the effect. Once you’re confident about your ability to read your knitting, you can switch to some of the more difficult to see yarns, but start out with something that will allow you to better understand yarns structure.
Malabrigo Rios Yarn
One of my favorite beginner yarns is Malabrigo Rios. It’s a 100% wool, worsted weight yarn that is wonderfully cooperative and comes in all sorts of beautiful color ways including this one called Arco Iris. They don’t sell directly to consumers, but it’s usually pretty easy to find in yarn stores or on Etsy. Jimmy Beans Wool also usually has a wide variety of colors available.
Anything Can be a Stitch Marker
There are so many things to buy when you first start a hobby! Even one as low-tech as hand knitting. And if you com across a pack of stitch markers you just love go ahead and buy them. But if you’re trying to save money or just knitting on the go, many different things can work as stitch makers.
I’ve used a small hair tie, a ring, and bits of yarn in contrasting colors to mark my place. I’m also always on the lookout for bulb shaped safety pins. These are often sold as stitch markers, but also are often used to attach tags to clothing. Whenever I buy something with a bulb safety pin, I think to myself “woo! Free stitch marker!”
Pay Attention to Your Tension
When I was teaching knitting for the first time this summer, I noticed that all my students started out making the same mistake. They all focused on the motions of the needles and let their working yarn flop around. I also know someone who’s abandoned knitting projects because her yarn kept breaking due to to super tight tension.
What you want to do when knitting, is keep control of your working yarn. You don’t need to hold it in a death grip. In fact, if you’re holding things super tightly you’re likely to injure your hands over time. I tend to wind it between my fingers as I work. If you’re having trouble, I’d recommend watching a bunch of different knitters work (YouTube is great for this!) then trying out their grips. Eventually, you’ll find something that feels good on your hands.
Stretch and Take Breaks
I first really got into lace knitting during the early days of the pandemic. Stuck at home alone, I found that knitting did a great job of quieting my thoughts. Also, I couldn’t doom scroll and knit at the same time!
However, one day I started to get pretty bad pain in my hands. It was so bad that I had to stop knitting altogether for a few months. It got a bit better when I realized that a small muscle at the top of my lower arm was the problem. I hadn’t be stretch and so it had gotten extremely tight. I learned latter that I had basically given myself tennis elbow.
I began to improve after massaging it out, but it still took about a year before I was back to knitting entirely without pain again. Now I make sure to regularly pause to stretch my hands and arms. I also pay close attention to that problematic arm muscle and massage it when it starts to tighten.
As a bonus, a short break is usually a great time to snap a few photos of your in-progress work!
Label and Record Everything
Ok, this is also a reminder for myself. You think you’ll remember the name of the yarn you bought, the size of the needles you used, and the small tweak you made to your pattern. And you will. For a little while. But as you buy more yarn and start more projects, you’ll inevitably start to forget.
Things really got out of hand for me when I started learning how to use a knitting machine. I was testing lots of different yarns at lots of different tensions. I was making small technique samples left and right. I was playing around randomly just to see what the machine could do. And I ended up with a large bag of mystery swatches.
Now, I use small labels on any samples I make with all the relevant information. If it’s not immediately obvious through observation, its goes on the tag! They need to be legible to me, but to no-one else. So, as long as I know how to decipher my scratchings, there’s no reason I can’t write in abbreviations or codes. I still need a good, comprehensive system for keeping track of patterns and such (maybe a Notion template?), but for now at least all my new samples are labeled.
Get a Project Bag (or Two, or Three…)
A project bag is any bag that can hold the yarn for your project, the basic tools you need, and the pattern you’re using. It can be a freebie bag from an event or something specifically made for crafting like that della Q Train Case I’ve been seeing all over my feed lately.
Knitting quickly becomes addictive, and many projects are small enough that it’s easy to cary your current WIP (work in progress) around with you. Wether you take yours to different locations in your house or on long distance travel, having a project bag just makes sense.
Knitting Machines Aren’t Cheating
People have some strong feelings about knitting machines. But when you start to dig down into it, most of the people yelling the most loudly have never actually used one. Once you try it out, it’s clear that there is still a lot of human involvement in the process.
I feel like the best way to understand the difference is to think of it like walking vs biking. Hand knitting is slow and meditative. The tools you need are inexpensive and easy to find, so barriers to entry are low. Machine knitting is faster and requires an initial outlay of cash, but it’s still very hands on. At first, just getting the stitches to stay on the needles can be a challenge. On a basic machine increases, decreases, and patterns are all all done by hand. This can involve altering the needle position, adjusting various levers, and/or moving stitches manually with special tools. Some more sophisticated machines can do repeating patterns but as far as I know, no machines within budget of the home knitter can do cables.
The reason why I consider this vital enough to put on my top knitting tips for beginners list is that developing a snobby attitude towards a hobby like knitting makes things so much less fun! If you keep an open mind about what is “real” knitting, you leave yourself open to learn and explore.
Beginner Knitting Machine
If you are thinking of getting into machine knitting, the best option is a home (plastic bed) flat bed like this one. These operate the same way that professional (metal bed) machines do, but at a much lower price. Usually, you can find a home flat bed knitting machine around 450$-500$, while professional grade machines like this SK155 start around 1200$.
Understand Your Gauge Swatch
Everyone loves to talk about how important it is to knit gauge swatches while at the same time declaring with mock guilt that they never actually make them. There are a few reasons for this. First, is that most of the time projects turn out fine even if the gauge is a little off. Second, even if things do go wrong, you can always frog (unravel) your project and start again.
Additionally, as a new knitter, it can be hard to understand what exactly the results of your gauge swatch mean. When I started knitting, I found that sometimes my stitch count in one direction would be spot on, but the other direction would be off. What was I supposed to do then?!?
Eventually, I started to read through my patten with an eye to understanding the implications of my gauge swatch. If my pattern measured length in inches, rather than rows, I made sure my stitches per inch widthwise were correct and then moved on. With larger, more complex patterns, I thought through the implications of my swatch. If I was knitting a little too tightly, how would it effect the fit? If I was knitting too loosely, would I run out of yarn?
Now, I see knitting a gauge swatch as the first part of a conversation between me and the pattern. My results are more predictable, and over time I’ve gone from altering patterns to making my own!
If You’re Overwhelmed, Try a Kit With a Class
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the first time you do a craft have someone else plan the project for you. If you can, an in person class is ideal. But if that just isn’t happening for you, get a kit. This guarantees that the yarn you buy and the tools you use will work with the pattern you’re using.
There are some great options from We Are Knitters. But if you also want a full video tutorial, Crafter has a cable knit sock kit that I absolutely adored. It’s a great second project for someone who likes a challenge. If that seems a little too intense, the cashmere beanie and mitten kit is perfect for an absolute beginner.
Blocking is Your Friend
When I first started knitting, I found blocking confusing and a bit overwhelming. I saw people using fancy blocking mats and shaping devices and couldn’t figure out if they were something I actually needed. After a lot of stressing, research, and experimentation, I’ve found that in most cases blocking is pretty simple and also really necessary.
The purpose of blocking is to help your knitting relax into its final shape. It goes from being a really complicated knot to fabric or a garment. In most cases, gently washing or steaming your finished project and then laying it flat is all you need to do. Basically, clean it and dry it as you would after use.
Loosely knit projects that won’t be stretched during use (like a lace shawl) benefit from some stretching while wet, but most other garments don’t really need it. Lace just sometimes needs a bit of tension for the pattern to be at its best.
Keep a Latch Tool Handy
Dropped stitches happen. And when they do, your stitch can run down the full length of your knitting in no time at all. However, if you have a latch tool, it’s not too difficult to fix them. And no list of knitting tips for beginners would be complete without something to help you out when you mess up!
I first learned about the true magic of the latch tool when I was learning machine knitting. For certain techniques, like ribbing, you purposely drop stitches and reform them with this tool. I quickly realized that other people were also using the same too to fix accidental drops in their hand knitting projects.
The trick to using a latch tool is that you need to keep a bit of weight or tension on the knitting. Then work with, not against the latching mechanism. Once you get the movement down, it is is the absolute fastest way to reform dropped stitches.
Do you have any other knitting tips for beginners? Anything you wish you’d been told when you first started? Leave a comment below or share it over on Instagram!