Notes for new knitters, part 3: What you can do when you’ve got the basics

I’ll wind up this three-parter by exemplifying something that I always tell my students: once you’ve mastered the basics of knit and purl, the door is open to all other knitting techniques.  Very little is beyond the reach of a knitter capable of executing knit and purl stitches to a good standard.  By the time you’ve completed one or two projects, you’ll be at the stage where instinct and muscle memory take over and you don’t even have to think about how to form a knit or purl stitch: it will just happen, and you’ll know exactly how and why people can talk and knit at the same time without much concentration.  In fact, you probably catch yourself doing just that! – but occasionally need to check that your knitting hasn’t gone off on a tangent 😉  The rest is down to attitude and willingness to try.  People who are truly good at something, or strive to be so, never stop learning, never stop experimenting and never stop being interested.  This is creativity and passion par excellence.

My first adventure was into the world of lace, but I could’ve easily gone for cables – they’re an equally good next step.  My love of lace began early thanks to the clothes my mother and grandmother sewed and knitted for me respectively.  My grandma made me some cable knits too, but I was attracted to the charm of lace.

This experimentation took place about eight or nine years ago.  As per my last post, I’d discovered Rowan Yarns, but I’d also made friends with the staff in Liberty’s and realised the limitations of working with chunky yarns.  They’d given me the quick gratification I needed as a learner, but knowing that I could see a project through to the end made me braver about choosing finer yarns.  I chose Wool Cotton, which is still one of my all-time favourite yarns, and the now-defunct Calmer.  Too soon for Kidsilk Haze!

First up is the Bliss wrap cardigan, featured in Rowan mag 39:

PlumBliss PlumBlissDetailThen the Sadie cardigan, from Rowan mag 40:

Sadie1 Sadie3 Sadie4You can see in the second photo that there is a small pip or knot in the centre back on the inside of the cardigan.  I honestly can’t remember if I made the knot or if it came off the ball like that, but I can definitely tell you that I’d never place a knot in my knitting today, especially mid-row!  ALWAYS join in new balls of yarn at the side seams, especially if they’re cottons or cotton blends.  It is possible to felt ends together, but that only works on handwash yarns with a high wool (or any other animal fibre) content.  Manufacturers are allowed to place a maximum of three pips or knots in yarns, because a piece of string is only so long.  However, they won’t be in every ball of yarn – spinners do try to avoid them!  My advice to new knitters is to always pull a fair length of yarn out of the ball at a time, so that you can see if a pip is coming.  If you do see one, complete as many rows as possible before you reach it, cut it off and rejoin the yarn at the beginning of the next row.

These lace patterns might look complex or elaborate to the uninitiated, but I can promise you they aren’t, or they wouldn’t have been amongst the first lace items I knitted.  And you can see that they aren’t brand new, because the wear on the yarn is evident.  Eight-ish years and counting, don’t forget!  They’ve been in the machine on a gentle wool wash, using wool detergent.

One of knitting’s biggest deceptions is creating fabric and patterns that belie the simplicity of technique.  Or, they may look difficult to create, but are actually simple to make.  Knitting has been around for thousands of years – if it were that difficult, nobody would bother!  As ever, if in doubt, read through the pattern and note any abbreviations you don’t understand.  And ALWAYS ASK SOMEBODY.

For example, the lacy stripe on Sadie is nothing more than two subsequent rows of ‘K2tog (knit two stitches together), yfwd’ (yarn forward and over the top of the needle, to create the eyelets typical of lace).  The ridges bracketing these two rows are nothing more than a purl row preceding the first lace pattern row, and a knit row after the last lace pattern row.  If you want to try it for yourself, cast on an even number of stitches, say 24.  Row 1 as per the sequence below is the right side of the knitting, as presented in the photograph above.  The pattern repeat goes something like this:

Rows 1-6: Beginning with a knit row, work in stocking stitch (1 row knit, 1 row purl).
Row 7: Purl.
Row 8: K1, *yfwd, k2tog; repeat from * to last stitch, k1.
Row 9: As row 8.
Row 10: Knit.

So, within the context of the patterned fabric, there are only two new instructions for the uninitiated: ‘k2tog’ and ‘yfwd’.  Therefore, you can already execute 8 out of 10 rows of that lacy stripe pattern, or 80%.  Why not just try it if you’re 80% of the way there?  It’s well within reach and you have NOTHING to lose, but PLENTY to gain.  It’s a cliche, yes, but eminently true.  And again, ALWAYS ASK SOMEBODY.  You don’t have to learn alone if you don’t want to.

When I realised this fallacy about knitting, previously complex-looking textures became much more accessible and I became even braver about trying new things.  I learnt new techniques like dancers learn choreography and loved it.  Again, getting those new techniques programmed into the mind is to do with instinct and muscle memory: you’re just expanding your vocabulary.  You’ve struggled with grasping the basics, but have put in hours of practice to master them and are now reaping the rewards.  You might not have believe your teacher and/or mentor when they told you this would happen, but the adages about practice and putting the time and effort in are as true for knitting as they are for anything else you have a go at.  You just need to give yourself a proper chance.

I hope these three posts have helped and encouraged any beginner knitters who might be reading, if not been insightful for the experienced ones.  I’ll leave you with a list of 15 things I think a new knitter should remember – and feel free to chip in below with any additions!

  1. Learning and becoming good at something takes time and practice.
  2. Be patient and kind to yourself.  Negativity short-circuits development and progress.  Give yourself a chance.
  3. Accept that mistakes are part of the process.  Knitters of all skill levels make them.
  4. Find a mentor (or two!).
  5. Don’t be intimidated by experienced or proficient knitters, or fancy-looking knitting.  The only things between you are time, willingness and practice, and all of those things are within your control.
  6. Ask questions and do research.  At least 98% of knitters are helpful people.
  7. Look for nice knitting shops near you.  Befriend the staff and tell them about you as a knitter.
  8. Keep a notebook to scribble in when you’re engrossed in a project.
  9. Don’t be afraid to try new or unfamiliar things.  This builds experience.
  10. Be proud of your achievements.
  11. Invest in your tools.  Try out different needles: some knitters are better off using wood, some knitters prefer circular needles…we’re all different.  But avoid metal needles if arthritis is or might be an issue.
  12. Practice on cheaper yarn – but make sure it isn’t unpleasant to knit with.  Try cotton/acrylic or wool/acrylic blends.
  13. Knit in a way that suits you and produces consistent, even and efficient knitting.  We’re all different.  If tensioning the yarn around your fingers one way is uncomfortable, experiment and find another way.  If you don’t like the English way of knitting, try the Continental method instead.
  14. Don’t overuse the internet.  There are wonderful sites like YouTube, Ravelry and helpful bloggers (hello! 🙂 ), but there’s nothing like living, breathing people and seeing something demonstrated before your very eyes.
  15. ENJOY IT!

One thought on “Notes for new knitters, part 3: What you can do when you’ve got the basics

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s