Ten Rules for New Knitters

Good afternoon everyone! It’s almost August, and since fall is near, I thought I’d write a whimsical list for all the new knitters out there. It’s getting close to gift-giving season, and if you have the itch to learn how to knit, I want to give you some good advice, just as I was given when I started (but some of it I didn’t follow very closely, and I should have).

Currently, I’m getting ready for a show in August, but I’m also revamping my website. I will soon have my own domain name, as well as a weekly newsletter so you can get all sorts of good information about the shop, what I’m doing, where I’m selling, as well as fun things like free knitting patterns, ice dye how-tos, and shopping coupons and specials! Next Sunday, I’ll be able to give you more specific information about the new site.

It’s a very exciting time for me and I want to share all that good stuff with you too! Follow me so you don’t miss a thing!

In the meantime, enjoy my top ten rules for new knitters. You’ll notice that there are a lot of “always” and “nevers” throughout this post – but it’s all sound advice. Read on…

1. Try a new project.
If your first project was a scarf, don’t knit another scarf. Pick something a little more challenging. My knitting mentor – Marcy –who taught me how to knit, told me this and she was right. If you knit another scarf, that’s all you’ll end up knitting! Try a hat. Then try a pair of mittens. Then try a pair of socks. Then try a sweater. Then try stranded work. Then try lace. Keep upping the ante with each project. You’ll learn new skills along the way, and you’ll become a very accomplished knitter in no time!

2. Do whatever style you like.
Some people think you HAVE to knit using the English method. Some people prefer the Continental style. Some prefer the knitting loom. Some prefer the machine. A famous knitting pioneer, Elizabeth Zimmerman, said she hated doing the purl stitch. So she knitted a vast number of garments in garter stitch just to avoid purling! She was a wonderful person who had an attitude of “doing what suits you.” And it’s absolutely true. Do what you like! The world isn’t going to go into a panic if you prefer not to put a rib stitch at the bottom of your sweater. As long as you’re creating something and it makes you happy, you’re golden. As John Lennon wrote, “Whatever gets you through the night…it’s all right!”

3. Always, ALWAYS swatch!
OK, even I am guilty of this. You don’t want to “waste” your time making a swatch. You just want to get to it. But believe me, you’ll be wasting a lot more time if you make a hat that doesn’t fit or a sweater that is too small. Every pattern designer in the world will tell you, and for good reason: Swatching is serious! It’s the only way you’ll know for sure if your final project will fit you properly.

The Fiber Universe in Peoria, IL

4. Watch your budget
New knitters (me 14 years ago) can get really excited about the millions of different yarns out there. Seriously, you will walk into a luxury yarn boutique and drool over everything. There are so many different fibers; from cotton and hemp to wool, alpaca, silk, yak (!?), even paper and metal! And don’t even get me started on the gorgeous colorways. They’re all very tempting, and most of them are very expensive. Sure you can TRY to discipline yourself to only buy the yarn you need for one project, and not buy any other yarn until you’re ready to start a new project…but that’s not very realistic is it? Most likely, you WILL end up with SABLE* (stash acquired beyond life expectancy). Just try not to go completely broke. Oh…and yarn conventions? You’ll probably go to one. You’ve been warned.

Highlighting different cables in a pattern really helped me keep track of everything.

5. Read your pattern BEFORE you begin.
This is a pretty important step. It’s one thing if you’ve looked at the glossary and understand what k2, p2, yo, psso and k2tog mean, but it will help to understand how your project is constructed…especially if it’s something more complicated like a sweater or a lace shawl. Make sure to read through it and try to get a general visualization of how the garment (or accessory) will come together. If there’s a part of the instructions you don’t understand, you can ask for help first and then move forward. Otherwise, you’ll run the risk of getting halfway through the project and realizing you made a mistake. This is particularly crucial when working in cables, lace, or any area that has mirrored increases or decreases, like sleeves and collars.

6. If you see a mistake, don’t try to keep going. Either fix it or start over.
This particular rule can be up for debate. It really depends on what kind of person you are. If you’re more of an organic, “mistakes are beautiful surprises” kind of person, then this rule probably won’t apply to you. However, if you’re quasi-OCD like me, then a mistake is going to plague you so badly, that you won’t be able to complete the work without hating every minute of it. And if you do complete the project, trust me – you will always see that mistake. It could be a gorgeous Norwegian-style stranded cardigan, but if you messed up on a few stitches, you’ll notice. Your best bet is to back up and fix it before you go too far.

7. Always check the direction of your stitches before you join the round!
This has happened to just about everyone who knits. Please check your stitches before you join in the round. Make sure the stitches are all facing in the same direction, otherwise you will have the unpleasant surprise of a twisted row. And you can’t untwist it unless you unravel it and start over.

8. Feel the yarn before you buy!
Once you’ve been knitting for a while, you’ll know what your favorite yarns are (c’mon, you can’t just have one favorite), and many well-known manufactured yarns are pretty consistent (Cascade, Knit-Picks, Brown Sheep, etc.). But until that time, it’s best to go to the store and touch the yarn first. Especially when it comes to wool, you do NOT want to buy the cheap, scratchy kind. That kind of yarn will make. You. Miserable. Remember there are all kinds of wool out there, and depending on how old the sheep that the wool came from, what kind of sheep it was, and how processed the wool was, will vary greatly in texture and softness. My friend Marcy (whom I mentioned earlier) told me that if you rub the yarn against your neck and your cheeks and it feels good, you’ve got a winner.

9. Make YouTube your new friend
If you’re ever completely stumped on how to do a certain technique, and it’s 2 am and you can’t sleep and you just want to knit in front of the tv, there are literally thousands of tutorial and tech-help videos on YouTube. Some are long, some are short, all are good. One of these videos will have the answer to your question. And if not, then it’s too late and you need to go to bed and wait until morning to ask your knitting guru friend.

10. Never, ever, ever knit a sweater for your boyfriend.
I’ve been told that it’s a mistake to do this. Even though you love your boyfriend so much and you want to make him something special. So you spent months knitting, undoing, knitting again, seaming, toiling away your nights, using the most luxurious (and expensive) alpaca-wool blend that came from Peru. And your boyfriend never wears the damn thing. This is the beginning of the end of your relationship. You’ll never forgive him for not appreciating all the hard work you put into this labor of love. Save yourself the headache and make him a watch cap, since that’s all he really wants.

Me with some of my knitting bitches!!

11. Bonus Rule: Don’t Knit On An Island.
I included this rule because again, this may not apply to everyone, but sometimes, getting out of your comfort zone can yield amazing results. There are SO MANY knitting communities out there, both online and in person. My guess is that every town in every state in every country of the world has at least two people (men or women) who love to knit. Get out of your living room and join them at the coffee house, or library where they meet. Or if you don’t want to leave your living room, invite them over. I’ve done it! Knitters are not dangerous people. Oftentimes knitting boutiques have knitting groups that meet weekly. They’re very informal, and every one of these groups has knitters who are willing to help. Every knitter has a different skill set, and you can learn so much from each one. You might have something to teach as well! Knitting groups are great places to have conversations, and you never know—you might end up meeting your future best friend!

Now you are armed with knowledge! Next week I’m going to offer a free hat pattern for you to create for yourself, or a loved one! Have a good week!

* The term, “SABLE” was coined by Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, aka the Yarn Harlot, who has written many books, spoke at many engagements, appeared at many conventions and written many a blog post on the subject.


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