Things I wish I'd known as a beginner knitter.
by Hanna Gough
So you want to start knitting? Great!
I first taught myself to knit (hooray for books) in 2014 at the age of 23. Nobody else in my family was a knitter (at least, not publicly!) but I was just attracted to the thought of knitting. I vaguely remember being shown how to cast on by a family friend when I was 12 or 13 but I forgot almost as soon as I'd learned. The yarn that was given to me was stashed away under my bed along with the vintage needles. Funny thing is, I never threw them away. In this case 'one day I'll learn' wasn't just a pipedream.
Anyway, years later, here I am giving you some advice on things I wish I'd known:
1. You don't have to buy alllll of the yarn. Don't do it. I spent so much money skipping down the aisles of Hobbycraft thinking "ooo this one's nice" and "ooo this one's nice too" and do you know what? I hardly used any of it.
The temptation to buy it all because it's nice is far too strong. Yarn is relatively inexpensive (there is a range to suit every budget), it comes in a plethora of gorgeous colours, textures and thickness, can smell amazingly sheepy (wool, that is) and has so, so much potential.
The brutal truth is that you do not need it all. Do you want to make a scarf? Great, just buy a couple of balls in a colour you would actually like to wear. You don't need the neon green glow in the dark chunky yarn that was on sale at 50% off. Put it down.
Buying yarn is nice, don't get me wrong, but if you need a new house just for your stash, perhaps think about investing in some patterns, taking part in some make alongs or giving excess away!
2. Don't be intimidated when visiting an LYS (local yarn store). I remember the first time I approached the knitting stall in a local market. A knitting matriarch was sitting down attending to an intricate baby shawl behind the stall. I had the audacity to turn up and disturb her and to make matters worse, I didn't know what I wanted- I just wanted to browse.
Well, this stallholder was not impressed. She impatiently asked me "What are you knitting?" and I had to tell her that I didn't know. Her eyes almost rolled into the back of her head. The problem with the stall was not just the unwelcoming shopkeeper but also the inaccessibility of the yarn. I couldn't touch it to read the labels. I didn't know how to look for patterns and I was too intimidated to ask.
I ended up grabbing a few random balls of DK and a pair of 5mm needles. Looking back now, she was incredibly rude to make me feel like I was wasting her time. What a way to welcome a new knitter! Just so you know, it is more common to come across lovely LYS owners. I may only have an online shop but if you ever wanted to ask me about starting out I would always be happy to help! I even offer online classes for beginners.
3. Don't get overwhelmed by patterns. Each pattern is one designer's brainchild and now it's in your hands, being followed so that you can make the same item yourself! Like with yarn, you don't have to buy them all. There will be time. If just browsing the internet isn't doing it for you when it comes to choosing a pattern, why don't you try a knitting magazine? You can usually tell from the cover if it's going to contain serious, more intricate knits, more informal knits for kids, toys, blankets or more beginner friendly garments. Choose one. They usually cost between £5 and £7 but for the amount of patterns that a single magazine contains, it works out an absolute bargain. Alternatively, swap or ask if anyone has any spare mags they don't mind giving up.
4. Following patterns isn't easy . It requires skill. Be kind to yourself. Apparently, I am an 'intermediate' knitter but I still have to do a double take when reading a new pattern. Many, many stitch patterns are still new to me, as are shaping techniques and yarns. Have fun exploring. There is no right or wrong pattern. To be honest, I don't really believe in 'beginner' patterns. I think with the help of classes, video tutorials, photos and instructions, you can do anything. If you've had a go and you're not getting your head around the pattern, just have a break and come back to it later. I still do that. It's not a race, it's supposed to be enjoyable .
5. When it comes to garments, only knit what you want to wear . Like ready made clothing, you have to look at garments on knitting patterns and ask yourself "is that something that I would wear?". If the answer is "no", don't make it. You will have spent all of that time and a good amount of money making something that you never wear. How sad is that? I admire many a turtleneck jumper pattern but I don't like wearing them so I have never attempted to make one. I may make one for someone else one day, but not for me. Don't waste your money.
6. Do a gauge swatch . Yes, it is delaying you from getting started on the real thing but it is so, so important. On every pattern there should be a 'tension' section where it shows you how many stitches and rows you should have to make a 10x10cm square. If your measurements are not the same as the example, you need to change needle size to get it right. Most patterns will tell you what to do.
I say again: do a gauge swatch . Imagine the disappointment when you pull that hard earned sweater over your head only to find it is far too big, or far too small... I'm here to tell you that I have done this and yes I totally regret it. It was something I overlooked as a new knitter and I wasted time and money making something that didn't fit. The only saving grace is the fact that I hadn't yet started buying luxury yarn or 100% wool yarns... Phew!
7. Enjoy yourself . I know that I've just said all of those things about difficulties, time and money wasted etc but I swear that knitting is a beautiful, long standing activity that connects you with so many other crafters. It is an opportunity to explore your creativity, get better at maths (definitely a good thing for me), shop around, connect with knitters, designers and dyers, learn new things and do something for yourself. The repetitive motion of knitting stitches across needles is so relaxing and mindful that you can look forward to it after a long day at work, while the dinner cooks, while you're travelling, chatting with friends or watching films. I am so glad that I discovered it and I genuinely feel for people who don't have knitting in their life and say they're bored (What is bored?). Enjoy it.