15 Tips for Beginner Knitters
Hi everyone! Today I am going to offer fifteen tips for beginner knitters or those interested in learning how to knit, but unsure of where to start. Hopefully other knitters will find some of the tips helpful as well. I have been knitting off and on for about nineteen years now, even though it does not seem like it has been that long. In 2020 I received a teaching certification for beginner knitting; over the years most of my students have been friends and family, but I might start offering online classes in the near future. I will, however, continue posting tutorials and guides for knitting, as other helpful suggestions like those listed here. If you find that you are still not enjoying knitting even after trying different suggestions from this post and elsewhere, finding another hobby or textile art to try is perfectly okay, too. My family is dominated by crocheters, with some knitters, including myself; however, only a few of us can crochet and knit. Knitting does not come naturally to everyone, so, find what works for you. You might find you are better suited to crochet, weaving, or something completely different.
1. Be Patient
Likely you will not learn a technique immediately, and that is okay. As with most things, knitting takes time to learn. One of the worst mistakes you can make is thinking that you master knitting overnight; don't tell yourself that, and don't let anyone pressure you into rushing. This is one of the biggest issues I have seen when helping beginner knitters; many people expect that they will learn the basics of knitting in two or three lessons, which unless you happen to be a prodigy, probably will not happen. I struggled with being patient when I was younger; crochet came easier for me, so in a way, I had expected (and hoped) knitting would be the same. It took sixteen years for me to get where I am now, and I still work to improve my skills as much as possible.
The best way to learn anything is to practice, and continually put your new skills to use. Even now I still take time to practice new techniques or stitches or review those which I do not often use. Making swatches is a great way to practice stitches, techniques, and tension. The swatches do not have to be large—and 8" (20cm) square is usually a good size to work with. Another way to practice is to make miniature (or partial) versions of different garments, such as hats, socks, and sweaters. Use inexpensive or scrap yarn for these tiny projects. For reference, you can see in this tutorial where I created a partial sock toe for teaching purposes. This is very effective because you do not have to worry about taking out an entire project if you make a mistake in a particular section.
3. Be Selective with Yarns
When first starting with knitting, try using only brightly colored yarns with a smooth texture, like mercerized cotton or superwash wool. These are generally the easiest fibers to work with, though everyone has their individual preferences. Avoid darker colors, black, and even white yarns, as it can be difficult to see stitch definition with these. Also avoid fury, rigid, slippery, and novelty textured yarns; these include yarns with glitter, beads, ribbon, or other additions, or fibers such as mohair, linen, ramie, 100% silk, and bamboo. Be careful with variegated yarns as well, especially where the variegation contains large patches of dark colors, black, or white. For practice, I would recommend an inexpensive yarn; save the luxury yarns for when you are more comfortable and are ready to work on an actual project. Inexpensive cotton, wools, and synthetic yarns are good for practicing. I generally recommend my students start with a light-medium pink, blue, grey, brown, or green yarn. These colors have the best stitch definition, even in poor lighting.
Also consider whether the yarn is sold as a cake, ball, cone, or skein. Skeins will have to be unwound into a ball or cake, so if you are not up for the added challenge, simply start with a yarn shape that does not have to be modified before use. If you do wish to use a skein, look to see if someone can unwind it for you; some yarn stores will, usually for an additional fee between $1-$10, but occasionally they will offer this service for free.
A note on synthetic fibers: some knitters prefer acrylic, polyester, and nylon yarns. However, I would not recommend using these for close-fitting garments, or anything intended for pets and young children, or those who cannot react quickly to sudden temperature changes. Synthetic yarns can melt easily if exposed to high heat, and cause severe burns.
4. Plan Projects
lanning is always important. To reduce any potential extra stress, make sure to plan all of your knitting projects thoroughly. Buy enough yarn ahead of time; for larger projects, it is always a good idea to buy 1-2 extra balls of yarn than what is listed in a pattern. Make sure you have the right size needles for the project, as well as extra in case you need to go up or down to another size if the gauge is not matching. Look through the list of notions and make sure you have everything listed. Look through the instructions in the pattern; find any stitch or techniques that you might be unfamiliar with and set aside time to practice them before starting the actual project. Estimate the amount of time you think the project will take to finish, that way you can set aside enough time, along with some extra days or hours to a lot for any mistakes.
5. Set Goals
Set aside time to decide what your knitting goals are, and how you would like to approach them. If you have been knitting for a short time, ask yourself what progress would you like to make—are there stitches projects, or techniques you want to work on and master? If you have not started knitting yet, set a goal for when you would like to start the learning process. Make a list of all your knitting goals and put them somewhere where you can look back later (a journal, calendar, spreadsheet, or note-taking app, for example). If you need to adjust your goals, that is okay, too. Being realistic with the goals you set is key to not being too harsh with yourself for not succeeding. View goals as a learning tool, and less as a measure of your ability as a knitter. Sometimes rewarding yourself is a great way to stay with the goals you set. Maybe buy a fancy skein of sock yarn for learning a new cast on technique.
6. Start with Simple Patterns
Reading patterns does not come easily to everyone; some knitters are unable to understand written/graph patterns at all. When picking your first knitting project pattern, it is best to keep it simple. You might want to start with a pattern that does not use a lot of abbreviations or charted graphs. Quality video and photo tutorials patterns might also be a good place to start, especially you are a visual learner. Knitting patterns also list the difficulty level of the project, so make sure to check the rating given (find patterns that say "Easy", "Beginner", "Easy/Beginner", and "Advanced Beginner" depending on your comfort level). Also look for patterns that do not require a lot of additional math, shaping, or finishing techniques.
7. Focus on Flat Knitting Projects First
Elaborating on Tip #7, working in the round with circular and double pointed (DPN) needles can be a challenge, especially when just learning to knit. Additionally, flat knitting tension and gauge can change when working in the round, more for some knitters than others. Another factor to consider is that knitting stitches will have to be modified to some degree when working in the round, as you only work the right side of the fabric with circular knitting. The modifications are usually easy, but depending on the stitch, can be more challenging (lace and cables, for example); this is also an extra step that might be frustrating for beginner knitters.
Until you are more comfortable working with basic single pointed knitting needles, it might be best to avoid knitting in the round. Find simple knitting projects you can work flat instead of in the round, such as scarves, headbands, dishcloths, towels, and small pet blankets. Also look for seamed hats, bags, or a basic sweater pattern if you feel confident enough.
8. Work on Tension/Gauge
One of the most important aspects of knitting beginners should focus on is tension/gauge. Learning to neaten your stitch tension is crucial if you want your projects to look nice. Connected to this is achieving the correct gauge; while gauge is not always important for some patterns (small accessories, amigurumi), it is essential for garments and any type of fitted accessory. Most often, beginner knitters are too tight with their tension, although some can be too loose. It is important that you are relaxed and focused when you practice your knitting, as emotions can greatly affect your stitch tension. As you work on neatening your tension and matching specified gauges, pay attention to what is normal for you as a knitter. Some knitters are naturally tight or loose with their knitting, even after many years; you will start to notice a natural pattern in the way your stitches look once you have adjusted any beginner-related issues. I am a very tight knitter, so I always have to be careful, especially with thinner weight yarns. (Some people have even noted that my hand-knitting stitch gauge looks like machine knitting.)
9. Keep A Journal
Besides setting goals, keeping a journal of inspirations, project ideas, swatches, yarns, and other useful resources is a great way to help your knitting. This is something knitters of any skill level can benefit from. You can also use your journal for project sketching and planning. There are many knitting project planners and templates available for purchase, but you can create your own if you are a journaling enthusiast. Journals can also be used to record goals and keep notes on what struggles you have been having, as well as ways you might have tried to overcome any challenges.
10. Don't Be Afraid to Try Something New
Once you have become comfortable with a specific stitch or project type, it may be beneficial to start branching out gradually and work with something else. While practice is good, so is variety. Being limited with your knitting can later lead to boredom, which can affect confidence and motivation to continue. The new projects you try do not have to be so far beyond your comfort zone that you become frustrated; instead, look for projects and stitches that gradually build off the skills you already know. Small successes will eventually lead to the confidence and skillsets to tackle more challenging knitting projects. Again, be patient. There is, or should not, any rush. Knitting is not a competition.
11. Don't Skip Blocking
Blocking is crucial to making sure your knitting is neat; it can be the difference between your piece looking unfinished versus looking like something purchased from a store (which might be your end goal). While blocking might seem daunting, it is very easy once you get used to the process. There are different types of blocking (wet blocking, spray blocking, and steam blocking, for example), so make sure you learn the differences between each one and pick the technique that is most appropriate for your knitted piece (also make sure your yarn can be blocked). To familiarize yourself with the blocking process, start by using swatches in different yarns, gauges, and stitches; this way you can experiment with blocking techniques without worrying as much about your finished garment or accessory being ruined.
12. Look for Help
f learning on your own is not working, try looking for a teacher or other resources to help you in your knitting journey. There are plenty of knitting blogs, social media channels, forums, online classes, and guilds with accurate information. There are also a growing number of resources for BIPOC individuals looking to learn knitting but wanting to stay more within their community. If able, find a friend or family member who can teach you knitting, even if it is only the basics. My mother taught me the fundamentals of knitting, then I taught myself everything else over the next 17 years, with some breaks in between.
13. Find Different Sources of Motivation
What initially inspired you to start knitting? Maybe you were looking for a creative hobby or wanted a way to make cozy accessories for yourself. Yet if your initial reason for wanting to knit is no longer bringing the same amount of motivation, try looking for other sources to help inspire you. Knitting has offered an outlet for creative charity projects for many years. Look around for legitimate charities asking for knitters to help them; these project calls can range from hats or scarves for the poor, to sweaters and blankets for shelter pets and injured wildlife (one of the most recent instances was the Australian wildfire animals). You can also look to see if there is a need in your community for various knit items. Want a secondary source of income? Knitting accessories, garments, or designing/editing patterns can be a great opportunity.
14. Take a Break
I took a break from knitting for a few years, actually; when I was younger, I preferred crochet but now I prefer knitting. So, if you do not feel like knitting, forcing yourself is not the best choice. Find another creative outlet, and there are plenty to choose from (crochet, weaving, spinning, quilting, glass blowing, photography, painting, mosaics, or cooking, just to list a few). This is connected to tip #1: be patient. Sometimes this means putting something aside for a while and waiting until you have the patience to appreciate the learning process, as the willingness to learn is also a skill. On that note, however, try not to get into the habit of never finishing anything. UFOs (unfinished objects in this instance), can quickly pile up and become a distraction.
15. Learn Terminology and Abbreviations
One of the best ways to rapidly improve your skills and project repertoire is to learn every aspect of knitting—terminology, abbreviations, yarn information, garment care, blueprint charts, finishing techniques, or anything else that might be relevant. Going beyond the basics and familiarizing yourself with advanced topics will give you access to a variety of fun projects. There are many beautiful patterns written in blueprint charts only, or which use different knitting abbreviations (ssk, k2tog, 5/5 LPC, ktbl, M1). Good patterns always have a glossary of abbreviations used, but it is very helpful to know most of these before starting a new project or learning a new stitch (lace and cable stitches use many different abbreviations and special symbols). By memorizing these stitch symbols and abbreviations beforehand, you will be able to work through projects faster.
Learn about different types of yarn as well, and familiarize yourself with yarn label symbols and terminology. These are important, especially if you want to take care of your finished project for years to come. It is also important to understand what a label is saying about stitch gauge, needle size range, and yarn size/ply (more on that in a separate post).
Bonus Tip: Have Fun
The most important tip of all, have fun! Knitting is 96% fun (the other 4% is usually affected by sweater mistakes, bad yarn decisions, and miscounted stitches). Knitting becomes more enjoyable once you are more confident, and less prone to frustrating mistakes. Take your time at first, learn as much as possible, then it should be a better experience.
I hope you enjoyed this post. If you have any questions about knitting, feel free to comment on this post.
Until next time, happy knitting!
Tips, Guides, & Tutorials
Here I provide helpful step-by-step guides to various techniques and stitches for knitting, crochet, weaving, quilting, fashion, art, etc.