Welcome to the first post in a series all about hand-knitting basics! If you have ever wondered what knitting is but have been too scared to ask, this is the place for you! Let me break down what you need to know before starting a new craft.
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Questions we’ll cover
- What is knitting?
- What’s the difference between knitting and crochet?
- Isn’t knitting for little old ladies?
- What do I need to start knitting?
- Where can I get knitting supplies?
- My yarn isn’t in a ball! What do I do with it?
- How much does knitting cost?
- What should I learn first?
- What should I knit first?
- What else can I knit?
- Where can I find knitting patterns?
What is knitting?
Knitting is a way of making fabric out of yarn or thread by looping the yarn over itself in rows.
When you look at knitted fabric closely you can see that each stitch or loop will look like a V on one side and a bump on the other side. The V side is the “knit” side of a knitted stitch (often the front).
The bump side is the “purl” side (often the back).
This can help you tell if you have a woven fabric or a knit fabric.
Knitting construction falls into two main categories: machine knitting and hand knitting.
Many modern clothes are made out of industrial machine-knit fabric. You are probably wearing some right now! Take a look at any stretchy fabrics you are wearing and see if you can find the V’s and bumps.
There are also personal knitting machines, which usually knit either flat or in the round. These machines are often still powered by hand but make a fabric much faster than someone can with a pair of knitting needles.
This brings us to hand knitting, which is our focus today. Like machine knitting, there are two subcategories you can divide hand knitting into: loom knitting and needle knitting.
Loom knitting is knitting with a frame lined with pegs to wrap the yarn around and a hook to slip each stitch over the pegs as you go. These come in a variety of shapes and sizes, depending on what kind of project you would like to make.
The final type of knitting construction is needle knitting. This is what you picture in your head when you hear the word knitting and is what we will be discussing here.
Needle knitting is when you use two (or more) knitting needles to work loops of yarn to create a knit fabric.
There is a huge variety of knitting needles, from style to material, size, and shape. If you want to learn more about knitting needles, be sure to check out this post. For sock knitters, I have a deep dive on different sock knitting needles here.
What is the difference between knitting and crochet?
Knitting and crochet are both ways to make fabric by making interlocking loops out of yarn or thread. A major difference you will notice is crocheting uses one crochet hook, while knitting uses two knitting needles.
When you are knitting you have a lot of active stitches at once. That is, you have stitches that if they slip off the needle they will come undone. When you are crocheting there is only one active stitch at a time.
The fabrics each of these creates have different properties. Knit fabric has a bit of a stretch and is usually quite even with a bit of squish to it. Crochet stitches tend to be denser, the fabric has less stretch and drape, and there are more gaps between the stitches.
One more thing you might notice if you try knitting and crocheting is that knit stitches all line up precisely. They almost seem to nestle into each other. Crochet stitches, on the other hand, don’t line up evenly.
There is also a lot more wiggle room with crochet to get the result you want. Even if you don’t follow the exact same technique as someone else, you can still end up with a similar finished project. With knitting, if you deviate from a pattern it will show.
Each yarn craft has its strengths and weaknesses, one isn’t better than the other. Pick whichever yarn craft you enjoy doing and will give you the end results you want
Isn’t knitting for little old ladies?
It is, but it is also for everyone else. Anyone can learn to knit and there is no age you have to be to start and it is never too late to learn.
I know I more or less fit the image most people think of when they picture a “knitter.” As an able-bodied straight white cis woman, no one is surprised that I am a knitter (especially now that I’m over 30). But none of those demographics are a prerequisite for knitting.
I can’t promise that if you are part of a different demographic you won’t turn some heads. You may be the only person who looks like you in your area who knits. But learning to knit doesn’t require in-person interaction at all if you don’t want to. For a lot of people, knitting is a mainly solitary activity.
If you do want to find like-minded knitters but there aren’t any living near you there is a huge fiber community online. There you can find knitters of all shapes, sizes, and colors.
You may also have physical limitations that make knitting difficult. There are knitting techniques like Portuguese knitting, where the yarn is held around your neck or through a broach. This lets you use minimal hand motions, causing less fatigue. Knitting looms or machines can be easier to wield than knitting needles. With practice, knitting can even be done without looking!
If you have any interest in learning to knit, I encourage you to give it a try, no matter who you are, and I’ll be here to cheer you on!
What do I need to start knitting?
All you absolutely need to learn to knit is a pair of knitting needles and some yarn. That’s it.
The very first time you knit, you won’t be making anything specific. You’ll be practicing, getting a feel for what works for you, and building the muscle memory to make consistent stitches.
There are all sorts of other things you will want as you grow as a knitter, but you don’t need them to get started.
The needles and yarn you start with can be just about anything, but I do have a few suggestions to make it a bit easier while you are learning.
Needles to start with
There are so many different types of needles and it can be overwhelming to know where to start. When you first learn to knit I recommend starting with either straight or circular needles in a medium size. This can be anywhere from about a US6 (4mm) to about a US9 (5.5mm). The size of the needle should be written somewhere on the needle.
You don’t have to start with exactly these sizes, but this range is not too big, not too small. Once you have a feel for knitting and want to start on your first projects there are a lot of patterns written with these size needles so they will still get plenty of use later.
As for what material the needles are made of, it isn’t super important. Start with whatever you can get your hands on. Aluminum or bamboo needles are easy to find and inexpensive.
Yarn to learn with
The yarn you cast on your first stitches doesn’t have to be anything fancy. In fact, you’re probably best off with whatever ball of yarn you have lying around or you can buy cheap.
You’ll want something in a medium weight or thickness. There are different systems for measuring yarn weights, but anything labeled worsted, DK, or aran would work. You may see yarn sizes numbered. In this case, aim for about a 3 or 4. If the only information you have is how many yards per gram, aim for about 200 yards per 100 grams.
Avoid yarn in very dark colors, it will make it very hard to see the stitches. Also, avoid anything super fluffy or with lots of bits coming out. If the yarn tag says mohair anywhere on it, put it down a walk away. A nice, smooth yarn will make learning much easier.
If you want to learn more about different types of yarns, be sure to check out this post.
Where can I get knitting supplies?
There are so many places to get knitting supplies, but if you aren’t a knitter yet you may not know where to go. These are some of the places I’ve gotten knitting supplies over the years.
Friends and family
If you know anyone who knits (or even crochets or sews) chances are they have some extra yarn and knitting needles lying around that they would be happy to share with you. They may also volunteer to help you start on your knitting journey.
Not everyone has this option, but if it is accessible to you, it is a great place to start. You may even get some knitting lessons out of the deal!
If you are looking to get started right away but don’t have any supplies on hand, you can head to the nearest craft store. My usual go-to is Joann Fabrics, but there may be other craft stores in your area.
They will have knitting needles and tons of yarn to choose from, and lots of budget-friendly choices. Pick up a simple pair of needles and yarn in your favorite color (unless your fabric color is black in which case maybe go for a grey instead) and you are ready to go!
Thrift stores, by their nature, have no guarantee that you will find what you are looking for on any given day. If you are okay with the possibility of not finding anything they can be a good place to start to look. Sometimes you can find a great deal!
Don’t overlook the sweater section. If you don’t mind a bit of extra work you can find old sweaters to pull apart for their yarn.
If you are very lucky, you may have a craft-specific thrift or discount store near you. These are amazing resources for all kinds of crafting!
Local Yarn Shops
In most areas, you can find a small store that specifically sells yarn and other knitting supplies. Knitters call these local yarn shops (or LYS).
These will have an amazing selection of different yarns made of different fibers and dyed in so many ways. I can happily spend hours wandering through an LYS and squishing all of the yarn.
Local yarn shops usually have some knitting needles available as well, but they are often a limited selection, and usually one particular brand. These can be high-end and more of an investment than a beginning knitter wants to spend.
Small yarn shops can also be a great resource for help and many host regular knitting groups if you want to socialize and meet other knitters in your area.
While most of these stores will have a range of yarn to fit a variety of budgets, you will find much more expensive yarn and supplies than you might other places. Some new knitters have also had bad experiences going to local yarn shops and being looked down on. This kind of experience is becoming less and less common, but it still can unfortunately happen.
It is very fun to go to a local yarn shop and buy a super special skein of yarn, and it is always a good thing to support small, local businesses. But these stores are not right for every knitter, and you can become an expert knitter without ever stepping foot in one.
It is no surprise in this day and age that an ever-increasing market for yarn and other knitting supplies is online.
All of the major craft stores have online stores, and there are all kinds of things available on sites like Amazon.
For beginners, I always recommend looking at KnitPicks. Their stock strikes a good balance between quality and affordability. I have been using their products for years and never had an issue. My most used knitting needles are their interchangeable needles and I am currently using some of their yarn to finish a granny square blanket.
The internet is also a great place to find small indie diers from all over the world. Etsy and Instagram are great places to find these independent dyers. These yarns are on the more expensive end of things, but that is due to their high-quality fiber and intricate dying processes. Be sure to check them out if you want some truly special yarn.
One last place I love to find knitting supplies is at different events. Depending on where you live this can be a multiday fiber festival with classes, animals, yarn, fiber, and so much more.
You can also find yarn at craft fairs, farmers markets, state fairs, or even Renaissance fairs! Once you start looking for yarn you will see it everywhere.
My yarn isn’t in a ball! What do I do with it?
You may come across some beautiful yarn, but instead of it being in a ball it is twisted up. This twist of yarn is a hank. Before you can knit with it you will need to open it up and wind it into a ball.
If you bought your yarn from a local yarn store they may have a ball winder and swift set up to wind your yarn before you go home. If you don’t have that option, you can make a ball by hand.
First, untwist your hank so it is a circle of yarn (also makes a fabulous necklace). Then find something that will hold your circle of yarn so it won’t get tangled while you wind your ball. This can be the back of some chairs, another person’s hands, or even your own knees. Once you’ve found a way to hold your yarn you can wind it up into a ball by hand.
This will take a while but it is much nicer than trying to untangle all of your yarn. Trust me, it will get completely tangled if you try to knit directly from the hank.
How much does knitting cost?
Knitting can be a very expensive hobby, but it doesn’t have to be.
As you continue on your knitting journey you will find you need more supplies to knit the things you want:
- A variety of knitting needles for all occasions
- Small knitting needles for knitting in the round (either circular or DPN)
- Stitch markers
- Tapestry needles
- Cable needles
- Stitch holders
- Blocking mats and pins
- Knitting patterns
- Yarn, yarn, and more yarn!
Let’s take a look at each of these things and see how much it all costs (and what you really need).
A variety of knitting needles
There are a couple of ways you can go about building your knitting needle collection. You can buy needles as you need them or buy a set of needles in a range of sizes.
A pair of brand-new aluminum straight knitting needles in-store can cost $5 or less. There are sets of straight needles for under $10 in a range of sizes. Circular needles can cost a bit more but are more versatile in what they can make.
KnitPicks sells interchangeable knitting needle sets for as low as $50. Their needles have been my favorites for years.
Small Knitting needles
If you want to knit socks, you can get double-pointed needles. You can find a variety of options for a single-size set for around $10. If you need multiple sizes, you can get a good set for around $30.
For more intricate patterns, you will need stitch markers to keep track of your patterns. There is a mind-boggling selection of these. You can find some amazing and adorable options.
All you really need, however, is a set of simple locking stitch markers. You can use these like closed stitch markers to keep track of the stitches on your needles, or you can hook them onto a previously worked stitch. A pack of these costs about $5.
Tapestry needles are one of the most important things for a knitter to have in their arsenal. They are needles are blunt-tip needles, larger than most knitting needles. They are used to tuck in loose ends when you finish knitting. They are also essential for finishing hats and socks.
You will definitely want some tapestry needles in two or three sizes. Fortunately, these only cost a few dollars and you only need to buy them once.
If you want to knit beautifully cabled sweaters and hats you may want to get a cable needle or two. These aren’t strictly necessary when you knit cables, but if you are a new knitter you will likely find knitting cables a bit easier with a cable needle at first.
Cable needles are essentially double-pointed needles, shorter than you would find a knitting needle. These are used when you knit cables to hold live stitches while you move them around.
They come in three basic styles, a straight needle, a needle with a bump in the middle, and a U-shaped needle. One style isn’t better than the other, it just depends on what you prefer to work with.
You can easily find a set of these for under $5 in whichever style you prefer. Unless you lose your cable needles you should only need to buy these once.
Stitch holders are basically giant blunt safety pins that hold active stitches while you work on other parts of the projects.
They can be convenient, but you don’t actually need them. If you have a tapestry needle and a little extra yarn, you can pull that through the stitches instead.
If you decide to invest in interchangeable circular knitting needles you can use a spare cable and put stoppers on the end.
Blocking mats and pins
Blocking mats and pins are used to lay your knitting out nicely after you have finished knitting so that it is in the final shape you want.
Unless you are planning on knitting lace, these also aren’t necessary. The majority of blocking can be done on a carpet or some old towels. No need to get anything fancy before you absolutely need it.
If you do knit an intricate lace pattern and just can’t get it to block right, then you can look into mats and pins.
You will probably want some knitting patterns to follow, especially when you first start knitting. You can find free patterns through library books or individual patterns online. We’ll talk more about where to find patterns later on.
If you want to pay for patterns, you can expect to pay between about $20-30 for pattern books and about $2-7 for individual patterns, depending on how complicated they are.
There are so many free patterns available that you can knit for a lifetime and not run out!
Yarn, yarn, and more yarn!
The one thing you can’t avoid is the more you knit, the more yarn you need. Yarn prices vary widely, from a couple of dollars up to $80 or more for luxury yarns. The sticker shock is real the first time you see 100% cashmere yarn.
My best advice is to have a yarn budget that you stick to and buy yarn with a specific project in mind. There is a reason why people say buying yarn and using yarn are two different hobbies!
Knitting looks so complicated! What should I learn first?
Now that you know what you actually need to get started knitting, what do you need to know to get started?
There are three basic techniques you need to know first to start knitting. Casting on stitches, making knit stitches, and casting off your stitches.
Casting on stitches is the very first thing you do whenever you start a knitting project. It is basically making the first row of stitches. There are different techniques you can use to start a project. I always recommend long-tail cast-ons for beginners.
Check out this post to learn three easy cast on techinques to get started.
Knit stitches are the foundation of knitting. There are other basic stitches you will learn over time, but start with these. Once you can do knit stitches without thinking then you can start learning the rest.
To learn how to make a knit stitch, take a look here.
There are several different methods for knitting. The two most common are the English style and the Continental style, but there are others as well. With English style, you hold the working yarn with your right hand, with Continental style you hold the working yarn with your left hand. If you want to learn more about different knitting styles, be sure to check out this post.
Different styles work best for different people. Most new knitters will find one style or the other will click for them. One isn’t better than the other.
When you are first learning to knit is a great time to try both styles and see if one works better for you!
Casting off or binding off is how you finish your knitting so that your stitches don’t unravel when you take them off of your knitting needles.
Like casting on, there are a lot of different ways to cast on that give different results. Pick one to try and see what you think! At first, as long as everything stays knitted without a knitting needle you’re doing great.
What should I knit first?
The very first thing you should make is just a flat-knitted piece of fabric. Cast on about 20 or so stitches and knit, knit, knit until your stitches are even and you are feeling confident in your knitting, then cast off those stitches.
Then look at what you made. Are your stitches uneven? Are they twisted? Did you cast off the same number of stitches as you cast on? If you notice any big issue, stop and try to figure out what happened and correct it. Then try again! It takes practice so don’t give up!
Once you feel like you have these three things you can try knitting something with purpose. Some great projects to start with are dishcloths (you’ll want some cotton yarn for this) or a nice simple scarf.
What else can I knit?
Once you get bored of only knitting you can start looking into other stitches. Learning the purl stitch (the backward knit) will open up a lot of fabric design options. Learning some decreases (like knit two together) and increases (like make one or yarn over) will let you make new shapes.
With the foundations in place, there is no end to the knitting projects you can do! Don’t be afraid to try new patterns and techniques. There is always something new to learn in knitting.
There is no limit to what you can knit: scarves, shawls, hats, sweaters, socks, skirts, mittens, blankets, stuffed animals, and so much more!
Where can I find knitting patterns?
Now that you know all the things you can do with knitting you may be wondering where to find knitting patterns.
As I mentioned earlier, the library is a great place to find knitting books. They usually have physical and digital books available to check out.
Most craft stores and LYS will have a pattern section, and sometimes vendors at events will have patterns as well.
My favorite place to browse knitting patterns is Ravelry. It has a huge archive of knitting and crochet patterns that you can filter a thousand different ways to find exactly what you are looking for. New patterns are added all the time.
Most of the patterns on Ravelry can be purchased online and there are a lot of patterns available for free!
Now you are ready to learn to knit!
These are all the things I was glad to know or wished I knew before I learned to knit. I hope this inspires you to start your own knitting journey!
If you want to learn more about knitting, click here.
Do you have any other knitting questions you’ve been too scared to ask? Let me know in the comments below and I’ll try to answer them!