Friday, November 19, 2010

Knitting for Not-Quite-Beginners!

A reader asks:

What would you suggest for someone who is just a bit too experienced to be called a beginner?

When you're learning to knit, I think a few skills are good to pick up early:
  • Knit.
  • Purl.
  • Cast on an edge that isn't too firm.
  • Cast off an edge that isn't too firm.
  • Knit in the round.

The first is kind of obvious.

Purl is the reverse of the knit stitch, the backside of the sweater you're wearing.

If you knit flat, every other row you're working on from the back side of the fabric, so you need purl to do the pretty flat stitch that makes the sweater you're wearing.

These are the only two real stitches in knitting; they can combine with a few fancy tricks to make bobbles and lace and all kinds of funky stuff, but that's later. Once you can stockinette, the interesting thing you can do is make ribbing.

Casting off and casting on an edge that is the right stretchiness for your product is the skill that makes the most difference between "Wow, neat sweater" and "Oh. You made me a sweater. I would wear it if I could fit my head through the hole." The usual cast ons and cast offs are very tight, and it's hard for beginning knitters to do them loosely. Especially if they're working ribbing, which is even stretchier than flat stockinette.

But nobody wants to sit around practicing cast ons and cast offs. The beginner trick is to do the same stitch you usually do, but use a bigger needle. You might have to practice once or twice to find out if you need a needle twice the size of your working needles, or just a little bigger, but that's a lot easier to figure out than maintaining the right amount of tension.

Finally, working in the round is the thing where you have to manage four double-pointed needles. It's hard to keep the stitches from falling off and it's hard to manage the transitions between needles and you feel like you need ten hands. But you're likely to find that halfway through your first hat, suddenly it all works. I usually keep those little rubber needle caps on all the ends of my needles that aren't currently handling yarn, so the stitches don't fall off and I always know where I am.

That's all background to what I think you were really asking, which was:

What should I make if I'm not ready to make a sweater but I already know how to make a scarf?

I think you should make something you would actually wear. That's the first thing. Use yarn you like to touch. The goal here is to get you to actually knit the thing, to get your speed up so you can see real progress being made, because you finished something! Yay!

I spent a season making winter hats for everyone. Other people make socks and more socks, but I find them a little fussy and get annoyed by having to make another one all over again once I finish the first. I also developed a quick and easy pattern for cat toys, which I could complete from cast on to cute eyes over the length of a Red Sox game.

You can experiment with different patterns and make more scarves, if you happen to enjoy scarves. They're slower than hats but easier to have something you can just take with you.

The other great not-quite-beginner project is to make a big warm afghan using bulky yarn on big needles. You'll still see rapid progress, but you'll be making something big and substantial.

You're probably not very consistent with tension yet, and the skills you need to fit something to a body are more advanced, so I recommend staying away from actual garments for a little while.

Except for baby clothes. Because if the baby sweater is the wrong size, the kid'll grow into it, or it'll go to the next kid, no problem. If it's some crazy mutant sweater, well, it's not like the baby will care, right? If it comes out really bad just knit on another three arms and claim you did it on purpose.  

Finally, if you're the kind of person who likes to hang out on websites with other people doing your hobby, join Ravelry.

1 comment:

  1. just knit on another three arms and claim you did it on purpose

    oh hell yeah.