Knitting Tips and Tricks

In my last Did you know? post some of you left comments saying that you'd given up on learning how to knit. It's also the topic I get the most emails about! So I thought it might be fun and helpful if I shared some of the tips and resources I've accumulated in the years that I've been knitting. I hope it helps you rekindle your love affair with knitting (or maybe it'll start one!).

1. The book.
First things first, you're going to have to learn the basics of knitting. When I first attempted to teach myself how to knit, I picked up a junky little kit from Walmart that had these crazy grandma sweater patterns, and reallllllly terrible instructions. It was too technical and too under-explained for me to understand, so I gave up. Fast forward a few months, I discovered the book Stitch 'n Bitch by Deb Stoller (of BUST magazine fame). I couldn't have been more satisfied with a knitting book! She explained things clearly, and in terms I could understand! And there were diagrams! Cute diagrams! I highly recommend using this book as your starting point. The patterns aren't all the most *fashionable* things out there, but they're awesome for learning the basics.

2. The videos. Even with the amazing instructions that Stitch 'n Bitch provided, there were some things that I just couldn't figure out without seeing it (I did my purl stitch backwards for the first few days.... ok months!). I stumbled across knittinghelp.com and could not have asked for anything better! They have tons of videos that show you different techniques, in English and Continental (I'm an English girl :P). I still refer to this when I have a brainfart and can't remember how to do a kitchener stitch or turn a heel.

3. The website.
After a few months of knitting, I heard about this site called Ravelry. When I learned about it, it was still in beta testing, so you had to wait for your invitation. Since then, it's opened up to regular sign-up, so now you can just register and log in! It's an AWESOME tool for any knitter or crocheter. It's half social-networking site and half help forum. You have a profile, and you can upload information about your projects, as well as catalog your yarn stash, find patterns to suit ANY need, and don't forget the forums! There's groups for just about any type of person, but the ones that are super helpful cater to newbies who need help. You can search through previously asked questions to try to find an answer, or start a new thread and some awesome experienced knitters will come to the rescue!

4. The tips. I've come up with a few tips and tricks that might help you out a little. These are just things I've found have helped me over the years :)
  • It's easiest to start learning by using bulky weight yarn (the thick stuff!), big needles (size 13 -15), and your needles should be bamboo. Bamboo needles are less slippery, so there's less of a chance of your stitches dropping off. Bigger needles and bulky yarn make it easier for you to see exactly what you're doing, plus your fabric will knit up quicker, so it's quicker gratification (and hopefully seeing the progress you've made will make it harder for you to get discouraged!). 
  • Count your stitches often. Unless you mean to increase or decrease your stitches, you want to have the same amount throughout your project. If you're knitting a scarf, and you started with 15 stitches, you want to end with 15! It's easy to drop stitches, or (especially when starting a new row) accidentally turning one stitch into two. If you end up with more or less than you started with, you know you messed up somewhere along the line. 
  • If you find that straight knitting needles are too awkward to use, try to find a different length. You can usually find knitting needles between 10 and 16 inches in length. If it still doesn't work for you, try using circular needles. I strictly use circular needles, even to knit flat pieces. Circs are typically used to knit tubes, like hats or sleeves, by joining the first cast on stitch with the last to make one spiraling tube. But, instead of joining the first and last stitch, you can knit across your row and just flip your project over to work back across them. You need to make sure the length of the cord between the two needles is long enough to reach comfortably. If you're serious about it, you can look into buying an interchangeable needle set. I have both a Denise set, and an aluminum KnitPicks set. I prefer the KnitPicks ones now, but when I was just starting I loved my Denises. 
  • KnitPicks is a great resource for nice yarn that's inexpensive. Sometimes when you work with cheap acrylic (like Red Heart), it can be discouraging because your work ends up feeling like something your grandma made in 1974. There are TONS of nice brands of cheap(er) acrylic yarn that are readily available. Lion Brand yarn is pretty nice, especially Vanna's Choice (seriously, Vanna White has a yarn line!). It comes in really pretty modern colors. If you have a yarn shop near you, check out Cascade 220. It's a 100% wool yarn that comes in a zillion different colors, and it's pretty affordable (it should be between $6 and $8 for 220 yards). 
  • Check out your local yarn shop. The ladies (or gentlemen) there should be willing to help you with anything you need. Sometimes they try to steer you into signing up for classes, which you might consider. These are usually small independent stores, so you don't want to take advantage of their services. But more than likely, they'll be willing to help out a new customer! 
I hope you'll find something useful here! I'm always willing to help out if you have questions, although I'm no expert :) Let me know if any of this is especially helpful, or if you have a tip or trick of your own, feel free to leave it in the comments! 

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  1. Yeah girl! (hahaha, you should have known I was gonna comment on this post!) You covered it all in this one!

    Stitch and Bitch is what got me knitting again when I was 16, after first learning when I was 11. That book is awesome, have you seen her new one about sweater design and construction? Oh yes, yes yes.

  2. I'm not a knitter, but I do want to point out to all the wanna-be crocheters out there that Stitch & Bitch also makes a totally awesome Crochet book! I learned how to crochet with the help of their book, and I've made a couple of the patterns. And right now I'm tackling a blanket for my MIL. I wish I could knit, too, but crocheting is way easier for me. Stitch & Bitch ROCKS.

  3. Great recommendations, Susannah. Thanks for suggesting Vanna's Choice! We work hard to help out beginner knitters and crocheters. I have a few other recommendations for beginners who are reading here:
    - Use a lighter colored yarn so that you can see your stitches. If you're using a color-changing or variegated yarn, make sure that the color pattern doesn't obscure your work.
    - Avoid heavily textured yarns until you've figured out the basics. While the yarn texture can help hide mistakes, you won't be able to see what you're doing wrong!
    - Keep your first piece of knitting! This serves as a reminder of how much you've improved.

    I hope that helps some beginners! I enjoy reading your blog, and it's been nice connecting with you on Twitter!

    Jess H.
    Lion Brand Yarn

  4. I cannot tell you how happy i am that you made a post like this! i have been on the look out for a true beginner's tips and tricks article for ages and could never find anything that made me feel confident enough to try it out. yours does!!

    i especially enjoyed the tips about yarn weight and which needles worked best for you and WHY. love this. love love love.

  5. I learned to crochet around 7 or 8 years old but failed miserably at knitting (books, being taught by friends/family) until I was in my 20s and picked up that exact Stich n Bitch book. I've been knitting for around 6 years now and I am completely obsessed; it's become a big part of how I identify myself: I'm a Knitter. Also, I've made some of the most incredible friendships through knitting and teaching at my local yarn shop!! You made some great suggestions -- hopefully it'll inspire more people to pick up the hobby!!

  6. I love that you knit! I'm more of a crochet girl, but I would love to get better at knitting. I need to practice!

    Katie x

  7. I loved my Stitch n' Bitch book. It got misplaced in one of my moves but now I think I may have to pick up a used copy!


Hey there! Thanks so much for your comment! I read every one I get, and I try to reply as much as I can. You can also email me if you want! susannahbean AT gmail DOT com.

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