How To Teach Someone To Knit

You probably won’t be surprised that we do a lot of teaching people how to knit around here, because it’s as simple as learning contraction words in english grammar. From the very beginner novice who is learning how to form a knit stitch to the advanced expert trying to wrap her head around decreases in the middle of a cable in single pass two color brioche in the round. And if you don’t know anything about the second category, don’t worry; there’s time. There are also a lot of resources in books and on the internet, so if you want to learn on your own and can absorb information that way, more power to you. If you look around, you’ll find that not only are styles changing, and pattern and knitting styles right along with them, teaching styles are changing, too.

You may have already heard me say it, but I’ll say it again anyway. I learned to knit when I was seven and how to crochet when I was nine. And I had my first student when I was nine. In the intervening 40-mumble years, I have at least dabbled in every other string craft you or anyone else has ever heard of, and some you probably haven’t. I’ve also always approached these crafts with an eye to teaching them some day. So believe me when I tell you, I’ve taught some people how to knit. And I’ve taught some people how to teach knitting.

Of course, just as you are the boss of your teaching just as much as you are the boss of your knitting, so you will adapt and develop your own skills if you go in for teaching. But today, I’m here to give you some tips on how to help your students to be successful right out the gate.

• First, where to start.

Though most books and video tutorials start with casting on, I start with forming a knit stitch. Whether you knit English or Continental, it is far easier to form a knit stitch than it is to put the stitches on the needle in the first place. In fact, I have a “Learn To Knit In Five Minute Or Less” guarantee which is successful because I cast on for them and start with simple knit stitches. It usually takes significantly less than five minute. In fact, it usually takes about 90 seconds and people are amazed that they are actually doing it so quickly. Also, when it comes time to cast on, it’s simpler because you can tell your student that casting on is just the same as knitting except that you do it off your finger instead of another needle. By then, they have the concept of pulling a loop through a loop and some muscle memory in their hands. Everything else in knitting is based on the knit stitch and everything else in knitting can be referenced to the knit stitch. So that’s where I start. My learning sequence goes…

  1. Knit stitch
  2. Casting on
  3.  Purl stitch
  4. Binding off

Second, English vs Continental.

Most of us have a default style. Many of us can use either style.You’ll hear experts say that there are advantages and disadvantages to either style. You’ll hear claims that Continental is faster and looser than English, or that English is easier to learn and has better tension control. Bosh. I’m going to state here and now that knowing how to do both, and variations on both, will help you in a lot of ways in the long run, and I may write another blog post on that topic alone. For now, there is no need to worry when you are teaching a beginner. Just go with your default style. It will be easier for you to teach, and easier for your student to understand what you say, if you don’t load them down with choices, right off the bat. If you know how to knit in both styles, and your student seems to be struggling with whichever one you started with, you can try them on the other style. But don’t fret about it if you only know one style. One is plenty to start with. Both you and your student can practice patience and perseverance and it will come out alright.

• Third, Flat vs In The Round. 

For most of the time I have been teaching, I’ve started with flat knitting. Some of that has to do with my decided preference for straight needles over circular. I find that straight needles do not fatigue my hands as much as circulars, and I have better tension control with my straights. Recently, however, I ran across a book by Susan B. Anderson titled Kid’s Knitting Workshop.  I actually highly recommend that yoiu use the same teaching techniques with adults that you would with children, and I’m adding this book to my own teaching tool box. Susan starts with knitting in the round. It makes a certain amount of sense. If you cast on for them and join in the round for them, they can make a successful hat with nothing more than the knit stitch. Also, if they start right away working in the round, they will not be intimidated when they come to switching techniques. Too many people are intimidated by the joining bit and shy away from hats, mittens, socks and sweaters because they think it’s mysterious and somehow harder than working flat. On the other hand, there’s something to be said for the small success and rewards of finishing a row. Beginners especially need to have small goals in order to feel like they’re making progress. Coming to the end of a row can serve as a frequent, tangible sign that they are advancing. Like with choosing a style, though, it’s going to be easier for both you and your student if you work with the tools you are most familiar and comfortable with. There’s always time to learn more techniques.

• Fourth, Process Knitters vs Product Knitting

Knitters fall into two personality categories; Product Knitters and Process Knitters. (A cute blog post about it on Twist collective and be found here.)Some folks knit because they like to have knitted things. Some folks like to knit because they like to knit. To use an analogy, some folks get in the car and drive to a destination. They use the car as a tool to get where they’re going. Other folks, get in the car and go for a drive. They have no destination in mind and use the car as a tool for the experience of moving through space. Product Knitters want to make a thing. They want that thing and they want to be the one who knits it. Process Knitter want to knit. They want the feel of yarn in their hands, the excited neurons in their brains or the sense of calm that comes over them when they pick up their needles. Product Knitters want to start with a project. They want to knit a scarf, or a hat, or a washcloth. They are also more likely to be nervous about making mistakes. Product knitters want to practice for a while before they commit to a first project. They are interested in learning how to fix mistakes, but don’t worry so much about imperfections. You’ll know, probably even before you start, which type of student you have. Product Knitters won’t care so much about what kind of yarn or needles you tell they to start with. They will actually ask you, “What am I gong to make?” Process Knitters will fall in love with a particular yarn, either the color or the feel. They may also want to do their learning on less important yarn before moving to the yarn that inspired them in the first place. No matter which category your student falls into, don’t try to change them. They’re the boss of their own knitting, even if they’ve never knit a stitch. Just go with their process. You’ll both be happier for it.

Beyond that, just go with the flow. Share your knowledge and skills, but don’t insist on your student learning to do everything exactly the way you do it. Instead, let them find their own preferences and ask questions at their own pace, you’ll both be successful. 

Written by mim


10 Comments on “How To Teach Someone To Knit

  1. I have a friend who wants me to teach her to knit and I didn’t know where to start. Your advice is wonderful and your guidance will get us there. Thank you, Mim.

  2. You are very welcome, Kathy. I’m a fiber evangelist and I want to convert the whole world to the way of knitting. I’m delighted that you’re going to teach your friend. Mim

  3. Thanks Mom! I teach knitting the way you do. People want to knit-so teach that! Cut to the chase. The sky’s the limit after that! Want to make a sweater?

    • Cut to the chase, indeed, Jeanne. I’m going to start using that phrase, since it’s what I mean, too. I’m betting you are a good teacher. Mim

  4. Thanks for this great post! And for reminding us that we’re the boss of how we knit and teach. I’ve felt slightly “guilty” teaching someone to knit before they learn to cast on, but they have so much more fun that way! I also love the idea of starting with a hat. Putting a stitch marker at the beginning of the round lets them count rows without having to turn.

    • Never feel guilty about that, Pinky. I’m in total accord. They want to learn to knit, so cut to the chase…is a great way of putting it. Mim

  5. Hey cool, I have several children I will be teaching this winter. This is terrific help. Hoping you are well and happy! bg

    • Well and happy indeed, Bridget. Teaching kids is so rewarding, and it’s easier than teaching adults. Kids are so much less fearful that they are going to make a mistake. Send us some photos of you and your students. I’d love to do a follow up post. Mim

  6. 😊 Thank you for getting my husband started. I have been able to teach him what he needs as we go along. We are still knitting together. See you next summer on the Riggins.

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