I’ve been knitting for such a long time that I honestly can’t remember being a beginner. Yet I see beginner knitters every day. Everyone here at Over The Rainbow Yarn hears the same comments and answers the same questions every day, from knitters in every skill level. I can confidently say that it is not the amount of time you’ve been knitting that separates beginner knitters from intermediate or advanced knitters. It’s not even lists of acquired skills, though those will play a part. The real, secret dividing threshold between beginner knitters and the whole knitting universe is not what you know, but knowing how to find out.
Whether you’re a beginner knitter or more advanced, I want to let you in on the real secrets of knitting. Here they are, my Top 10 Secrets Fro Beginner Knitters (and others):
It’s not as hard as you think. Really. Keep in mind that knitting was something our foremothers taught to their 4 year old boys and girls to keep their hands busy while they were doing other things. Little one of 4 years often have a hard time dressing themselves and can rarely tie their own shoes. But, in the Scottish highlands and the Dutch lowlands, in German and Peruvian households, they learned how to knit. They didn’t start out knitting fancy, complicated things, but they could form knit and purl stitches and that’s really all there is. If you dressed yourself or tied your own shoes this morning, you’ve already done something harder, more complicated that knitting. If you drive a car, even an automatic, you’re already doing something waaaay harder than knitting. If you drive a stick…well, you’re getting my drift. If it seems hard, you’re think too much. Relax, let it flow. And remember, it’s just pulling one loop through another loop. that’s all there is to it.
Taking a live class can be invaluable. There are lots of things you can learn from books, or internet tutorials or videos. Believe it or not, I recommend both resources to most of my students. I also know that any teacher worth her salt will tell you more than you bargained for just through conversation. She will also be able to watch exactly what you are doing and know what’s happening with your hands, your needles, your yarn, your stitches and your mood…which is more than can be said for generic books, tutorials and videos. They have their place, but they don’t take the place of a live teacher, in a class setting or one on one.
The LYS is your BFF. There is more accumulated knowledge in the heads and hearts of the folks in your local yarn shop that you’ll find any place else in the knitting universe. Odd bits of trivia or half remembered insights can make all the difference between success and failure. The worthy LYS denizens can help you read a ball band, make yarn substitutions with confidence, find pattern errata, choose needles, fix mistakes, choose projects to fit your skills or your holiday gift list, and a million other things you and I haven’t even thought of, yet. They are usually tireless evangelists who want you to flourish in your knitting life. They will also get to know you and remember which kinds of needles you prefer and that your nephew has red hair and so doesn’t look good in certain shades of orange. They’ll become your go-to resource for everything and they’ll make you a better knitter.
The online knitiverse can be fabulous…or gawdawful. The explosion of online resources has changed the knitting landscape, no doubt about it. There are so many wonderful ways to use this incredible resource that it can be shocking when you run across bad information. Yes. It’s true. While a great, huge quantity of stuff you will find online will be great, some of the stuff will be bad. Use the internet, of course, but use your head as well. And refer to #3.
Needles and yarn matter. So do all the tools, materials and gear you’ll begin to acquire. You may be tempted to get the cheap stuff to start with…you know, to practice on. And I’m not suggesting that you look for the most expensive tools and materials you can find. Keep in mind, though, that the quality of your materials and tools will have in an impact on the quality of your knitting experience and the quality of your finished product. Cheap yarn can split and make your knitting experience very unpleasant, indeed. Needles in the wrong finish can cause gauge issues and make your knitting too tight or too loose. Go with things that feel good in your hands, in colors and finishes that are simple but that inspire you. Again, refer to #3
Read. Read ball bands, and shelf tags. Read your pattern all the way through before you begin. Read books and reviews and threads on online forums. Read magazines and anything else you can get your hands on. It’s the easiest way to immerse yourself in knitting culture, learn the lingo and begin to find your place in it. Most of all, read your knitting. Watch what is actually happening in the graceful three-way dance between your hands, your needles and your yarn. It will help keep you from making mistakes
Patterns are like recipes. While you’re learning, you want to follow along pretty closely, but there is nothing magical about a pattern. It’s one person’s idea of how to get a thing done. Like a good recipe it may yield consistent results, but it may also be a good jumping off place for experimentation and improvisation. If you approach patterns with a, “What if…?” perspective, you won’t need to become dependent on them in later times.
You don’t have to finish what you started. You’ll start a lot of things. And some of them will get less and less enjoyable as you go along. If knitting is supposed to be relaxing, or creative, or joyful, or whatever you’re hoping that knitting will be, why would you want to saddle yourself with something you’re not enjoying? Some of the things you start from patterns will not be turning out the way you expected them to. See #4. Why would you want to finish something that’s not right? Sometimes wool fumes or sale signs get to the best of us, and we find ourselves 6 inches into some fuzzy, sparkly acid yellow thing that seemed like a good idea at the time. Then we wake up and, like the sailor on shore leave who wonders just who Leon is and why the new tattoo in his backside says, “I love you, Leon” …well, the less said about that the better. The point is, life is too short to knit ugly. If you don’t love it, you don’t have to finish it.
Don’t let anyone tell you you’re doing it wrong. The way you hold your needles, the way you hold your yarn, the way you count your stitches or rows, the way you cast on, or bind off, or make cables, or yarn overs…well, some folks have very strong opinions about how you should be doing all these things and an uncountable lot more. And some of them won’t be shy about telling you about their opinions. Remember that they are opinions, not facts. If you are coming out with fabric you like at the end, you are doing it right. Smile serenely and knit on with confidence. If you are not coming out with fabric that you like in the end, see #3 and #8.
You’re doing better than you think. Here’s the biggest secret of all; there is no secret. If you can make a knit stitch and purl stitch, that’s all there is to know. You can spend the rest of your life learning new ways to arrange these two stitches, but there is no chamber of wisdom where you will be inducted into the mysteries of intermediate mastery or advanced arcana. Knit. Purl. That’s all there is, and you’re doing fine.