Multitasking, that is. Despite my efforts at making the most of my free time by knitting and reading simultaneously, I have merely succeeded in confirming that multitasking is inefficient and leads to errors. I measured my work; I was just about at the point to start adding the letter H to my first Harry Potter sweater when a mistake caught my eye. I’d managed to pick up an extra stitch on one end. After counting my stitches it turns out that I had in fact managed to pick up two extra stitches. Enter a brief mental struggle over whether to fudge it by knitting a couple sets of stitches together and be bothered by the error every time I looked at the thing, or rip a couple inches and do it right. I ripped it. It was painful. Lesson learned. I suppose I’ll finish this sweater eventually; it seems to be taking forever. It’s probably a mark of my generation that I so greatly prefer projects done with bulkier yarn and bigger needles. If not instant, gratification that comes at least a bit faster is so nice.
I started learning to knit on squares of a sampler afghan. It taught me the basics, but truthfully didn’t inspire any love of the craft. I don’t know if I’ll ever finish enough squares to put together an afghan. Perhaps one day I’ll finish off my squares enough to give them to the girls for doll blankets. Around Christmastime last year, I completed my first “real” project: a grey Mistake Rib scarf in a so-soft baby alpaca yarn.
This was the project that finally made me love to knit. The pattern had just enough interest for my level of experience and it went quickly. This was also my first time knitting with bamboo needles and I’ll never go back to metal ones if I can help it. More than anything else, the quality of the yarn made it a really enjoyable experience.
Once I had that project under my belt, the next thing I managed to complete was a pair of hats and ponchos for the girls’ American Girl dolls.
These projects had more interest and challenge to them in the way of increases, decreases, and seams. My confidence soared and I felt ready to take on anything. I knew what I needed to finish next. A project I’d begun well before I was really ready for it, so it hadn’t gotten far. A hat: for a dear friend who loves hats. Before I knew it, I felt like a pretty solid knitter, ready to take on the Starghan baby blanket and a whole lot of other projects for Christmas.
I have learned so much in my year of knitting, both technically and in broader terms, so what follows is a sampling of advice I’d give to a novice knitter.
1. Don’t Be Afraid of Patterns.
I used to get really freaked out when I looked at patterns. They would scare me away if they were too long, or if I spotted a stitch I didn’t know. Once you know how to knit and purl, you can figure out the rest. Take it stitch by stitch and row by row. If you run into a stitch you don’t know, look for an instructional video online and watch it a few times.
2. A few extra items in your knitting bag will make life easier and maybe save you from a moment of panic.
A crochet hook for picking up dropped stitches, scissors and a yarn needle for finishing, and a tape measure for checking your progress are essentials you’ll want to keep nearby. You’ll learn that dropped stitches aren’t a big deal, but you don’t want to have to go searching for a crochet hook to fix it.
3. Get the good yarn.
It doesn’t have to be a yarn made from a luxury fiber, but a high quality yarn makes a huge difference in both the outcome of the project and the pleasure of knitting it. Dealing with split threads or an unpleasant texture is not good incentive to pick up that project. You’ll be so much happier with the finished product if it’s made with a good yarn, too. Support your local yarn shop instead of the chain craft stores – you’ll find better yarns there and help a local businessperson.
4. Get the good needles while you’re at it.
Wooden needles are so much more pleasurable to work with than metal ones. The feel, the sound, the way the yarn slips over them – the whole experience is improved. Especially when working on double pointed needles, I would recommend wood. It’s much easier to drop stitches off the ends of the metal double pointed needles.
5. All you need is love.
Choose projects you love, yarn that feels good in a color you enjoy, and knit for people you love. Motivation guaranteed!
6. Just keep knitting!
The hardest thing about when you first start is that you don’t know how to “read” your work. Sometimes, you’ll know you’ve made a mistake, but you don’t have a clue what you did or how to fix it. The more you knit, the more you understand how it works and you learn to read the pieces. I have a much greater understanding than I did a year ago of how to both avoid and fix various problems that occur. It’s all a matter of experience.
I would like to add to all of this the caveat that I’ve only been knitting for a year. Like Jon Snow, I probably know nothing.