20 July 2010

In which I try to inspire new knitters

**I asked my friend, Peggy, to help me write this post. She is a much more experienced knitter than I am so if you don't believe me, maybe you can believe her. Her thoughts are in red.**

Ever since I started talking more about knitting on my blog, I have gotten lots of emails and formspring questions from new knitters and people who want to be new knitters. I love it! Your questions are always welcome here. My most frequently asked question comes from knitters who have already learned the basics and want to know the next step. This is what I would like to address today.


You've already learned that my favorite first-time knitting project is a dishcloth so I don't need talk about it again. (Except that seriously, they're fast, easy, non-technical, useful, okay enough.) But when it comes to a second and a third project, I hesitate to make too many suggestions because of one crucial thing: Your next project has to be inspiring. It has to be something you WANT to knit. What would you like to accomplish with your knitting? Do you want to be able to make small gifts for your friends? Decorations for your home? A sweater for yourself? Or do you just want to have something to do with your hands while you watch Arrested Development and don't care at all about what you make? (If that last one is the case then I'm going to throw the dishcloth suggestion out there one more time.) These are the questions that will guide you as you choose your next project, and the project after that, and the project after that.

What to tackle after a washcloth is a difficult question because it totally depends on what avenue you'd like to explore. Texture/Fancy Stitching? Lace? Hats? Sweaters? Blankets? Toys? Cabling? Felting? Soakers? Fair Isle? It really comes down to what inspires you, because you can find easier and harder patterns in all those categories.

Okay. So when you know what it is that you want to knit, you can search for a pattern that meets your criteria. This is where Ravelry is going to be your BFF. You can search for patterns on Ravelry and narrow your search by technical level. Many of Ravelry's patterns are free or available for download and you can see pictures of the finished product. Even better, you can see all of the other people who have knit the same pattern to see how it looks with different colors, yarn weights, and skill levels. (Pssst....if any of you need a tutorial for using Ravelry, let me know.) This has made such a difference in my knitting. In fact, I'm a little bitter I didn't have Ravelry when I first started. Instead, I felt like I was limited to pattern books and random internet searches. I spent a lot of time sorting through some horrible patterns because, let's face it, for every great knit item there is in the world there is an equal or greater number of knit items that are truly horrible. But no worries for you! Now you can browse patterns to your heart's content and only knit cute things all of the time! Plus! The novelty yarn craze that was in full swing when I started knitting has passed! Thank heavens.

I think it's more important to pick a pattern you're excited about than it is to pick one for "a beginner." With all the how-to videos at your fingertips, it's pretty safe to jump in. Of course, it's always nice to know what you're getting yourself into, so if you read through the pattern and don't understand something, it is a good idea to figure it out before you start.
Perhaps it's more important to choose a well-written pattern than a pattern for beginners. I always recommend Susan B. Anderson's patterns. She has three excellent books primarily for children and many patterns for adults on her blog (susanbanderson.blogspot.com) and her other blog (http://www.spudandchloe.com/blog/). Some designers make too many assumptions, but I've found that Susan explains things really well. In addition to that, she is very accessible if you have questions.

Maybe now you're thinking, "Fine, Miranda and Peggy. That's great advice but it doesn't change the fact that I paid a lot of money for this yarn and I don't want to ruin it or make something that I won't like." Good point. I think the biggest hurdle that new knitters have to jump is fear. Fear that you will mess up, fear that your end product will look like crap, or fear that you will bite off more than you can chew. All of those things will probably happen. But that is what learning new things is all about right? You rarely ever do something perfect when you're learning and knitting is no exception. After the dishcloth days I went through a phase of downright crappy knitting. I made a baby hat that was acceptable and fit le bebe for almost a week. Then I made a hat for N8tron that didn't fit at all because I used the wrong weight yarn. Then there were some attempts at lace knitting that ended in a Tazmanian Devil type fit with pieces of mohair strewn about the house. My knitting got put away for a while. But when I started up again when I was pregnant with Z-cakes, things were much better. Now I had a baby to knit for! I had Ravelry! I had an inspiring yarn shop mere miles away! I had tons of inspiration and wasn't afraid of what could go wrong anymore.

Peggy's first knitting project was a fair isle sweater in-the-round which, okay, THAT is probably not the best project for a beginning but anyway...

Don't be afraid to try a pattern that inspires you, and don't be afraid to make mistakes. In fact, a very important knitting skill is being able to fix mistakes. When I picked up knitting again after a few years, I completed several projects before I discovered that I was knitting wrong. I'd been knitting through the back of the loop on every stitch, which resulted in twisted stitches.

There's no shame in frogging (that means unraveling the entire thing) a project or deciding to move on to something else (for a while or permanently) if you're not enjoying yourself.

Enjoy knitting. That is the most important thing about knitting. Once you've gotten through the initial tension of learning, put up an inspiration board, find your favorite spot, and knit whatever you want.

Hope this helps! Keep your questions coming and happy knitting. Also, if you are a knitter PLEASE add your own words of inspiration. I'd love to hear them! Thanks for your help, Peggy! You are my knitting idol.



paws said...

I'm so honored to have my words end up on your blog, which I always enjoy reading. Nice new header, too!

dw said...

Absolutely. 100%. Couldn't have said it better. If anyone is interested in tackling a kid's sweater as a second (post garter stitch scarf) project, I put together a detailed tutorial on my blog. It will help you learn to read patterns and walks you through the steps. I used the Child's Placket Neck Sweater, by Joelle Hoverson.

How's that for shameless self promotion, M? Hope you don't mind me hijacking your blog!

Hannah said...

alright. I've seriously been too scared to knit since the washcloth. You've inspired me. I'm going to start that scarf.

Suzanne said...

I highly suggest baby things as an early knitting project. They're generally pretty easy, don't take a huge yarn investment and are FAST which I found to be super important in keeping me from getting frustrated with my knitting. I am in fact only just knitting my first adult sized garment now after almost a year of knitting practically every day.

Oh! And! If you can find a local yard store with a super helpful staff and nice comfy seating GO THERE and knit! One of my BFF's has a shop where she will walk you through every single step, from picking a pattern to the right yarn to seaming at the end and it is PRICELESS to have her.

Great advice, all around!

Greeneyes said...

You just may have encouraged me right into a new attempt...

Although I'm pretty sure I'll be doing some verbal fragging as I'm frogging.

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