Knitting! No, it isn't hard.
At its heart, knitting is a simple skill, that anyone can do. We know knitting dates back at least 800 years, and there is evidence that it was done well before then. Knitting is done with long needles - most commonly made of wood, or plastic or metal. Two needles are used for flat
knitting (like shawls, washcloths and scarves) and are also used to knit flat pieces that will be sewn together later.
Knitting can also be done, in the round
, either with a set of double ended needles (5 needles is most popular in this case) or with needles joined together with a cable, allowing you to knit a seamless tube, for socks, hats, mittens and gloves, sweaters (or jumpers for those in Europe) and stuffed animals.
Many knitters prefer to do their flat knitting with a pair of circular needles, turning the work is done the same as it is with 2 separate needles. These needles come in sizes that have different labels for size depending on where you live, but they can be amazingly tiny, with a width measured in millimeters, to as large a a turkey baster.
You start by casting on -
the cable cast on is my favorite.
Then one must start knitting. In this process, you pass the yarn through one of the loops you have made on one needle (usually held in the left hand), and transfer the new loops you have made to the other needle (usually held in the right hand.) If you are knitting flat, when you come to the end of your loops you switch which hand is holding which needle (called turning the work) and begin the next row. If you are knitting in the round, you just keep going around and around your knitting growing longer with each round. Most commonly, the needle with the loops is held in the left hand and the newly made loops are transferred to the right hand needle. Some left-handed people move the stitches in opposite direction, (from right needle to left needle); but most patterns are written for right-handed knitting, and knitting takes 2 hands. As Elizabeth Zimmerman says in Knitting Without Tears
, "They believe that because they write left-handed they should knit left handed too. (How they can operate a typewriter or a sewing machine, or a telephone has always baffled me)" So, when learning to knit, I recommend everyone learn with knitting from the left needle to the right, and avoid having to edit patterns to work for a reversed knitting technique.
Once one has cast on, the 2 main stitches are knit
, which is made on the side of the needle away from your body,
, which is made on the side of the needle closest to your body.
With these stitches you can get started on a basic pattern, such as The Big Beanie Hat
by Tamara Goff. The instructions are listed on Ravelry.com (you will need a membership to see it, but - don't worry - membership is free and so is the pattern)
You start in the round with an easy to repeat knit/purl pattern for a brim. Tamara recommends using a 16 inch circular needle: the 16 inches is the length of the cable, the needles are in addition to that length. After you finish the brim, you change to stockinette
(knit every stitch in the round) then decrease
and cast off
"It is some kind of miracle that all Knitting is constructed of only two stitches: knit and purl. Sure, you throw in some yarn overs, and sometimes you knit the stitches out of order, but when it really comes down to it, knitting is simplicity. The most incredible gosssamer lace shawl, the trickiest aran... a humble sock... each made with just knit and purl."
- Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, At Knit's End
Lace shawl - this has a lot of those yarn overs
Aran - where the stitches are knit out of order
These socks may look simple, but they have beautiful even construction
A few more common knitting terms that you will find in patterns:Right side
- The side of the knit work you want showing when you finish your work.Wrong side
- The side of the fabric that the general public will not see on your finished work. Stockingette
- Probably the most common finish for knitting, this makes a fabric that is a pattern of "vvvvvv" in interlocking rows on one side and a bumpy finish on the back side. It is done either by knitting in the round, and doing a knit stitch every stitch, or when knitting flat, knitting every stitch on the right side of the fabric, and purling every stitch on the wrong side. Garter
- This looks bumpy on both side, very similar to the wrong side on stockingette fabric. It is done by knitting every stitch when knitting flat, or alternating knit rows and purl rows when knitting in the round.Ribbing
- done with alternating knit and purl stitches, the Big Beanie Hat
pattern linked above is started with ribbing. Gage
- The amount of stitches and rows you have per inch. Depending on the size of the yarn, the size of the needle, what the yarn and needle are made of, and the tension of the knitter, gage can vary. Below is the same yarn, on the left on size 10 (American) metal needles, and then on the right on size 6 (American) plastic needles. Both pieces are 24 stitches wide and 24 rows tall. When knitting from a pattern, make sure your gage is the same as the pattern by knitting a test swatch with the yarn and needles you think you will use. If you have too many stitches and rows per inch, go with larger needles, and if you have too few, go with smaller needles. MC (Main color)
this is used in color knitting CC (Contrast color)
also a term you will see in color knitting. Most knitting that is done in color is done in 2 colors. It is more difficult to carry more than 2 colors around the work. In the work below, the main color and the contrast color were switched when the second glove was made.
There are several fabulous books about knitting, a few tutorials on DA, and do not neglect youtube.com for great hints tips and tricks on knitting. A word about yarn
Yarn comes in all qualities and textures. You can get yarn in most price ranges; but like other art supplies, your less expensive yarns tend to be lower quality. While I will not tell you to get the most expensive yarn out there to start, if you go to your local craft store looking to start knitting, remember the less expensive yarns will be more stiff and difficult to work with. Feel the yarns, get one that feels soft, squishy and pliable.
And then we come to finishing. This will involve running in the ends
on your yarn and blocking
. If you knit in wool, your project will need to be blocked to get it into shape. That is a process of taking a wet project, and pinning it to a surface (I have seen everything from beds, to products designed specifically for blocking) when you pin it, you stretch it to the shape and size the finished product should be, and then let it dry. Aggressive blocking can significantly change the shape of an all wool item. Acrylic does not block. You can "kill" the acryic, which is to say, expose it to heat so it gets limp, and that will give you a looser fabric, with more drape, but this will just loosen up the finished product. You can not change the basic shape of an item knit from acrylic.
People are knitting things to show their fandoms
To keep warm
and just for fun
So you can knit. Anyone can. Start simply, and add new skills one at a time.
Besides, SCIENCE says knitting is good for your brain! No, really, google it!
But remember "In the nineteenth century, knitting was prescribed to women as a cure for nervousness and hysteria. Many new knitters find this sort of hard to believe because, until you get good at it, knitting seems to cause those same ailments" - Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, At Knit's End
, so do not get frustrated that it takes time to learn. Take it slow, start simply and work your way up.