Part 1 – What you need to know to get started.
Many people say that a crafter is only as good as his tools. I don’t know if that’s true but I do know that choosing the right tool for the job makes the job a lot easier. When choosing your knitting needles there are a lot of things to take into consideration. We are going to talk about circulars, straights and dpns. We will also talk about the differences between metal, wood, and plastic. We’ll talk about needle tips as well. And last but not least, we will talk about how to choose the right needles for the job.
Circular, Straight or DPNs
Let’s first talk about needle shapes. Circulars, straights and dpns. Circular needles consist of 2 shorter needles connected by a cable. They are used for knitting in the round and for knitting back and forth as if they were straights. Circular needles come in a wide price range. The difference will be the cable in between them. The cheaper the price, the more likely you are to fight with a stiff cable that wants to curl up around your work while you knit. Straight needles are just as they sound, 2 straight sticks for knitting back and forth. dpn stands for double pointed needles. They are usually shorter than straights. They have points on both ends and are used for knitting in the round or knitting that requires you to work from both ends without turning, such as icord.
Why can’t I pick up my yarn without splitting it?
All knitting needles will have one of two types of tips. They will either be blunt which is good for most knits that are dk (double knit) weight or higher. Or they will be sharp which is intended for lace or knitting with finer weight yarns such as fingering or sock weight. With modern technology, you can now get blunt or sharp tipped needles in both wood and metal.
Some yarns are just going to split no matter what you do. Be aware when you purchase it, if it isn’t plied (twisted) tightly, splitting is going to be an ongoing issue with it. Know with that yarn that blunt needles simply won’t work and you’ll still need to work carefully with the sharp tipped needles. Finer weight yarns are usually plied tightly but you still need the sharp tipped needle to get under it without damaging the yarn.
Will that be plastic, metal, or wood?
Not all needles are created equal. Nor do they cost equally. Plastic needles are usually the cheapest unless you find some incredible resource online. They usually have blunt points and they work best with yarns that are smooth and slippery. They don’t work well with eyelash yarns or fine yarns. Metal needles work best with yarns that want to grip your knitting sticks. An example will be eyelash yarns, boucles, and fine yarns. Metal needles come with both blunt and sharp tip. Wood needles also come in a wide range of price brackets. They include woods such as bamboo, rosewood, ebony, and blondwood. They come with blunt and sharp tips. Wood has some benefits that the others do not. Many people with arthritis and other joint ailments can work easier and with less pain with wood needles. If your dog or cat happens to chew up the tip, you can repair it. It will be a little shorter than the other one but will still work. Wood needles work best with slippery yarns. They grip the yarn just enough to keep them from easily sliding off.
So many needles, so little time!
When choosing which needle to buy for your project you will first take into consideration the size mentioned on the pattern. Next you will take into consideration the recommended needle size found on the ball band. This is not written in stone. It is a suggestion only. But starting from there, you will consider the type of fabric you want to make. Looser, drapier fabrics will need a larger needle and denser thicker fabric will need a smaller needle. You will also take into consideration when choosing needle size whether you knit tight or loose. If you tend to knit tighter, you will use a larger needle and if you knit looser and need a denser fabric, you will choose a smaller needle.
You will decide the needle type and the tip style based on the project at hand. Are you knitting in the round or do you simply want to be able to wad your knitting up and stick it in your purse? Are you knitting lace scarf or are you knitting a hat? You will probably choose cables or dpns if you are knitting socks or mittens.
The last thing when choosing your needles, what kind of yarn are you using? Do you have a medical problem such as arthritis that requires a softer touch? This will help you to decide whether to buy plastic, metal or wood needles.
So much yarn, so little time!
Money can’t buy happiness but it can buy yarn and that’s almost the same thing. This is such a broad topic that I could not possibly cover it all here so I’m just going to go over a few basics such as weight, fiber and care.
In the not too distant past, yarn manufacturers began attempting to standardize yarn weights into a numbering system that is supposed to cross all nations and all companies. It doesn’t quite succeed but it has improved the system greatly. I found this chart on www.vogueknitting.com that covers not only the weights we are familiar with but also the new numbering system.
This chart will come in handy time and time again until you become familiar with all of the weights available. I still refer back to it as well. It helps me to know where I can substitute yarns.
Baa Baa Black Sheep, Have You Any Wool?
When you’re shopping for yarn, you’ll find that you have a huge variety of fibers to choose from. There are man made fibers such as acrylic and polyvicose and then the natural fibers like wool, cotton, silk, alpaca, etc. The list goes on and on. One of the first differences you’ll find is the price of these different fibers. Man made fibers tend to be less expensive than natural fibers. There are some key benefits to using natural fibers over man made fibers. They vary from one type of fiber to the other. Most animal fibers have “memory”. This means that you can block them and they will hold their shape until they’ve been rewetted. Animal fibers are great for cold weather areas because not only do they repel moisture but they trap body heat close to the body for extra warmth. Cottons, linens and silks, have no stretch to them at all. What ever shape you knit them into, that is what you get. The plant fibers and silk are cooler to wear and work well for hot climates.
This is the way we wash our clothes, wash our clothes, wash our clothes…
Man made fibers also tend to be easier to care for than natural fibers. It is important before you start your project that you are aware of the care instructions for your fiber and whether the person receiving your project will be able to care properly for it. Always check your ball band for care instructions. If you happen to be lucky enough to be knitting a hand-spun yarn, know what fiber it is and what you have to do to take care of it.
Which Way Did He Go?
Choosing a yarn is only hard if you have an unlimited budget. The pattern you are working with will usually recommend a type of yarn and tell you which yarn the demo was made from. When you are first learning to knit, it is important that you choose a yarn that is smooth and preferably worsted or aran weight. It is critical to learn what your stitches are supposed to look like so you can recognize if you’ve made a mistake. Fluffy yarns like eyelash, mohair, Lion Brand® homespun and boucles will hide the structure of the stitch and you will not know when you’ve made a mistake until it’s too late. Also, those yarns are hard to frog (rip it! rip it!)
*Kate’s note on frogging fuzzy yarns – When working with yarns that have a halo such as mohair or Lion Brand® Homespun, frogging can be a real problem because the fibers of the halo get tangled up with each other. To make this easier, stick the whole project into a Ziplock® bag and freeze it for a couple of hours and then work quickly to frog it while the fibers are still cold.
*Kate’s note on selecting a yarn for your project – When choosing yarn for a project, don’t just pick out a color. Other things you need to consider is the fiber. Some fibers have a natural elasticity and others don’t. This is especially important for projects that are knit with a negative ease. Negative ease is when a garment is knit too small but stretches to fit so that it will stay put, such as a hat (toboggan, toque, cap). Plant fibers like cotton and linen lack that natural elasticity. One fiber that is considered an animal fiber is singular in its lack of elasticity and that is silk. These fibers may be blended with another animal fiber to produce a slightly less elastic yarn. Does the recipient have a fiber allergy? A true wool allergy involves hives. Itching indicates a medium or coarse quality of wool. Another consideration for yarn choice is care. Is the item you are knitting something that is going to need to be washed vigorously such as baby clothes and blankets? If so, is the person receiving it going to have the time, energy and will to give it the special care? Is the yarn going to retain its looks after multiple washings? Will the yarn hold up to rough wear such as the heel of a sock? Is the yarn the right weight for your dream of the end result? Will the colorway of the yarn interfere with the stitch pattern? A general rule of thumb here is that complicated patterns look best in plain yarns and plain patterns look best in complicated colorways. An exception that works well either way is self striping yarn. These are just a few of the things to consider when shopping for a knitting project.
Obviously the first thing you need in your knitting tool kit are needles and yarn. Our first project is going to be fairly simple. We are going to learn to cast on, knit and cast off. For our first project you will need size 9 (5.5mm) knitting needles. You can purchase short circulars or straights. For this project I recommend metal but wood or plastic will also work well.
You will also need one ball of Sugar and Cream cotton yarn. Have you guessed it? We’re going to make a dish cloth.
There are some things you need in your knitting tool box that should be there all the time. Some are specialty items and some are not. You won’t use everything, every time.
- Scissors – you will always need scissors. The small sharp tipped ones are great for this kind of work.
- Tape measure – another one of those things you always need. A soft one that you can roll up or the self retracting kind are best.
- Stitch markers – don’t always need them but when you do, they make your life incredibly easier. Don’t get plastic if you can help it, they break easy. Two kinds, circular for sliding across the needles and clip on used for working with dpns or crochet. These clip onto the yarn itself.
- Knitting gauge – small ruler with needle gauge holes.
- Row counter – this is especially needed when making complicated patterns
- Yarn needle – always needed for finishing up. I like the steel needles with large eyes but the plastic ones are sufficient.
- Post it notes – I stick these to the pattern and make notes so I know where I’m at or what I need to pay attention to.
- Optional – knitting application for your phone, tablet or computer if you want to go tech savvy.
For our first project, you’ll need needles, yarn, scissors, yarn needle, and tape measure.
Part 2: Casting On
An old saying goes, there is always more than one way to skin a cat! I’m firmly against skinning cats and they don’t like it much either however, the saying is true in many things in life and casting on is one of them. I don’t profess to know all the ways of casting on but I know a few things about it.
When a project is planned, the cast on is very important. Do you want a decorative edge? Do you want a stretchy or firm edge? Do you want a temporary edge where you can come along later and pick up those stitches and knit into a different direction? It’s easy to see that the type of cast on that you use is very important. In this lesson I’m going to cover a few of these different cast on methods and let you know which one to practice for your first project tomorrow.
When you first read your pattern. It will often say “CO” followed by a number. “CO” means cast on. This is your first knitting abbreviation. You don’t have to worry about memorizing every knitting abbreviation. Anything outside the standard ones will include detailed instructions on how to create that stitch.
Long tailed cat!
The most commonly used cast on is the long tailed cast on. Back to skinning the cat, there is more than one way to do this. The long tailed cast on gives a firm edge and is used for edges that do not need to be stretched when you put them on or for edges of blankets, dishcloths, towels, pillows, etc. This is the cast on that you will want to practice for tomorrow’s project. The next video is the way that I first learned to do the long tailed cast on.
This method is called the thumb cast on.
Practice whichever method you find that you are most comfortable with.
Sometimes you need a cast on that is going to be stretchy. This happens when you’re making socks from the top down, the wrist edges of sleeves, cowls, and hats from the bottom up. Naturally there is more than one method. We won’t be using these methods yet so I’m going to briefly touch on them. The cable cast on is the easiest of the two we’re going to talk about. It is also known as the knitted cast on. It provides a nice stretchy cast on that won’t be tight when you put it on.
Here is a video on how to do the cable cast on.
I would like to point out in this cast on video, she is using her fingertip to push the needle back through the stitch. Please don’t do that. You actually have nerve endings there and you can cause yourself some significant pain and permanent injury by jabbing the needle tip into your finger that way. Make it a habit now to use the side of your finger against the side of the needle tip to push it back through while pulling back with the other hand.
Another method for a stretchy edge is the Norwegian Long Tailed Cast on. It is very similar to the regular long tailed cast on but has an extra twist.
I have also provided a link to that video.
Neither of these methods are necessary immediately but it won’t take us long to get to the point where you will need to know them.
Other types of cast on methods are provisional and decorative. The provisional cast on provides a temporary base for your knitting which will later be removed. At that time you will pick up live stitches at the bottom of your work and knit in the opposite direction or do a 3 needle bind off.
Last but not least is the decorative cast on. For some items, you want your cast on to be as pretty as the rest of it. It can be decorated with picots or other fancy type edges. We will cover both of these methods when and if the need arises. Generally your pattern will have specific instructions for them.
Don’t forget, practice your long tailed cast on or thumb method cast on for the dishcloth.
Part 3: Kn-kn-kn-knit Stitch
The humble knit stitch. Not so humble really when the whole craft is named after this one stitch. You can make entire garments using only the knit stitch. You can make entire other things too which is what we’re starting today.
The basic knit stitch looks like a v when you are looking at the front of it. This is important to recognize.
Once you recognize the stitch, it will be easy for you to count rows. To count rows, simply count up the line of completed v’s. Do not count the stitches on the needle as a row because those have not been knitted yet.
The main stitch pattern that you need to know first is called garter stitch.
It is all knitting with no rows of purls in between. Actually no purls at all! Garter stitch looks like this.
See where I highlighted in red? Each ridge of crest and wave like this represents 2 rows. You will not have a vee except at the end where you aren’t following with another knit row. This will become important to you when you need to know how many rows you have knit.
A quick blurb about knitting styles. Continental knitting has the knitter holding the yarn in the left hand similar to crochet. For those who are already crocheters, this may be the easiest way to learn. English knitting which is common in the US has the knitter holding the working yarn in the right hand and “throwing” it over the needle. Most people find that continental is faster and easier on the hands. Others prefer English because it is conducive to right handed people. It doesn’t really matter. Both ways are correct and both ways get the job done with the same result at the end. I have included video for both ways. You get to choose which way you prefer. If you’re wondering what I do. I do them both. If I get tired of one way, I switch to the other. My hands are fickle so I like to give them equal time so they hurt equally at the end of the day. 😉
Easiest Dishcloth Ever!
For this dishcloth, you will cast on 45 stitches using the cast on method of your preference (long tailed cast on or thumb cast on). For deciding where to put your slip knot for the long tailed cast on, wrap the yarn around the needle for the required number of cast on stitches, in this case 45. Put your slip knot at the end of that.
You will then proceed to knit every row until you have knitted a square. This is known as garter stitch. The easy way to measure if you have a square is to take a corner of the dishcloth and fold it up until it lies under the knitting needle smoothly. If all of your sides line up evenly, you have knitted a square. Alternatively, you can use a measuring tape and measure both sides.
When you have your square knitted, you will bind off. I will show you this method in a consequent lesson. The pattern looks like this.
Size 9 (5.5mm) straight or circular needles
1 ball Sugar and Cream cotton yarn
Row 1: k all stitches.
Repeat row 1 until you have a square.
- (Bind off)
P.S. The end loop is always a bit baggy. This is because it isn’t surrounded on both sides with another anchoring stitch. This is easily dealt with but it is really important to know that the loop hanging out in the wind like that is not your first stitch on the next row. When you turn your work, snug it up a little, knit the stitch and snug it up again. Not too tight! This will take care of that baggy stitch. A lot of people say slip the first stitch and yes that works but it creates a different edge than we want today. So please don’t slip the first stitch even if others tell you to do that.
The end is not the end, it is the beginning. You’ve just finished your first project in this course and are ready to move on to bigger and better! But you have to bind off first. You also have to bury the threads. Like everything else in knitting, there is more than one way to do something. There are bind offs that give you a nice stretchy edge and there are bind offs that give you a firm edge.
We aren’t going to cover the stretchy edge bind offs until we need them. Today we are going to only talk about the standard bind off that gives you a firm edge that matches the long tailed cast on. I’m going to describe it here but also give you a link to a video. When you see it in a pattern it will be written as BO for bind off. Sometimes the pattern will say Cast Off but never says CO for Cast Off because CO is Cast On. Usually the designer assumes you know to use a stretchy bind off if you used a stretchy cast on or a firm bind off for a firm cast on.
Directions for a standard firm edge bind off: k2 (knit 2), slip the first stitch over the second stitch and drop it off the needle, k1, slip the first stitch over the new stitch and drop it off the needle. Continue in this manner until you only have 1 stitch remaining. Cut your yarn and thread it through the last loop and pull tight.
Kate’s notes about binding off –
It is very important that your bind off match your cast on in stretch-ability. This is especially critical in clothing. No one likes to wear something that has a really tight non-stretching cuff edge or neck edge. It also effects the appearance of your finished product in non-wearables. Take for an example, a dishcloth that is loose on the bind off edge and tight on the cast on edge. I find that a long tailed cast on matches the standard k2, pass the first stitch over bind off. I also pair the cable untwisted cast on with the k2, k2tog tbl cast off.
Extra Projects –
There are many projects that can be made with garter stitch. Many are so versatile that they have an infinity of variations. Here is just one.
Garter Stitch Scarf – Choose your yarn. Choose the needles that are suggested on the ball band. Cast on 30 – 45 stitches depending on how wide you wish your scarf to be. Knit until the scarf is 60 inches long. Bind off.
You can also knit baby blankets and afghans in this same manner.
The complete lesson 1 is available for print friendly pdf download here: Lesson 1