Since I'm rather busy with knitting my own stuff, educating my children, feeding my family, and folding laundry when I'm not engaged in the previous three activities, I figure that I'll write a nice little post about learning to knit and direct folks to it whenever the query arises.
First and foremost: WHY You Should Learn to Knit(Because there's little point in spending your precious moments of life learning something if you're just going to chuck the experience and move onto something else. I'm a fan of "learn to do a few things really well, and delegate or say 'no' to the others.")
- Unlike sewing, scrapbooking, painting, and most other crafts, knitting is completely portable. This one fact alone is why I am able to finish projects--all that time you spend waiting can be put to use if you know how to knit. Riding in the passenger seat/commuting/sitting in an airplane seat = knitting time. Waiting in the doctor's office/exam room = knitting time. Waiting in line at the grocery store/post office/any other retail location in the world = knitting time. Sitting in a chair watching television/waiting for a stubborn child to finish a worksheet/listening to people argue over who should be in charge = knitting time. There are so many moments in one's day that would otherwise be cast away into oblivion, wasted and non-productive, that knitting can salvage for greater good.
- Knitting makes you more patient. Yeah, I totally said it because it's totally true. Those long waits in line aren't that hard to deal with if you've got your knitting in hand, and you'll accomplish a whole lot more than updating your Facebook status and finishing up a move in Words with Friends.
- Instead of pointlessly complaining about how nothing in the stores fit you, flatter your coloring, or covers enough of you, you can actually do something about the problem. (Same goes for sewing, but remember--it's not as portable as knitting.)
- I don't think you can run out of things to learn in knitting. Once you master the two (Yep, only two) foundational stitches, there are countless avenues to explore: stranded colorwork, lace, cables, intarsia, entrelac, brioche, socks, sweaters, buttonholes, grafting, color combinations...the list goes on and on.
- Ironically enough: Knitting can seriously boost your social life. There's Ravelry* (a social network devoted entirely to the fiber arts), local knit groups (highly recommended--although sometimes you have to shop around to find the right "fit" of people) and the surprising amount of people already around you who dabble in the fiber arts that will enthusiastically welcome a newbie into their conversations.
- I'm going to keep this list short and just add one more thing: Knitting is pretty inexpensive, start-up cost-wise. You need a skein of yarn and two knitting needles. If you go cheap on those two requirements, you're looking at ten bucks, give-or-take.
(Warning: If you fall hard for this hobby, costs have the potential for skyrocketing very quickly. There are a lot of really gorgeous yarns out there; in all sorts of different materials, colors, and thicknesses/weights. All those different thicknesses need different sized needles. All those different projects need different project bags, notions, pattern books...I use the term "need" on purpose.) :) I do know a few people who stick with cheap yarn and one size of needles for years...and I commend them for that tenacity, while simultaneously pitying them for their limitations.
Second: How to Learn How to Knit
Nope, I'm not going to spell it out for you. I learned to knit from a little pamphlet in a "Learn to Knit a Baby Hat and Booties" kit that I bought at a JoAnn store. I learn best from books, so that was the best method for me. I learned to crochet from a booklet entitled "I Can't Believe I'm Crocheting!," also purchased from a JoAnn store. My mother and a college roommate both tried to teach me how to crochet, but I could not wrap my head around it until I read about it in a book. That's how my brain works.
If you learn best from another person, then find a person who will teach you. Note: The mere fact of knowing how to knit does not dictate that a knitter is obligated to teach you. Be polite in requesting instruction and do not take offense if the answer is negative--some crafters don't have the time, some don't have the desire to teach. That's OK and you need to respect that. If you can't find someone teach you out of the kindness of their hearts, check out your local yarn shop (LYS). Your LYS should offer classes, either for free or for a fee ($30-50 seems to be a regular fee).
Please don't crash your local knit group's Knit Nite and demand that someone in attendance teach you the craft. It's rude to act in such an entitled manner, especially in a place where many people show up just to have a few moments to themselves without worrying about catering to the needs of others. If you think that this is your best option for instruction, find the group's forum on Ravelry and post a message asking if someone would be willing to help you out at the next meeting.
Another option is the good ol' internet. There are a ton of helpful sites, YouTube videos, and illustrations that show each step of the process. What you want to search for, in order of necessity:
- How to cast on. (Start)
- How to do the knit stitch. (There are a lot of ways to knit, so if something seems really wonky, you can always look for another method of executing the stitch.)
- How to do the purl stitch.
- How to bind off. (Finish)
Now, as far as first projects go, I'd recommend practicing the four basic steps listed above and just make some squares until you're comfortable with the motions. When you arrive at the point where you cannot stand the idea of making another stupid square, I suggest tackling a hat in worsted or bulky weight yarn. I do not recommend a scarf. Scarves take forever to knit. They are extremely long rectangles, whereas a hat is a short dome.
I've started my girls on baby hats because they're fast (especially in bulky yarn), which means they get to hold a finished project in their hands quickly, which keeps the knitting flame-of-desire-and-enjoyment burning bright. Purchase a set of 16" circular needles in the size for your yarn, find a free beginner's hat pattern, and go to town. You will need to transition to double pointed needles (DPNs) for the last couple of rows, but they're really not that tough to negotiate and the sooner you get over the idea that they are hard to work with, the better for your knitting career.
Third Step: Expect to completely and totally suck at it for a while.
I've yet to come across a single soul who just "took" to knitting and never struggled with it. I stumbled along through two years' worth of hideous results** before something finally clicked and I could actually handle projects more difficult than knitting a plain scarf. Now I look for danger, and it only took eight years to get here!
Fourth Step: Find inspiration to keep you pushing forward.
I recommend The Yarn Harlot's book Knitting Rules for proving that knitting is completely approachable, and Elizabeth Zimmerman's (EZ) Knitting Without Tears and Knitter's Almanac for giving you the warm-and-fuzzies while also inspiring you to unflinchingly step out of your comfort zone.
Conclusion: Why I Like to Knit
Portability is the main sell for me. I like to create, but don't have a lot of designated time for creating. I like having a hobby that fits into my life as it already stands, instead of requiring me to carve out special one-on-one time for it. I don't want to hunker down in the back bedroom with my sewing machine after the kids fall asleep--I want to hang out with Michael while he watches his documentaries in the TV room, or talk with him in the kitchen while we sneak a snack. I can't simultaneously read a novel and teach my kids; but I can knit and teach at the same time. (It took me a couple of years to get to the point where I could knit without looking--pace yourselves.)
I love color. I hoard yarn because it really does make me feel happier to go into my closet and just look at all the colors. I like working with color and beauty.
Knitting is love made tangible. (Well, all acts of creation are emotions made tangible.) Some people don't understand this--don't knit for them. Many people do get it though, and my kids just have to open their dresser drawers or glance at the coat rack to see some of my love made tangible for them. It makes them feel good to get a gift, and it make me feel good to give the gift. Win-win everyday.
Except in disastrous situations, knitting is one of the few things that stays done at the end of the day. There is always another lesson to teach, another load of laundry and dishes to put away, another window to clean--but the knitting will stay done and I can move on to something else in the pattern the next day.
Knitting is something I can reasonably control. I am a very anxious person, prone to paralyzing worry. There is a great quote from Elizabeth Zimmerman that says "Knit on through all crises, with confidence and hope." I have taken this to heart, and when I feel those familiar feelings of tense anxiety rising in my chest, I break off for a moment and just knit a bit, concentrating on hoping for the best possible outcome to a worry. It gives me something to do in situations where I really can't do anything, and it gives me a sense of control that helps to ground my emotions.
It's fun. Need I say more? :)
*If you do join Ravelry, my screen name is MapleSyrupMama and I will totally be your "friend" if you'd like. :)
**A couple of my early year scarves set my teeth on edge every time I happen to see a picture of them. There was the hideous eyelash scarf and the mistake-laden rainbow scarf (that's Bluebird in the picture!), and a wonderful lesson in the importance of dye lots: a sweater I made for Bluebird when she was a toddler has a very noticeable moment on the back where I had to use a new dye lot of the same color and they don't even look like the same color of yarn.