Top ten knitting and crochet tips for beginners
Monday, 5 October 2020 | Admin
By Josh Walker, Knit and Crochet Instructor
I’ve been a self-taught hobby yarn artist (read: knitter and crocheter) for about fifteen to twenty years now, and over the years, I’ve discovered some helpful tips and tricks. I used these tips during my time as a knit and crochet instructor to great success. In all of my classes, only once did I even have a student just not get it by the end of our session (she swore she still had fun, though!). A pretty good record if you ask me. So without (too much) pomp and circumstance, here are my top ten yarncraft tips for beginners:
1. Know your gauge...but don't be chained to it
Gauge is basically the measurements of your finished fabric when you factor in needle size and yarn weight. Typically, the yarn wrapper will tell you how many knit/crochet stitches across and how many rows worked with the appropriate size needle will make a 10cm x 10cm square. This is very important for things like well-fitted garments or anything else where exact size is crucial (especially if you’re a tight or loose knitter, which also impacts finished sizes). But...you’ll find you don’t need to be overly precious with it in practice. Those types of exacting projects tend to be few and far-between. Mostly, just eye-balling it will be more than sufficient. So it’s definitely important to know the gauge and understand how to test it, but it’s perfectly okay to not give it much thought when you’re knitting your brother a scarf for Christmas.
2. Find what grip suits you best
One of the first things you have to do when learning to knit or crochet is figure out how to hold your yarn and your needles in the same hands at the same time. It can be tricky for newcomers! I always started out each of my classes showing my students how I hold the yarn, but I emphasized that how I did it wasn’t the only way. Everyone, over time, develops their own method that works for them. Basically, if you can hold your yarn and make your craft, you’re doing it correctly, even if you involve your feet and a chair leg.
3. If it seems too easy, you're probably doing it RIGHT
This is something that took me a while as an instructor to piece together, but I found it to be almost universally true. My newbie students who struggled the most were the ones who claimed at the start of class that they would be my worst students. They had viewed knitting or crocheting for years, sometimes decades, as something complex and physically or mentally beyond them. So when I showed them how to do it and it wasn’t complex or difficult, they assumed they were doing it wrong. It was too easy! They over-thought the process and began making mistakes. So don’t over-think it! Knitting and crochet looks very complicated (and truthfully, it can be at times), but in their most basic forms, they are actually very simple and anyone (yes, even you) can learn how to do it in under an hour.
4. Get a feel for different needle materials
Generally speaking, knitting and crochet needles come in two materials: metal (usually aluminum) and wood (usually bamboo). There are plastic variants but we don’t talk about those. Stick to wood or metal. Some people are precious about one over the other and that works for them. In my experience, however, sometimes one material works better than the other depending on the project. Are you using an acrylic or wool yarn with a bit of grip to it? Metal needles will help those stitches slide a little bit smoother so you aren’t struggling to advance your stitches along the needle. Are you using a silky, slippery yarn? You may want to try wooden needles to hold on to the stitches a bit better. You don’t want to let go of the needle for two seconds and have it slip right out of your entire row of stitches. It is literally the worst thing that will happen to you that day.
5. Your hands will hurt!
At first! So, unless you are used to doing fine detail work with your hands, they are probably not used to moving in the ways they will be when you knit or crochet. This means they will get sore when you’re first starting out or if you haven’t picked up the needles in a while. This is totally normal and quickly goes away the more you practice. I promise! Most craft stores will sell compression gloves in the same section with the needles, if you need them.
6. COUNT. YOUR. STITCHES.
I cannot emphasize this enough. Count your stitches, folks. If you have a large project that uses anything more complicated than simple stitches, such as cabling, lace, or color work (like intarsia or Fair Isle), I highly recommend placing stitch markers either at regular intervals of every ten stitches or at the start of every repetition of the pattern chart. Say you have a blanket and the blanket uses a repeating pattern that is thirty stitches across. If your blanket is 300 stitches wide, placing down markers at the beginning of every repeat will break that intimidating 300 stitches into ten very doable 30-stitch segments. And trust me, getting to the end of 300 stitches only to find out you messed up 257 stitches back is exactly zero fun. Count your stitches!
7. Knitting/crocheting in the round (such as for hats, socks, and gloves) is actually EASIER than ordinary knitting/crocheting!
This was something that came up in my classes all the time. People would see me knitting a hat or a sock, which uses four to five DPNs (double-pointed needles) total, and they’d say, “I could never do that!” But the thing is, just because it looks scary doesn’t mean it is. In fact, it’s easier to knit or crochet in the round because, unlike flat knitting or crocheting, you never have to turn your work! The “right side” is always facing you. In practice, it acts like one single, endless row. For years I was afraid to try working in the round for exactly that reason. It looked too advanced. But when I finally worked up the courage, I found it to be extremely easy and I felt foolish for having limited myself for so long. So be brave and try something new!
8. Know the appropriate needle size for the yarn you're using. Then experiment with other sizes to see if you like the results!
This goes along the same lines as tip number one. Basically, you want to learn the rules so you know how to break the rules. Learn about the different weights of yarn and how they look when used with the appropriate needle sizes (if you need help determining this, every yarn label will tell you the yarn weight and what size needle is best used with it). However, just because the label tells you what size needle to use doesn’t mean you have to listen. Rebel! Use 10mm needles with worsted-weight yarn! Use chunky yarn with a 5mm hook! You could even get really crazy and knit with two different sized needles. Go nuts; see what patterns and textures you can create. You may find something you really love.
9. Read your pattern all the way through several times before you even start your project
This seems like a no-brainer, but it’s easy to overlook. You’re looking online or flipping through a book and find a pattern you love. You cast on and all is wonderful. Then thirty hours into your sweater, you encounter something you have no idea how to do. You’re stuck and your day is ruined. Always read through the pattern before casting on a single stitch so that there are no surprises. This ensures that, if there are things you don’t know how to do in the pattern, you can either look them up or just get in some more practice before you try. Maybe set the pattern aside as a personal goal to work toward. Then, when you’re finally able to craft it up, you feel that much more accomplished!
I know it's a cliché, but it's a cliché for a reason. This is the number one thing I always told my students. Nearly all the issues you have, from tight stitches to improper needle handling, will naturally resolve themselves after practice. Seriously, it’s almost like magic. You will go from having no clue what you’re doing to watching TV and not missing a single stitch all the while never looking at the work once and you’ll do it without consciously realizing it. Once you are comfortable and relaxed, everything will fall into place. You'll find a technique for holding your yarn and needles that works for you and that comfort will show in your work. But, and this is very important, you have to acknowledge that, in the beginning, you will make mistakes. A lot of them. That’s part of the process. Van Gogh didn’t pop out of the womb painting Starry Night and you aren’t going to be crocheting haute couture dresses the first time you pick up a needle. But the more you make mistakes, the more you learn how not to make them and you will improve. Just stick with it!
And those are the top ten tips I would give to my students who were just starting out in the world of yarncraft.