If you’re thinking of taking up knitting, I invite you to go for it! Knitting is an amazingly addictive hobby.
You’ll be stunned by what you are able to create with a skein of yarn and two needles.
The following guide will clue you in on everything you need or want to know about the wonderful world of knitting.
Whether you’re simply looking for a way to pass time, or you want to relieve stress and anxiety, you’ll soon realize that knitting is so much more than creating blankets and bonnets.
As an avid knitter, I still have plenty to learn about the hobby, including where the art of knitting originated.
Let’s start by diving into the history of the craft, then I’ll introduce you to the materials you’ll need to get started.
From there, I’ll suggest patterns and provide links to basic stitches. You’ll learn about the different types of yarn, and why you’ll want to become part of the knitting community.
Fair warning: As I mentioned previously, knitting is highly addictive. Many of us knitters fall down the rabbit hole and never come back. Why not join us?
Knitting: A Brief History
The very first knitters began knitting garments out of necessity. The craft is believed to have begun in the 11th century, when Egyptians created socks to protect their feet. Although the socks were knitted primarily to serve a functional purpose, knitters used complex colorwork techniques to show off their skills.
Some folks believe that knitting began long before records indicate. Many historians believe the craft originated in the Middle East before making its way to Europe and later to the Americas.
Some of the earliest knitted objects recovered include items found in tombs near Burgos, Spain. These heirlooms included cushion covers and intricate gloves.
The truth is, evidence of knitting can be found throughout history. There are even early European portraits that portray the Virgin Mary as a knitter.
Knitting was done solely by hand until 1589, when the mechanical knitting machine was invented by an English clergyman. Later, during World War I, people of all ages knitted clothing items and accessories for the troops. In the 1930s, during the Great Depression, knitting became increasingly popular once again, as knitting garments was often cheaper than purchasing ready-made clothing items.
In the 1980s, the craft declined, but by the early 21st Century, a revival began taking shape. The Do It Yourself (DIY) era continues to draw in crafters, and famous knitters, including actresses Julia Roberts and Cameron Diaz, have helped the hobby thrive.
While there are still knitting groups gathering throughout the world, advances in technology allow these avid crafters to join online knitting communities and share their finished objects via social media.
Getting Started: Needles, Yarn, and More
Besides the obvious knitting needles and yarn, you may want to pick up a few items before getting started. Later on, I’ll dive into different types of yarn and needle options. When you’re first starting out, I recommend the following:
- Straight knitting needles: Size 7 or 8 should work just fine. Aluminum needles tend to be slightly slippery, while wooden or bamboo needles tend to “grip” the yarn.
- Worsted weight yarn: When looking at yarn labels (In the knitting world, we call these ball bands), look for yarns that are specified as worsted weight.
- Pattern: There are lots of great patterns for beginners. I’ll share some with you later on.
- Small scissors: You’ll need scissors to cut the yarn.
- Project bag, or any bag to store your yarn and other essentials.
- Small tape measure or ruler, so you can measure your work.
- Stitch markers: Some patterns call for stitch markers, which can be used to mark a change in pattern or the beginning of a round.
- Darning or tapestry needle, to weave in any ends.
The following items aren’t completely necessary, but they can make the craft a bit easier:
- Knitting needle gauge, to determine what size your needles are. This information can also be found on the packaging and is often etched on the needles themselves.
- Knitting needle protectors: These inexpensive protectors slide over your needles. They’re ideal if you’re knitting on the go or storing your project in a bag.
Knitting Needles 101
Although I recommend starting with either metal or bamboo/wooden straight needles, there are many needle types to choose from.
While shopping, you’ll most-likely see everything from plastic needles to sleek wooden needles.
The material you choose is a matter of personal preference. I started knitting with bamboo needles, but I now prefer metal needles. You’ll likely find that your preferences grow and change over time.
In addition to straight needles, there are many other types of needles including:
- Circular needles, which are great for creating round items, such as hats, socks, and mittens.
- Double pointed needles, also called DPNs, are ideal for knitting circles and tubes. Some folks knit socks on DPNs, while others use them primarily to knit the crowns of hats.
- Interchangeable needles, which often come in sets with various needle sizes. The needles detach from the cords, making them the most versatile option.
I’ll be completely honest here… Choosing yarn can be overwhelming. There are endless options, from inexpensive acrylic to pricier wool blends and cashmere. I enjoy knitting socks, so I often look for yarn with a wool/nylon blend.
Utilizing a pattern will help you narrow down yarn options, as patterns typically call for yarn of a specific weight. Below I outline the different weights and their characteristics:
- Lace weight: This type of yarn is the lightest weight on the market. It can be used for lightweight garments, doilies, and shawls, among other items. I don’t recommend lace weight yarn for beginner knitters.
- Super fine, fine, light: This type of yarn is typically referred to as fingering weight or sport weight. It can be used to knit smaller items, such as socks, mittens, hats, or baby garments. It is also a popular weight for sweaters and shawls.
- Medium: This type of yarn is dubbed “worsted weight” or “aran weight,” and can be used for a variety of knitted items, including sweaters, hats, mittens, and scarves.
- Bulky and super bulky: This type of yarn knits up quickly. Thicker needles are used to accommodate the thickness of the yarn. Bulky and super bulky yarns are great for blankets, hats, and sweaters.
If you visit a big box craft store, such as Joann Fabrics or Michaels, you’ll find an array of commercial yarn. If you plan to purchase yarn for a larger project, such as a sweater or a blanket, be sure to look at the dye-lot number on the ball band. To ensure the colors match, you’ll want to make sure each skein of yarn has the same dye-lot number.
If you opt to purchase yarn from an indie yarn dyer, or from a local yarn shop that sells indie-dyed yarn, you can alternate skeins to make sure there is color consistency throughout your knitted object.
Note: Indie dyers take undyed yarn and use various techniques to create custom colorways. A great place to find indie-dyed yarn is on Etsy.
Whether you’re purchasing commercial yarn or indie-dyed yarn, be sure to look for the care instructions. Some materials must be hand-washed, while others are machine washable. More on care instructions later.
Next, I’ll cover the basic stitches you’ll need to get started. I’ve found YouTube videos to be extremely helpful. There are also several books for beginner knitters that cover basic techniques with written instructions and diagrams. If you prefer free resources, there are endless options available. Utilize the internet and your local library.
Below I highlight basic techniques and stitches, along with resources for each one:
Casting On – There are many ways to cast-on, including multiple beginner options. The following video walks you step-by-step through the process.
Knit Stitch (Garter Stitch) – Once you’ve casted on your stitches, it’s time to begin knitting! The following video offers an excellent tutorial introducing you to the knit stitch.
Purl Stitch – Although you can learn to knit without learning to purl, a combination of techniques will open up a world of possibilities. Plus, you’ll be able to utilize more patterns. To learn the basic purl stitch, see below.
Binding Off – Once you knit your object to the desired length, you’ll be ready to bind off. The following video offers a great tutorial.
Beginner knitters often start out by knitting a scarf or a dishcloth, as these projects tend to require repetitive stitches and are great practice pieces. Once you start searching for patterns, you’ll be amazed by the endless options.
It truly is incredible how many beautifully unique items can be created with the same few techniques and stitches.
You can find pattern books at your local yarn shop, craft store, library, or bookstore. There are also countless blogs that regularly feature knitting patterns for folks of all skill levels.
My absolute favorite resource for knitting patterns is Ravelry—an online platform that offers free patterns, as well as patterns for sale.
You’ll need to create a free account to access the patterns, and I recommend penciling in an afternoon to navigate the site… not because it’s challenging, but because it’s AMAZING! If you’re anything like me, you won’t be able to stop browsing. The patterns section alone is completely mesmerizing.
Another great site is allfreeknitting.com. This valuable online resource features more than 50 free beginner patterns.
If you have friends or family members who knit, ask them to share their favorite patterns. Swapping patterns is one of the best things about being a knitter.
Beginner Pattern Suggestions
Choosing patterns is a matter of personal preference, but below are a few tried and true patterns I absolutely love:
Easy Mistake Stitch Scarf: If you don’t mind knitting for miles (just kidding!), I highly recommend this pattern. The pattern is super easy to memorize, and the end result is soft and squishy.
Spa Day Facecloth: Using only knit and purl stitches, this pattern is lovely, knits up in no time, and is a great beginner project. Plus, you’ll love using the finished cloth!
Sunny Baby Blanket: I whipped up this pattern as a fairly new knitter. Despite the fact that it only calls for knit and purl stitches, you’d never know it’s such a simple pattern when you see the finished object. It looks much more complicated than it actually is!
Don’t underestimate the power of word of mouth. Sharing patterns is a great way to introduce others to patterns they’ll likely pass on themselves. My mother-in-law taught me to knit, and one of the first patterns she introduced me to was the Coziest Memory blanket pattern.
I was surprised to learn that the same pattern was just as popular in the United States as it was in England, where my mother-in-law lives.
Note: Although the above patterns don’t require a specific gauge, you’ll need to learn to complete a gauge swatch before knitting garments and other items that need to be a specific size. For a tutorial on swatching, click here.
Caring for Your Knitwear
As mentioned previously, it’s important to check your ball band for care instructions, as all yarns require different care.
Acrylic yarns and superwash yarns are often machine-washable, while more delicate yarns must be hand-washed and handled with extra care.
For knitted items that must be hand-washed, you’ll need a wash basin or bowl and a mild detergent. I particularly love scented wool washes that can be found at local yarn shops. I typically soak my hand-knits for 10-20 minutes before removing them from the water.
It’s important that you never wring out your knitwear. Simply place your knitted item between towels and gently squeeze out any excess moisture.
Storing Your Knitwear
Taking care of your knitwear extends beyond washing. Many folks store their knitted items during the summer months. The following tips will help you store your knitwear properly:
- Always clean your knitwear before storing it.
- Ensure the knitwear is completely dried and aired.
- It’s important to store wool, plant-based fibers and animal-based fibers in containers to protect them from moths. Note: Because moths can wreak havoc on yarn, some knitters opt to store their yarn in containers or air-tight bags, as well.
- Utilize cedar chips or mothballs to keep moths at bay, making sure that the cedar or mothballs aren’t in direct contact with knitted items.
- Items stored in vacuum-sealed bags should be checked and re-bagged periodically to ensure the items last for years to come.
An Inclusive Community
Now that you know what materials you’ll need, where to find fun beginner patterns, and how to clean and store your knitted items, it’s time to meet fellow knitters!
The knitting community is warm, welcoming, and always willing to help beginner knitters—and knitters of all skill levels. Below are a few ways to meet folks who knit:
- Check your local yarn shop: Stop in at your local yarn shop and ask for a schedule. Many yarn shops host regular knit nights to draw in the local knitting community. Shop owners and workers will likely know about other local groups and events, too.
- Check out Meetup: If you’re a member of meetup.com, there are over 900 knitting meetups listed. Not a member? Why not sign up to get a listing of local groups?
- Join Ravelry: Along with its vast array of awesome pattern options, Ravelry also has a booming online community. You can search by location to see if there are meetups in your area. Otherwise, there are countless groups of members who check in regularly online. As a knitter, I’m truly grateful for advanced technology, as it connects me to likeminded crafters all over the world.
- Join Instagram: In addition to Ravelry, Instagram is my favorite place to stay in touch with other knitters. I regularly share my finished objects (FOs), works in progress (WIPs), and I love getting inspired by other people’s projects. Below are some hashtags I use on a regular basis. Simply type them in and prepare to be inspired:
#knittersofinstagram #knitlife #knittersofravelry #knitstagram
- Join Facebook Groups: If you’re a Facebook fan, try searching for private and closed knitting groups. These groups are another great way to glean inspiration and get acquainted with fellow knitters.
- Start a Group: If there are no active knitting groups in your area, consider starting your own! Great knitting spots include libraries, coffee shops, and even knitters’ homes. You can spread the word on Ravelry and Meetup, and post fliers in your town.
Once you’ve visited your local yarn store and you’ve fallen in love with the craft, check out a local fiber festival for some extra inspiration!
You’ll find that knitters and other makers are friendly and inclusive. If you lose your knitting mojo, a fiber fest is an excellent place to find it! Ask about upcoming festivals at your local yarn shop, or search on Google for festivals in your area. One of my favorite sites is midwestfiberartstrails.org. Check it out!
Another great way to connect with other knitters is through knitting podcasts. There are audio podcasts that are awesome on the go, as well as video podcasts on YouTube, where fellow makers share their projects and tidbits about their lives. I find these podcasts incredibly inspiring and fun to watch. Move over, Netflix… knitting podcasts offer seriously binge-worthy viewing.
The Benefits of Knitting
Along with opening up a world of crafty possibilities and introducing knitters to other yarn enthusiasts, knitting offers many benefits. A 2016 New York Times article highlighted the health benefits of knitting, including:
- Stress relief: Because knitting is repetitive, it has meditative properties. In fact, knitting may produce similar results to yoga and meditation. Taking part in the craft can reduce stress hormones and lower heart rate and blood pressure.
- Improved self-esteem: That’s right… knitting is an excellent way to boost your self-esteem and confidence. When you complete that first project, you’ll likely feel a sense of euphoria. That feeling will stick with you and inspire you to knit the next project.
- Increased happiness: Yes, knitting can help boost the mood, even for folks who are struggling with depression.
- Pain relief: Knitting encourages crafters to focus on the task at hand, which can reduce awareness of pain for chronic pain sufferers.
- Sense of purpose: Many knitters feel a sense of purpose by creating something tangible with their hands. Some folks knit items for charity. A few popular items to knit and give are baby hats, baby blankets, and bonding squares. Check with local organizations to see what items they currently need. Hospitals, homeless shelters, and schools are sure to appreciate your generosity.
- Replacing a habit: If you’re trying to give up a bad habit, such as smoking, knitting is an excellent way to keep your hands and mind busy. Sure, knitting is addictive, but it’s a healthier alternative.
- Better brain health: Knitting can help keep brain health strong. Crafters who take part in activities such as knitting have a “diminished chance of developing mild cognitive impairment and memory loss,” according to the New York Times piece.
As you can see, there are lots of great reasons to take up knitting. If you’re on the fence, consider the health benefits and pick up those needles!
Spreading the Love
Once you’ve learned to knit, I encourage you to share the craft with others! Teaching others to knit is a rewarding experience for everyone involved. Best of all, it’s a hobby that people of all ages can learn and enjoy.
Consider contacting a local nursing home, assisted living, or senior center and ask if any residents would like to learn the skill.
Children tend to pick up new skills quickly; consider reaching out to local schools and offering to teach kids to knit. Just like adults, knitting gives children a sense of accomplishment and purpose.
With a set of needles, a skein of yarn, and a little courage, you’ll be knitting in no time!