Learning to knit

posted in: WIP (work in progress) | 28

I think learning to knit is like learning to dressmake. And probably learning anything. You don’t know what you don’t know.

At first you don’t know much and the only thing is to complete a garment you can pull on over your head and wear. This is my limited objective. Thankfully, I have had lots and lots of great advice. Thank you so much, my knitting-sewing friends! Right now some of that advice is beyond me, at this stage in my development. Some of you suggested I may have chosen the wrong pattern, the wrong yarn, and the wrong style of casting on and knitting. I fear you may be right. But now I have made those little squares I am going to dive right in.

However, as I have found before, easier said than done. I had no idea

  • How to choose a suitable pattern
  • How to create a tension square
  • how to “lightly press” it
  • how to measure it
  • what the abbreviations mean
  • what the equipment list means
  • how to actually knit with two stubby needles joined by a plastic thread
  • how and where to sit and get a good ergonomic posture
  • how to mark the beginning and end of a row when knitting in the round
  • how to count stitches and rows
  • when to pause (at the end of the row, I presume?)
  • how to put the knitting away (I push the stitches onto the nylon cord so they won’t slip off)
  • how to join the wool

But as you can imagine, I have already made several mistakes.

I bought the wrong equipment. I ordered the wrong size of needles – how I did this I have no idea. I didn’t know how long the loop should be, between the miniature knitting pins. I failed to purchase a “cn” – cable needle, as I didn’t know what it was. I thought the cable was the piece between the in-the-round knitting needles. I have since bought a second hand one from Sharon on the market but it is slightly slimmer than my main needles. I am assuming this doesn’t matter much.

Steph did warn me that my tension (which is not consistent as I am not an experienced knitter) would be looser in the round than on ordinary needles. This is because the stitches are much harder to control with those little needles. I am used to the long ones I was taught to tuck under my arms when I was young. Certainly the sweater knitting looks looser than the practice squares.

The cable pattern

After about 25 rows of knitting and purling, I tried to follow the cable pattern instructions, but after one row I panicked.

Help at hand

I bought a book for £1.75 at Cancer Research.

Readers Digest guide to knitting
Readers Digest Guide to Needlework (including knitting)

It’s nice, but not enough. I decided to do what Stephanie had suggested. I phoned a friend. Well I emailed one – Nat from Made-in-Home and asked her to join me a lunch-and-knitting-advice date. As Nat is learning to become a nutritionist I thought she might like to try Japanese Vegan food at Itadakizen in Kings Cross. She loved it (so did I). As we tucked into the miso soup I said “I bet you are going to tell me to pull it all out!”

Japanese Vegan Bento box
Japanese Vegan Lunch


The next photograph captures Nat’s horror at my beginner’s mistake. Can you see what I have done? I had no idea until she pointed it out. “I’m sorry, but you will have to pull it out!” she confirmed. She advised me to pull it out quickly and reknit it. If I don’t she warned that the jumper will go onto the UFO pile and that will be that.

Beginners knitting
Oh no!

Of course the problem is that the whole jumper is twisted like a Mobius strip. After casting on I had somehow managed to allow the stitches to roll creating the beginnings of a garment that could not be worn.

Nat reassured me that the tension looked OK and that the knitting was even enough. She also told me how to mark where the stitches change row (with a bit of coloured yarn) and how I should mark the cable pattern with different coloured yarn. She also examined the pattern and said that the method of doing the sleeves is not the best and that it would be very tricky for me to get this bit right on my own. Luckily she offered to help me deal with that once I get that far, with another lunch date.

This weekend I got back on the horse. I cast on and ensured the knitting wasn’t twisted, and I knitted with confidence, almost to the stage I was at last week.

Knitting for beginners
Second Attempt – knitting for beginners

Have you ever made such a horrendous beginners error?

28 Responses

  1. Linde

    Don’t worry you are not alone in finding this difficult. I still after hours of trying cannot understand or follow a pattern. I can only do blackberry stitch and then only items that require no shaping at all and we won’t even start to discuss tension. But I do know one thing for sure ,that is that in a few weeks you will be perfect at it!

  2. Joyce Latham

    Hi Kate. Good for you to keep going. As you know I’m fairly new to knitting too. My sweater is going ok ( much simpler pattern then yours) but I have ripped out the front panel twice. Some say to start out with something easy and others say go for what you want no matter the level . Long story short ..live and learn. I’m so proud of you. As always you are very inspiring. The yarn looks beautiful. Won’t it be fun to say, ” I’ve knit it! ”

  3. Thesewingmiserablist

    Well done so far Kate, you’ve got a steep learning curve and can find out if it’s for you whilst doing it. I find it very much more a process driven thing than sewing, Very slow results, of course, but easy to undo the mistakes, so you’re good, if you like it. I found it addictive at first but learned fast and made MANY mistakes, including a mobious strip. Don’t expect a great fit if it’s your first jumper, like sewing really. Your wool looks lovely and rustic, enjoy!

  4. Gail

    I’ve been knitting since I was about 6 years old and I still make mistakes, have to rip back, buy the wrong needle size etc.

    Have you discovered http://knitwithattitude.com/ in Stoke Newington? A fabulous shop with knowledgeable and friendly staff who are always happy to give advice. They have a fabulous range of yarn and they also run a monthly knit night … with wine!

    • fabrickated

      Thanks Gail – great suggestion. The knitting with attitude shop looks great. Also she offers one to one help at £20 an hour which is a bargain! I will follow up.

  5. eimear

    I learned (or relearned if my early knitting in primary school is included) to knit before christmas. I deliberately kept the first knit swatch as it was full of dropped stitches etc to remind me of where I started (which was rather ambitious as I have done very little knitting since) I learned to crochet about 7 years ago and thats what I do (so so fast). I am forever looking at the knits in Purl soho (http://www.purlsoho.com/create/category/knit/knit-view-all/) as they are so simple and so effective (and a lot of free patterns) – have you gone onto http://www.ravelry.com? (more addictive stuff). Really looking forward to seeing your make, that yarn is a lovely shade

    • Fabrickated

      I like the Purlsoho too, but don’t like buying from the US due to the import charges and the time it takes. I will look up their free stuff. Thanks Eimear.

  6. Barbara Showell

    Never have I made such a mistake! Because never have I gotten that many rows done! I’ve been trying off and on since 1969. 3 years ago I finally completed a sweater coat for an american girl doll, and I was so proud. You know what happened. I gave away two trash bags of untouched yarn last winter. You are doing great!

    • fabrickated

      What a sweet story! I am determined to finish this sweater Barbara. I remember my mother had a yellow sweater in her knitting bag that was sometimes tackled but never finished. I guess that went the way of all UFOs eventually. I have a few unfinished knitted garments of my own, so let’s not speak too soon shall we? I am hoping that putting it “out there” via my blog I will actually complete it. Stay tuned….

  7. Chris

    I have definitely done this- I never thought to mention it in my original comment! I didn’t own a cable needle until one came free with a knitting magazine …I’ve used everything from a hairslide to a toothpick:) Mistakes are part of learning, and they tend to each only happen once…if you learn from them:)

  8. ceci

    I find it quite challenging to avoid the “mobius strip” error – you would think that I would get it right 50% of the time but no……its wrong more like 75% initially. So I’m quite practiced at tinking back to the start in knitting int he round. Will look forward to your progress!


  9. Liz Cooney

    I started knitting 6 months ago. I never took a lesson, or asked anyone for help. I am very good with manuals…though…so it may depend on your best learning style. 2 must-have books for me were: “Beyond Knit and Purl” by Kate Asherly. You work your way through 24 projects …..and each one enhances your repertoire. The second book to have is the bible of knitting, I was told….”Vogue Knitting….the ultimate knitting book”. It is a reference manual. If you only buy one book, make it this one.
    Apart from that, I have taken out many, many books from my local well-stocked library.
    When I get stuck, I simply go to YouTube. It is excellent! Everything you need is now online.
    Learning to knit has been one of the best things that I have ever done. I hope that you feel the same!

    • fabrickated

      Thanks Liz. We all have different learning styles and I think I find it best to learn face to face. And then, when I have the basics, I like books better than YouTube.

  10. Jules

    *Everyone* makes horrendous beginner errors, better to do it right at the beginning when you’re still completely humble, than have it spring on you once you’re starting to gain some confidence… The thing that always grieved me about knitting/crochet mistakes is that it takes untold hours to stitch up something, and mere seconds to rip it all out!

  11. Stephanie

    Hmm…this is all very interesting, Kate. I encouraged you to try as I believe that it is best to jump in and make something that you actually want to have, rather than knitting a dishrag or some other boring “beginner” project! We’re all different though, of course.

    I made my first sweater for my brother when I was quite small (and did a terrible job). The first actual women’s sweater I made when I was a young teenager. It took me a while, but the pattern was lovely – a cardigan, with diamond patterns, a wide neckline and even crochet edging. I wish I hadn’t given it away two years ago else I’d show you to show how possible it is. I took my time and had to try a few things again but I ended up with a wearable garment. I think you can execute this if you are willing to stop and check and rip out and redo. One thing is for sure: once you’ve finished you will have confidence for your next project, you will have improved your basic knitting quite a lot, and you will probably have a good idea as to whether you want to do any more knitting in future. I suspect it might be a bit like marathons though – you suffer through, thinking, “Why on earth am I doing something so stupid. This feels horrible.” But then you finish and feel elated that you have met your goal and of course you sign up for another one. I am excited for you to see what results.

    I say don’t give up, but I agree with others that having help is useful. I always had my mom close at hand to help me to make decisions about ripping back and to set me on the right course. I desperately wanted to have nice sweaters that I couldn’t buy so I was very happy to keep going until I could produce what I wanted. I get so much satisfaction out of the fact that pretty much all of my sweaters are me-made and have been so for most of my adult life.

  12. Kim Hood

    My dad actually taught me basic knitting. I have been fortunate enough to have lots of people around me who could help when I had problems. I think I have made more mistakes than you could count (including exactly the same as your problem) but I still knit, still make occasional mistakes, and still love the process.
    Keep going Kate, it is almost a meditation when it goes well – and it’s so good to be able to make original knitted garments to enhance the sewn one’s.

  13. BMGM

    I’m glad you got in-person help. I’m a huge fan of “knitting in plain English.” It’s been reprinted so many times because it is so perfect.

    I’ve twisted my knitting more often than I can count. But, it looks like you twisted it 360 degrees instead of 180 degrees. True Moebius strips only have one side and arise from 180+n*360. If you had a true Moebius, you would have caught the mistake after one round.

  14. Abbey

    Oh no! At least your friend was able to get you sorted and you’re well on your way again. Your ambition is certainly very inspiring! =) For what it’s worth, your swatches look great! I have read that swatch gauge can be different from the project gauge if they are knitted on different types of needles (straights or DPNs for the swatch and circulars for the sweater, for example), and then there’s the impact of cables on top of that. But you can do this–it will be great!

    My first knitting project was a pair of socks knit two-at-a-time (which is a terrible first project, but that’s what I wanted to knit!). I did pretty well for my first few rows but dropped a stitch on my first full day of unsupervised knitting. All things considered that isn’t too bad, but in the moment it felt like a massive emergency! I’m sure I will make many worse mistakes eventually!

  15. Annnieloveslinen

    Talking about diving in at the deep end! Knitting in the round is different to conventional knitting, there are advantages and disadvantage in both. You’ve learnt that with this method you have to use markers, I read somewhere that a tail of contrast wool looped around a stitch can be carried up every worked row and pulled out when finished, this would be better than using little plastic safety pins because you need to reposition those every few rows and mistakes can happen that way.

    Enjoy the process and once done if the fit does need tweaking there is a Craftsy class called Sweater Surgery that might help, the tutor is Carol Feller who is Irish and knits English style, the class has fixes to apply to finished garments. Just a little FYI in case you need it.

    Happy knitting!

  16. Mary Collins

    Just so you know, I have been knitting for 35 of my 45 years on this earth, and I made exactly the same mistake that you did not once but twice on a recent sweater. I often don’t really mind the ripping back and starting over. I figure that at least the errors are fixable, unlike fabric where sometimes the errors are irretreivable. Enjoy your sweater!

    • fabrickated

      How very reassuring dear Mary! It’s funny but with sewing I rarely find the errors irretrievable – I can usually find a fix. But with knitting I just hate pulling it all out – it just seems to destroy your work – much of which was very time consuming. I guess I will get used to it. Thank you for leaving a comment.

  17. Jane

    I’ve been knitting forever and still manage to make the most beautiful Möbius strips from time to time! Keep at it, it’s the perfect winter hobby

  18. PendleStitches

    I too have been knitting for more years than I’m prepared to admit and still make Mobius strips and other so-called “rookie” mistakes. Like Mary, I too find that the beauty of knitting is that it’s much more forgiving than sewing about being pulled back and redone! It is time consuming but it’s also the most wonderful way to end a day.

  19. Colleen

    I returned to knitting after many years, and decided that it would be a good idea to make reentry with knitting my first sweater. I didn’t quite remember how to do the purl stitch, so my stockinette stitch is twisted on every row. This was horrifically pointed out to me by an instructor at a finishing workshop I attended. The new stitch pattern actually looks nice, a lucky mistake, but I’ve since learned how to do stockinette properly. Sometimes mistakes can be reinterpreted as ‘design elements’- Ha!

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