Yesterday, I showed you my first hand-made Christmas gift for this year, hand-knit dish cloths. There was a little more that I wanted to add about the subject of beginning knitting, in case one of you is also a beginner, and attempting to make these yourself. I know, many of you are much more experienced knitters than myself. In no way am I suggesting these tips would help better knitters. Just tips to help someone who is just starting out.
Avoid paying full price for your knitting supplies.
Shop sales, use coupons, and buy at thrift stores.
Michael's (the craft supply store), often has either a great coupon (50% off), or a good sale (40 to 50% off) on their yarn. Jo Ann Fabric's seems to always have a coupon out for at least 40% off, sometimes as much as 60% off.
If the yarn is on sale, but the needles I need, are not on sale, I've been able to use a high value coupon on the needles, buy my yarn on sale, and come out spending about half of retail prices. Thrift stores have a spot, usually tucked away, with needlework supplies. If you thrift much, just make a run past that section, and check out what they have, each time you're in their store. Know the retail prices for the items you might find.
If your project requires stitch markers, you don't need to buy anything.
Find a cheapo plastic straw in your kitchen and a pair of scissors. Snip off bits in 1/8-inch increments, for however many stitch markers you need. So long as your knitting needle can fit through the straw piece, this will work for a marker. Need a larger marker for really fat needles? Open up and bend a paper clip into the size marker you need.
Before you begin a project, do a sample of the stitching.
A small patch about 2 and 1/2 inches square, will be enough to get the hang of what you're trying, and a chance to change your mind, if it feels too difficult for your level. Also, at this time, check your work against an online tutorial or with someone you know who knits well. I discovered that my purl was wrong, during my last sample. Better to catch it on a sample, than at the end of the project and discover I'd done it all wrong.
As a beginner, knit in quiet.
Don't try to knit with the television on, or listening to music, or carrying on a conversation with anyone outside of your own head. Learning to knit is just like learning any other new skill. It requires concentration. You wouldn't attempt learning to drive with a bunch of distractions in the background. Think of learning a new skill as training your brain. Until your brain is well-trained in this skill, those distractions will cause you to make mistakes. And try counting out loud, if you have to. "knit 1, purl 1, knit 1, purl 1". Something about saying the words kept me on track with this pattern, in the early rows. It also guarantees that everyone will leave the room, and leave you alone to your knitting, giving you that un-distracting space to learn.
Find the "checks" in your project's pattern.
The checks are what I call how you tell if a row of stitching is on track or correct. For instance, on my dish cloths, the pattern is in an even number of rows, all the way through -- 4 rows to each section of the pattern. You know the yarn tail from casting on? Well, I know that if I'm knitting towards the yarn tail, I'm on an odd numbered row (row 1,3), and if I'm knitting away from the yarn tail, then I'm on an even numbered row (rows 2,4).
How does this help? In the pattern for the body of the cloth (not including the all-knit stitch edges), the pattern goes as such -- (row 1)K,K,K,P,K,P,K . . ., (row2) K,K,K,P,K,P,K . . ., (row 3) K,K,K,K,P,K,P,. . .(row 4) K,K,K,K,P,K,P. . . Rows 1 and 2 begin and end with 3 knit stitches then switch to purl, knit, purl, knit, and rows 3 and 4 begin and end with 4 knit stitches, then switch to the purl, knit, purl, knit. If I know what direction I'm working on (towards tail - rows 1,3, or away from tail - rows 2,4), I can figure out where I am in my pattern of 4 row-pattern. This comes in handy when your mind wanders and you lose track of what you should be doing.
Also, on these dish cloths, if I come to the end of a row, and find I only have room for 3 knit stitches, when I was thinking I was on a row than ended in 4 knit stitches, then I know I've made a mistake along that row, somewhere. And I can fix it before I go onto the next row.
That's what I mean by the "checks" in my project's pattern. Those little details that tell you if you are on the right track or not.
Don't try to knit commando-style (this has nothing to do with going commando, that one is totally up to you).
Don't force yourself to knit for hours on end. Just knit in small fragments of time. Promise yourself that you'll just do one or two repeats of the pattern, then get up and do something else. When learning a new skill, mind-fatigue can set in, and that's when you're most likely to make a mistake.
If your knitting has a repeating pattern, try to always do your work in sections of repeat.
You will always know where to start up again -- at the beginning of the repeat. And if you do have to leave your work in the middle of a section, to say, answer the phone, write down on a slip of paper, where you are in your pattern and what to do next. And if you have to track how many sections to knit, write those down, tally-mark style, on a slip of paper, as you complete each section.
Don't even unravel to the beginning and start completely over. Force yourself to make an attempt to fix your mistake. Sometimes, it will mean undoing 1 row of stitches, sometimes it will mean undoing 4 rows of stitches. If you at least try to fix the mistake, there's a very good chance you won't have to redo the whole thing. Get someone else's input on your mistake. Ask someone to help you undo it, if you need. For me, all it took was some emotional support from my daughters, when I went to undo one row. Then the next time I made a mistake, I felt confident to correct it all on my own.
You see, learning to knit is as much about learning to correct your mistakes, as it is learning the stitches. And your progress will be greatly hampered, if you don't work at learning to correct mistakes.
And this brings me to an obvious tip -- if while you're making a stitch, it feels "wrong", "tight" or something else, stop in your tracks, and look it over.
Maybe you've not picked up the full loop of yarn, but are missing a very thin strand of it. Or maybe, you've picked up more than you should, on the end of your needle. If you stop, right at this point, and figure out why it feels wrong, you can save yourself a lot of correcting work, 10 minutes from now.
Go by measurements and not by row numbers, when working someone else's pattern.
Your knitting may be looser or tighter than the person who wrote the pattern. With my dish cloths, if I had knit the cloth exactly the number of rows specified, my cloth would have turned out to be about 8.25 inches wide by 7 inches long -- not square at all.
And her pattern had me measure to 7.75 inches long. She didn't specify how wide my 35 cast-on stitches would become, once knit. Mine came to 8.25 inches wide. And the border of 4 knit rows on my knitting was 3/8-inch long/tall, so the length of my knitting, before adding the border on the final end, should be 8 1/4 inches minus 3/8 inch, or 7 7/8 inches. Only 1/8 inch difference, but it would make the cloth not quite square. And since I do have the ability to make it square, shouldn't I try?
So, use measurements as your guide. You'll be more satisfied with the results.
And finally, take the time to do a clean job in finishing your project.
Leave about 6 inches of yarn for the tails. Weave the tails in neatly, wrapping around a couple of stitches, here and there. Try to do this in a way that is not visible to the front side. Then cut the last fraying bits of the tail, clean away. How you finish a project can make a simple dish cloth look well-done, or sloppily slapped together. It makes a difference.
And once that first project, following a pattern is complete, do another, just like it. And then another, and another. Really master that one item. You'll soon be able to make them with ease, and you will have that same basic stitch pattern down pat, to use in a future project. I'm on my way, with getting this pattern mastered. I've now completed almost 2 of these dish cloths. Hand-knit household items make great gifts, if you happen to knit, say, 10 dish cloths.
These are my rudimentary ruminations, from one beginning knitter to another.
I didn't learn to knit until I was well into adulthood. And I mostly learned from books. My daughters had the fortune to learn to knit, through their high school. Knitting qualified as a "art" class. They had a very talented knitter on staff at the school, who could walk them through large projects, helping them to correct mistakes, showing them how best to hold the needles and yarn, etc. And so, that's why they are my resident "experts" when I have a problem with my knitting.