Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Crocheters Learning to Knit (part 1)

I give a lot of advice to crocheters wanting to learn to knit. Some completely unsolicited, but that's what the internet is for, no? Uninvited opinions and pictures of cats? But these are the things that helped me OR I wish I had known about from the beginning. There is no right or wrong way to go about it- determination is probably the one thing that you can't leave out- but here are some things to try if you are struggling OR if you are not sure where to begin.

1. Nice yarn
It doesn't have to be expensive - in fact you may mess up quite a lot of it, so probably don't want it to be pricey. A nice quality acrylic is a great choice. It should be relatively soft to the touch but not too floppy and have a consistent gauge. Avoid yarns that want to split, have crazy surprises in them like puffs, skinny bits, factory end ties- that sort of thing.

Lion Brand Vanna's Choice is a good example of an inexpensive yarn that is well-made and pretty darn consistent in thickness throughout. It's going to hold up a to a lot more rip-outs than some. The only complaint I have about VC is it is a ball and not a skein, so you will need a basket or other for it to flop around in while you are working.

I happen to be a pretty loyal (Hobby Lobby) I Love This Yarn user, but I will admit that even it sometimes has surprises in it (and rather often an impossible to find end), so that would be my second choice. I would definitely avoid Red Heart Super Saver or Caron Simply Soft, two very common beginner yarns. The first one is crazily variable and not nice to your hands at all and the second is very very splitty- a sad trade-off of being smooth and shiny. You don't want to be confused about what is a stitch and what is just strands of a stitch, so avoid splitty above all. All yarns are wonderful and have their uses and places in the world - they are YARN, after all - but some are just not ideal for learning to knit. Though I will forever be loyal to a durable acrylic for pets and messy kids.

2. Pick a fun color, not too bright, dark, or light.
Neutral is probably the best choice- a nice Ecru or Taupe or similar- and if that's your idea of a lovely color, then go for it. If you like more fun colors, go for a gold or a pale turquoise- something along those lines- cheery but not blinding. You want to be able to see your stitches and want to look at it for days on end (though hopefully you will get the idea of knitting much faster than that!)

3. Say NO to long needles
This is the number one thing I wish someone had told me from the beginning and I didn't need to discover for myself months later.

I know they are cheap and readily available and have that shiny thing going for them, but long needles are the worst knitting tool for a crocheter ever invented. As crocheters we are used to a 6inch hook in one hand. Going from that to a 14inch needle in both hands is awkward and heavy and will make your hands tired before you get very far at all. They get hung on the arm of the chair, the cat will slap at the end every time it moves... there's just way too much that goes wrong with long needles.

You may be able to find some shorter needles meant for children, but I would recommend just going straight for DPNs. Double pointed needles are pretty essential if you ever want to make baby items, hats, toys- so why not start out your collection already? If you can get bamboo or other wood, even better. You may be thinking 'but don't those just fall out'? Yes. If they are metal/aluminum, yes they will if you are not careful they will just slide right out of your stitches. Wood or acrylic, no- not without some serious gesticulating when you are fussing at the TV or something.

Acrylic is an okay substitute (better than metal for learning) but they are not particularly pointy and they also snap easily- especially when you are new at knitting and may find yourself forcing the needle in where it needs to go. So, bamboo if you can get it. And if you have to get metal, get some of the little needle caps to go on one end (or just because that seems right) and then you essentially have some short single-point needles. They are sometimes called point protectors, caps, or tips. Be sure to get the right size for your needles.

4. Fatter needles
If your yarn recommends size 7 needles, get size 9. If your yarn recommends size 8, get size 10. They are very little difference in the millimeter department, but this is going to give you a looser stitch without being crazy loose.

The biggest problem you are going to have, once you actually start knitting, is telling a knit stitch from a purl stitch. The right color yarn with good definition and a slightly larger needle is going to help tremendously with this. Not to mention... working into the cast-on at the beginning is an absolute pain anyway (as much of pain as crocheting into a chain, IMO), but if you cast-on tightly it will be even worse. Starting with larger needles will help this, too.

5. Knitting Continental
I will tell you right now that the first time I tried to knit I was so angry and frustrated I actually took a pair of $1,50 knitting needles back to the store, stood in line for 20 minutes to get my money back. For $1.50. That is a HUGE feeling of failure to drive someone to that sort of need to disassociate with knitting entirely.

Some months later I happened upon a video of Continental Knitting and I instantly knew that I could do this. The twisting, splitting, and sorrow at only having 2 hands disappeared entirely when I saw that there is a style of knitting that looks a LOT like how I crocheted only there was another needle there. I got the right needles this time and set about learning a second time. It was like coming home. I still had a long way to go but my hands could actually DO THIS- without renting a 3rd hand to manage it! Yay!

There are lots of knitting styles and this may not end up being your favorite, but I do recommend it to start out with. It has proven to be the most natural for me and I stick with it pretty consistently, though I have learned to 'throw' at times that this makes certain decreases easier. You will be a long way from this, though, so starting out to where you hold tension very similar to how you do with crochet and mostly working your dominant hand just like crochet is going to make the transition from crochet to knitting a lot easier.

Video + Photo-Tutorial
Illustrations


6. Discover your Best Learning Medium
You hear this so much: 'I learned to knit on Youtube!'. I did not. I have since learned a lot of new stitches and techniques, thanks to Youtube, but starting out this was not my learning medium of choice. Since I learned to crochet from a book with illustrations I sought out this very same method for learning to knit. This was the way that made the most sense to me. I could draw parallels between the illustrations and what I had in my hands so much better. It only took me so far, but learning the basics it was perfect for me.

All people learn best differently, though, and there are endless mediums available, most free and some not, but still probably worth the cost if that is what works best for you.

- Face to Face: Friend or family member shows you OR you pay for a class or a one-on-one session at a local yarn shop. If you have the first available to you then that's fantastic! And hopefully your aunt or brother or whoever that knits likes teaching people and are good at it. Double whammy! You may not have this luxury, though, so you can seek out someone to pay to teach you. You are paying for their time and their expertise. And hopefully they are also very good at teaching and all the stars are aligned for you to learn best in that exact time slot. If you are most clear-headed after a night's sleep and no more than two cups of coffee, then do your best to make those circumstances happen.

- Video: Again, you can pay for a whole class or series online or seek out free videos on YouTube. And there are a LOT and not all are going to be to your liking. The paid ones probably take more into account the overall production and design of the video itself having a pleasant instructor and getting to the point without distractions. There may be a lot about some free videos that are way off the mark- like crazy fingernails, pointless chatter, bad lighting or angles, irritating piano music for the first 40 seconds of a 2 minute video...  lots of things that people mean well but can just block your whole learning receptacle. You have to actually dig to find the right video for you on YouTube, but it's worth it because it's free and when you find a channel that you love there's probably lots in one place to help you. I love that there are now actual classes online- because some people like more in-depth teaching- but I am a rather antsy and impatient person in general and sitting through an hour of something is pretty impossible for me. Check out both and decide for yourself. There are some free classes on Craftsy that will give you an idea of what that medium is like before you invest in one- and of course YouTube is always there, too. (I hope, at least, nobody ever takes YouTube away!!!)

- Illustrations or Photo-Tutorials: These have an advantage because they don't move. They can't get ahead of you and you don't have to let go of your work at a crucial moment to pause the video or back up. Often with Illustrations or Photos there are detailed descriptions, too, which might just click with you more by reading than hearing someone say it on a video. If you are like me and half of what people say just passes right by but you know if you write it down or read it someone then you will never forget- this might be the best way for you, too.

Google for instructions like 'Casting on in knitting' or 'knit stitch' and check out the links that pop up looking for just the right one for you. Or maybe try them all. You are looking for what works best for you and the time spent starting out the best way for you to learn is never wasted.

7. Forget about a pattern
By all means, learn to read patterns and charts and all that wonderful stuff, but starting out if you are trying to accomplish more than just making stitches it is going to be very frustrating. Cast on 20 or 30 stitches and just make rows of knit stitches. Then try some purls. Try alternating. Get used to where your needle is supposed to go and if you yarn should be in front or in back and just learn the stitches. Practice casting on and knitting and purling and binding off. Call it making swatches if you want- or Barbie blankets. Whatever. Focus on the mechanics of it and learning what a stitch should look like and what you did that made this row nicer, etc. before even THINKING about following an actual pattern. This is going to guarantee your success. You can't do it wrong if you are just doing your own thing.

8. Number ONE Rule for Knitting 
Right is Right. Never forget that. Of course it only definitely applies if you are right-handed because, as I have deduced, left-handed knitters all have their own style and this may not be true at ALL. But.. if you have to lay your work  down in the middle of a row and you are not sure which way to turn it to start up again, remember that the working yarn should be coming from the right-hand side of you work. I use this logic every single day, even when knitting things that it is obvious which is the right or wrong side of the fabric. Right is right. You can't go wrong with Right is Right.

Links to get you started:

Videos
Knitting 101 from New Stitch a Day  is a great series of 7 videos to teach the very basics.

But I would more recommend THIS  method of casting on (the long-tail cast-on) to the one they teach. However, either would work, I just think you will find the long-tail a better long-term usable cast-on. (Video by Pepperly)

Video + Illustrations
Craftsy is a great source to find both of these in one place:
Long-tail Cast-on
Knit Stitch
Purl Stitch
Binding Off

Photo-Tutorials
Long-Tail Cast-on
Knit Stitch
Purl Stitch
Binding Off

Don't stop at just these links, though. Do your own searches, click on related videos, explore the indexes in different sites. Look for keywords such as 'tutorials' 'learning' 'how-to' 'for beginners' and see all the wonderful things there are online to help you learn the best way you learn.


A few (free) beginner patterns 
Easy Garter Stitch Fingerless Mitts Knit all rows flat and seamed
Three Dishclothes 3 stitches that play with knit and purl to get different looks.
Several Beginner Scarves  Practice garter, simple ribbing and more
Sampler Scarf More playing with knits and purls for different looks. Includes written and charts.
Learn to Purl Washcloth This is a good chance to do stockinette since it has a garter border that will eliminate the typical curling of stockinette

So, on the next installment I will add some more tips about tools and techniques for when you're ready to try something more. After that you will probably be caught up to me, so you're on your own!

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