How to Become a “Good Knitter”

From time to time, I’ll have a conversation with someone in which I tell them how long I’ve been knitting (two years this month) and they’ll be surprised.  Apparently the diversity and complexity of my projects are out of line with the way most people learn to knit.  The thing is, anybody can do what I did.  I’m not special, I don’t have any kind of secret knitting mojo, I didn’t learn knitting at my grandmother’s knee as a toddler, and I’m not channeling the ancient knitters of my homeland.  I came to knitting for the first time at 34, I learned out of a book, and very nearly everything I know about knitting I learned from books, YouTube videos, and podcasts.  I spent a few months crocheting first.  That’s all.

Here’s what I did, and you can do it too.

Pile of yarn

I love my stash.

1.  Knit what you love, and love what you knit – EVEN WHEN YOU’RE LEARNING.

I’ve never knit a garter-stitch scarf.  In fact, I’ve only ever completed two scarves and one of them was child-length.  There are no knitting police, and there are no requirements for number or type of projects completed before you can do something “more interesting.”  For me, scarves are boring, and I don’t like them, so I don’t knit them.  You don’t have to knit them either.  Knit hats, or mittens, or toys, or dishcloths.  (If knitting scarves makes your heart sing, go right ahead – but I doubt you need my permission.)   It doesn’t matter what you knit, even as a beginner; what matters is that you LOVE it.  Get some beautiful yarn that makes you happy to look at and touch, pick a pattern that you can’t wait to wear or use, and enjoy yourself.  The act of learning to knit is frustrating enough without anything else getting in your way.  Unless you genuinely like the look of a garter-stitch scarf, skip it.  Make something else.

Elizabeth Zimmerman suggests a hat as a first knitting project, because it will teach you to knit, purl, increase, and decrease, which are the basic skills you’ll need to make pretty much anything.  I’m inclined to agree.  Hats are also great first projects because they’re small – even as a brand-new knitter, you can finish a hat in a couple of days – and they don’t take a lot of yarn, so you can buy one fantastic skein that you’re in love with.

2.  Knit every day.

Knitting is a physical skill, just like learning to write, or ride a bicycle, or cook an omelette.  The way to get good at it is to make your body do it as often as possible.  If you have a knitting lesson, and you put your needles down and don’t pick them up for a week, you’re going to spend half the time trying to re-learn the motions you’d figured out.  Even if you can only knit a row on your project, make sure you knit that row before you go to bed.

The fantastic thing about knitting is that it’s very portable, and fits easily into small chunks of your day.  Knit a couple of rows while you wait for your coffee to brew.  Knit on the bus, or the train, or while your significant other is driving.  Take ten minutes out of your lunch hour.  If you’re the kind of person who collapses on the couch to watch TV for a couple of hours before bed?  TV is a great background for knitting. (Do you really need to watch American Idol?  Wouldn’t it be vastly improved if you were only mostly listening to it and looking up occasionally?)  Make your kids brush their teeth for as long as you’re knitting a row.  I do all these things (except the tooth-brushing, because I don’t have kids, but it’s a great idea anyway, isn’t it?  Also I don’t watch American Idol, but my fiance likes to watch terrible movies and court shows, and my patience with them is much greater when I have something else to work on).  Other places that are awesome to knit include sports arenas, airports (and yes, you can take your needles on the plane), classrooms, meetings, waiting rooms, interminable ceremonies (graduations, for example), and movies.  How many hours of your life do you spend waiting for something else to happen, or someone to finish something?  Well, now you have something to do while you’re waiting.

It takes 10,000 hours to master something, and you’ll get a head start on that mastery with ten minutes here and an hour there.  My point is, you have time.  Do it every day.

3.  My personal philosophy is, “It’s just yarn, and yarn isn’t hard.”

(Yarn is generally soft, in fact.)  I also call this the “illiterate foremothers” rule, or “If my illiterate foremothers could figure this out, then I can, too.”  I’m pretty smart.  I have a college degree.  Hell, I can tie my shoes, and bake cookies, and operate a motor vehicle.  This knitting thing?  I totally got this.

And for days when you don’t have it, you can always do it over.  (Ask me how many times I’ve redone a cast-on because I can’t count.)  With knitting, unlike life, you have an almost unlimited number of do-overs.  (Eventually you’d probably have to replace your yarn.)  If you make a mistake, or don’t like the way something looks, you can pull it out.

4.  Challenge yourself.

The reason I’ve never made a garter-stitch scarf?  I’m easily bored.  If something bores me, I don’t finish it.  So for me, a big part of my knitting is diversity and challenge.

At this point, I have made socks, designed hats, and improvised dishcloths.  I’ve done colorwork, double knitting, cables, and lace.  I’ve seamed, picked up stitches, and swatched.  I’m currently knitting my first sweater and my first laceweight project.  I’m always looking for something new and different to make, and I don’t think I’ve ever looked at a project and decided that it was too hard.  (It’s just yarn, after all.)  I haven’t done Fair Isle or entrelac yet, but they’re on my bucket list.

Now that I’m a more seasoned knitter, I’ve discovered that I like to have projects of multiple levels on my needles – the complicated lace that takes most of my focus or the cabled mitts I can only do a line at a time; the socks I’ve memorized the pattern for that I can knit without the chart; the cardigan that is miles of stockinette. (Miles of stockinette is good for the movies, for example.)  All of these things have a place in my knitting life.

As a knitter, though, nobody has to give you permission to progress, and you don’t even have to have a certain number of XP before you level up.  If you find yourself out of your depth – well, it’s just yarn, right?  You can always rip it out.  The thing about knitting is that there are just two stitches.  Everything else is variations on a theme.

Nothing is really hard, guys, and it’s only as scary as you let it be.  My second project was a pair of twisted-rib socks.  (They even fit me.)  After that, I immediately plunged into cables.  Don’t be afraid to try new things.

5.  Get involved in your community.

The knitting community, that is.

The reason I was able to learn all these techniques is because of all the other knitters out there who took the time out to put together tutorials, offer tips and tricks, and talk about their own knitting disasters.  I’ve read lots of knitting books and magazines, but I think my best source for information are the wealth of knitting podcasts out there.  Gigi and Jasmine of The Knitmore Girls podcast, who are both extremely experienced knitters, have a segment called “When Knitting Attacks!” where they talk about mistakes they’ve made or problems they’ve had.  Their willingness to talk about their mistakes has given me the strength to persevere through mine, teaching me that there’s no shame in ripping back.  I’ve also learned a ton about knitting, spinning, and tailoring by listening to them.  Abby and Ben of the Knit Knit Cafe podcast inspired me to try designing.  I regularly listen to probably a dozen knitting-related podcasts, by international knitters of varying skill levels, and I learn so much.  Knitting is so varied and widespread, everyone who’s been knitting more than a couple of days has something to teach.

Ravelry also provides a lot of interaction for me, not only through patterns and yarn information but also the various forums. Every time I’ve had a question I couldn’t find an answer to, I’ve been able to find people on a Ravelry forum who could help.  I’ve also learned a lot from watching people answer questions that I haven’t had to ask yet.

There are professional knitting DVDs out there (Lucy Neatby‘s are highly recommended), and if you’re a people person, there’s also the resources of your local and online yarn stores, and local and distant fiber festivals, retreats, and camps.

When in doubt, though, Google is your best friend.  (Immediately followed by other knitters.  Other knitters are awesome people.)

So there you have it.  Do what you love, do it every day, keep trying new things, and don’t be afraid to ask for help.  It’s how I did it.

~ by Amber on May 31, 2012.

5 Responses to “How to Become a “Good Knitter””

  1. Great list. It definitely helps if you can count though! 🙂

    • Counting is helpful! Being able to consistently count while doing something else is harder than expected. Stitch markers are one of my favorite tools for that reason. 🙂

  2. Good advice! I’m off to practice 🙂

  3. Thank you for this, it really gave me the boost I needed. As a new knitter, I was wondering if it was just me or if everyone starts the same way. Thanks so much!!

  4. I’m new at knitting, my stockinet stitch, purl stitch looks ok. My edge stitches are loose and sloppy looking. I get frustrated about my edges and put my knitting needles down. HELP!!!!

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