knitted shawl
Loose ends

5 things I learned knitting my way through the pandemic: tips for newbie knitters

As some of you may know, in the spring of last year, when all this pandemic business started, I picked up knitting. At the time, amidst lockdowns and uncertaintly of what the world was plunged into, I was still super busy with work, my PhD, and an intensive course in web development that I had just started. Between all of that I did not really have much time or energy to sew. But I needed to do something creative with my hands, so I decided to give knitting a go and have not really stopped since. My first project was Andrea Mowry’s Find Your Fade shawl (you can read more about it in this blogpost), and I’ve since made three more shawls, three sweaters and a few smaller projects. So I thought I’d share with you some things I’ve learned from this experience along the way.

Find Your Fade shawl
Find Your Fade by Andrea Mowry

1/ Don’t be afraid

My main emotion besides excitement when seeing knitting patterns I loved was fear – fear that they would be too difficult, involving techniques I didn’t know how to do. As soon as I came across Andrea Mowry, I adored The Daydreamer sweater, but I thought I could never make it, it looked so complicated! It is constructed bottom-up, involves some seaming, grafting, bobbles, all-over cables, German twisted cast-on…. I was convinced it would forever be beyond my knitting capabilities.

But really, besides the knit and purl stitch I knew absolutely nothing about knitting when I started, so why should unfamiliar techniques put me off? One huge plus of this day and age is that you can find tutorials for almost anything on YouTube, which is an enormous help if you’re a visual learner like me. So fast forward to now, when I have just finished this super complicated sweater, that in the end was not all that complicated. Starting it, I still did not know all that much more than how to knit and purl (I still look up a cast-on tutorial when I want to cast on even for a standard cast-on!), but I managed it anyway!

So when you’re deciding what to make, don’t be put off if it seems too difficult. There’s no point making plain stockinette sweaters if all you want is a fancy textured one. Yes, it probably should not be your first project, because you could easily get frustrated, but a second or third, why not? Like sewing, knitting is a huge investment of your time and money, so make what you want to make and wear! Just take it one step at a time and as an opportunity to learn new things. If you mess up, you can always frog it and start again!

The Daydreamer by Andrea Mowry

2/ Feel free to frog

This leads me nicely to my next point – frogging your projects. There are those I have trouble putting down and just want to keep knitting, and then there are those that have been lying around my apartment for months and knitting them is just not sparking joy for me. I have been thinking about the reasons why, and for me personally, it’s probably that the pattern either does not have enough elements to keep me interested (i. e. a plain raglan cardigan I’ve started in April) or it’s something I don’t really think I will wear (socks) – or rather a combination of both.

A few weeks ago Štěpánka, a wonderful sewing and knitting blogger, wrote that even though she does not enjoy leaving projects unfinished, she’s not a robot and knitting is her hobby and the beauty of it is that we don’t have to finish everything we start. Reading this, I found it very liberating and I totally agree. It helped me decide to frog that plain sweater and use the yarn for something else.

I think we often put pressure on ourselves to finish everything we start – both in our daily lives and in our making and it might feel like a failure if we don’t. So it’s important to realise that a hobby is something you just do for yourself, and if it’s not bringing you joy and the finished product won’t either, there’s no reason why you should feel bad for abandoning it, especially if the materials can be used for another project.

Zweig by Caitlin Hunter

3/ Gauge and needles are just a suggestion

All patterns usually contain suggested gauge and needles you should use to achieve correct measurements of the final product. Especially for garments, you should always gauge swatch, but you shouldn’t panic if you don’t get the exact same gauge. There are so many factors that influence it – the material your needles are made of, your tension, the yarn…

There are two possible solutions. You could try a different-sized needle. If you want to use the original needles because you like the fabric it produces or you want to use a different type of yarn, you can also do that. A bit of maths might be involved to determine if you need to go up or down with the size you have picked, but it’s not too difficult. There are even converters you can use to help, if you don’t want to do it yourself (for example this one). Also, usually stitch gauge is much more important than row gauge, as most patterns tell you to knit until e. g. the body measures X cms, so don’t worry too much about the row gauge.

However, knitting is a kind of magic, and I’ve learned through experience that even if you gauge swatch, the gauge in your actual garment might be different. For the Daydreamer I swatched in the round in pattern as suggested and got gauge, but the gauge on the sweater is a bit smaller. The scale of the project might have played a role, as well as that I may have been too wound up knitting it for various reasons, which might have influenced my tension :D. But as it’s oversized anyway, it doesn’t really matter. So your best bet is to always swatch and try your garment on as you knit, so that you can spot early if you’re way off.

Bloomington Morning by Lisa K. Ross

4/ Get inspired

One thing that was putting me off knitting for a long time was the assumption that there is nothing out there to suit my style and that hand-knits look kind of frumpy. But modern knitting designers go with the trends and there is something for everyone. Just explore Ravelry or some knitting hashtags on Instagram and you’re bound to find something to your taste. Some of my favourite knitting designers are Andrea Mowry, Cailtlin Hunter, or Anna Johanna, but there are many more. Also, if you cannot afford to splurge on knitting patterns, Ravelry is full of great free patterns too.

Also, don’t be afraid of changing some elements of the pattern according to your taste. If you don’t like a long ribbed cuff, make it shorter. If you don’t like wide sleeves, make them narrower with decreases (that’s what I did with my Zweig sweater). A cropped sweater can easily be lengthened. If you don’t want to take the time with a complicated cast-on or cast-off, just substitute for your favourite one. The sky is the limit.

Wool & Honey by Andrea Mowry

5/ Spend your money wisely

Entering the world of knitting can be overwhelming. There are not just thousands of beautiful patterns to choose from and hundreds of gorgeous yarns, but a wide selection of different needles and various knitting gadgets and accessories. It may feel like you need it all right at the start, but you really don’t. For my first project, I just bought the yarn, the needles required, a row counter, and a set of plain cheap stitch markers.

Since then, I’ve only added a tapestry needle to my collection for weaving in ends and a few more pairs of needles (besides acquiring a bit of a yarn stash, but that’s a different story :D). The only fancy knitting gadget I bought is a set of The Knitting Barber cords, which make it super easy to slip your stitches onto when you’re separating for sleeves or when you just want to try your knits on and then slip them right back onto your needles. I definitely recommend those!

Regarding the needles, I know needle sets might seem tempting, but I recommend buying needles individually, because when you’re staring out, you don’t really need a whole set, and might also want to try a few different types before finding out your favourite ones. It depends on what you like to knit, but so far I’ve made do with 4 or 5 different sizes, so a set wouldn’t make much sense.

I hope you found it at least a little bit useful. Happy knitting!

If you wanted to check out my Ravelry page, you fan find it here.

Until next time,

Magda

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