If you’re looking to pick up a useful new hobby or want to use your extra time at home to learn a new skill, then knitting is a great option. Knitting is a timeless craft that has multiple health benefits. It can reduce stress, help treat addiction, prevent memory loss – and it’s practical, too.
Giving someone an item you’ve knitted yourself is a lovely present, and of course, once you’ve honed your skills, you can totally transform your wardrobe.
What’s even better is that it’s relatively cheap and easy to get started. As a beginner, all you need is some yarn and a pair of needles. So if you’ve never knitted before and would like to give it a go, here’s everything you need to know before you get those needles out.
1. Learn the basics of knitting
One thing that’s important to address right away is that everyone can learn to knit and you don’t need to have herculean dexterity. It’s quite common for people to give knitting a go before quickly abandoning it, believing they simply weren’t born with the crafting gene.
But if you’re trying a new activity for the first time, it’s normal to struggle. People don’t immediately start playing concertos the first time they touch a piano. As with anything, getting good at knitting takes a bit of patience and practise – but we promise it’s easier than you might think at first.
It’s useful to do some research before you start knitting – even before you buy any equipment. Until you know what type of things you want to knit, you won’t know which type of fabric and accessories to buy.
When doing your research, it may seem as though there are endless types of knitting, and it can be easy to feel overwhelmed. But, quite simply, there’s only one type of knitting – the act of creating and joining loops from a single piece of yarn to create fabric. That’s it.
The reason why beginners often think there are different types of knitting is because there can be lots of variation with stitch patterns, the type of fabric used, and even how the needles are held. But all knitting is based on two very simple stitches: the knit stitch and the purl stitch. Everything else, all the intricate designs and pretty patterns you come across, are just a combination or variation of those two stitches. And as you’ll see from looking at all the different things you can knit, this gives you far more variation than you might think.
Another thing you may notice when doing knitting research, whether that’s watching videos or reading articles, is that there are a lot of strange abbreviations used – and if you don’t know what they mean, it can make things more confusing than they need to be. Common knitting terms it’s helpful to know are:
● LYS – means “local yarn shop”.
● UFO – means “unfinished object” – basically a knitting project you start that sits around, half-knitted, until you finally give up on it. Scarves are one of the most common UFOs for beginners (more on that later!).
● DPNs – means double-pointed needles. You need these to knit small, round items like socks, and they can seem daunting because you need to work with at least four at a time. However, beginners shouldn’t worry about DPNs for now.
● Casting on – refers to looping the very first row of stitches onto the needle. This can sometimes be the hardest part of knitting!
● Casting off – when you get to the end of your knitting pattern and have to get the stitches off the needle without them unravelling.
● Row – when you’re knitting, the line of stitches that are already looped around each needle are called a “row”.
2. Purchase your yarn
Now you have an idea of knitting basics and know what you want to knit, the next step is to purchase your knitting essentials, and you can do this either by heading down to your LYS or by shopping online.
While your local yarn store might not have the variety of products as the vast and endless internet, it can be extremely helpful for beginner knitters to make the trip. This is because heading down to your local yarn store will give you the opportunity to ask the people that work there any questions you might have about knitting tools and materials, as well as get any tips and tricks from some seasoned experts.
Shopping for knitting tools and materials in person will also allow you to get a feel for what you’re buying before you part with any cash. For instance, you can touch the yarn and feel whether or not it’s good quality, and see if it feels right for the project you have in mind.
However, if you can’t get down to your local yarn store, don’t fret, because you can buy everything you need online. Some of the best UK sites for purchasing knitting paraphernalia are Tangled Yarn, Wool Warehouse, and Love Crafts. While it’s always better to be able to touch your yarn before you buy, these sites are well respected and will certainly make do.
But what type of yarn and needles should you buy?
Many people find themselves quickly developing a passion for the variety of different yarns available. There are so many beautiful colours and textures that it’s easy to want to buy them all. Traditionally, yarns were made from wool or silk, but these days, vegan yarns are increasingly popular.
Vegan yarns are made from animal-friendly fabrics like cotton, bamboo, linen, and hemp, and they have some great benefits. Aside from not pilling (going bobbly), shrinking, or felting (going matted), vegan yarns are longer lasting and have a lower environmental impact. If you want to go down the classical route, however, some of the most popular animal fibre yarns include merino, cashmere, alpaca and mohair.
Whichever type of yarn you choose, if you’re just starting out, it should be at least a medium-weight yarn, also known as “worsted weight”. The thinner the yarn, the harder it is to control. If you’re unsure about yarn weight, check out this helpful guide.
As tempted as you might be by some of the more luxurious yarns, remember that, as a beginner, you’ll probably make a few mistakes along the way… and mistakes are less painful when you’re not using really expensive yarn.
3. Purchase your knitting needles
Onto knitting needles now. Just like yarn, there are so many different types of needles available – straight needles, circular needles, interchangeable needles, double-pointed needles, cable needles … But, for now, you’ll just want either straight needles or circular needles.
Straight needles are usually easier for beginners as they can be positioned under your arm while you knit. However, they can only be used when knitting pieces that aren’t circular – so if you’re knitting socks, for example, you can’t use straight needles.
Circular needles require a little more dexterity but are far more versatile. If you’re agile with your fingers (a good way to figure this out is whether you’re good at using chopsticks) it might be worth getting circular needles. Otherwise, straight needles will be fine for the learning process.
But which material is best? There are needles made with everything from aluminium to casein (milk protein), but generally, wood or bamboo needles are best for beginners as they have a natural surface drag that helps grip the yarn. Plastic and metal needles, on the other hand, can be slippery, making it easier for stitches to slip off the ends. Do bear in mind, though, that while wood and bamboo needles are easier to work with for beginners, they’re more expensive than metal or plastic needles, so if you don’t want to spend the extra, opt for plastic needles.
Needles come in numbered sizes; the smaller the number, the smaller the needle (and the thinner the yarn). Sizes 2–4 are suited to thin fabrics or creating small, delicate stitches, sizes 5–10 are suited to light to medium fabrics, and size 11 and 12 are suited to medium to heavy fabrics.
Beginners will find thick needles much easier to grip and work with – and thicker needles work well with chunkier yarns, too. When you buy your yarn, be sure to read the label to see which size needles are compatible – you don’t want to start knitting only to find your needles are too small for your yarn. If you’re buying worsted weight yarn, needle sizes 6 to 9 will usually fit.
You don’t need to spend much on your first pair of needles, although it’s worth investing in some better quality ones once you know you’re going to stick with knitting. The reality of knitting is that you do often need to buy new needles for each new project when you’re starting out, so save your pennies for now and don’t spend a fortune until you know it’s something you enjoy.
It’s also worth mentioning here that you can buy pre-assembled kits of knitting materials: once you’ve chosen the item you want to make, you simply select the colour of the yarn and the type of needles you like, and they’re sent to you, along with clear directions for beginners.
Kits like these ones from We Are Knitters are more expensive than buying the materials yourself, but the quality can be OK and the material is specifically designed to go with the pattern, so it can remove a lot of the hassle of getting started, if you’re happy to pay a higher price.
4. Figure out how you’ll learn the different knitting skills
So now you’re all geared up, the next step is planning how you’re going to learn to knit. Your local yarn shop can often be a great place to start to find out which learning options are available nearby – and often these shops have their own classes you can attend.
For beginners who are willing to pay, there are also plenty of in-depth courses available online. The Centre of Excellence, for example, offers a Knitting Diploma Course that provides a good all-around digital learning experience and step-by-step guidance for students of all abilities.
If you’re on a tight budget and don’t want to pay, All Free Knitting has a great course for beginners. Simply download the beginner’s knitting booklet and move through the tutorials at your own pace: you’ll learn the knit stitch and the purl stitch, how to cast on and off, how to fix mistakes, and you’ll even be given your first knitting pattern (if you don’t already have one in mind). Alternatively, there are 11 excellent free knitting classes on Instructables that teach you how to make a ribbed scarf, a striped beanie hat, and a pair of cosy mittens.
YouTube also has a wide range of knitting tutorials, so if you don’t get on with either of the above, you could try one of these. Although it’s worth considering that if you’re serious about learning to knit and want to stick to it, having some structure and oversight can be enormously valuable. If this is the case, it might be worth paying to ensure you get the best instruction.
Alternatively, if you prefer learning from books, there are lots of excellent and informative knitting books out there for beginners and beyond. However, one of the best-reviewed books is the whimsically named Stitch ‘n Bitch: The Knitter’s Handbook by Debbie Stoller, which explains the art of knitting in simple, conversational language.
5. Get knitting!
The next step is to get knitting…You can, of course, knit whatever you like – but while a scarf seems to be the go-to first item to knit, we advise against it. Because of their length, scarves take a long time to finish, and any mistakes you make are obvious.
Many beginners give up on knitting simply because they get tired of working on a project that never seems to get any nearer to completion. So once you’ve mastered the knitting basics, we recommend knitting a hat. They’re finished in a fraction of the time, any errors are far less obvious, and since everyone wears a hat when it’s cold, they make great gifts too.
To properly progress with your knitting, you should try to set aside blocks of time to dedicate to learning, whichever method you chose. You might want to reserve the time after breakfast to read your new knitting book and have a go yourself – or maybe you’d rather use your evenings to watch tutorial videos from the sofa and try emulating them. Either way, try to reduce the number of distractions when you’re learning.
At this stage, it’s important at this stage to go easy on yourself. The chances are that you’re going to make mistakes while knitting – probably a fair few! And it’s unlikely that you’ll get the hang of it on your first try, or even your second, but it’s vital to keep at it.
The more you knit, the more your fingers get used to holding the needles, the feeling of knitting and purling, and casting on and off. It’s a muscle memory; the more you repeat any action, the more it becomes second nature. Once you get the hang of it, the knitting process can become quite meditative and very relaxing as your fingers move without you even thinking about what they’re doing.
If you’re struggling in these early stages and need encouragement, think back to when you first started driving. There was so much to think about and learn – finding the biting point on the clutch, figuring out when to change gears, doing a three-point turn, parallel parking, being aware of other drivers. Learning isn’t instantaneous, but once you practise enough, driving becomes second nature. Muscle memory takes over, and it’s the same with knitting. Once you’ve done it enough, you can do it on autopilot.
It might take a while to master, but knitting is a wonderfully soothing and rewarding hobby. Whether you want to knit jumpers for winter or pretty tea cosies to brighten up your kitchen, inspiration is all around you – and the better you get, the more knitting patterns you’ll have to choose from and the more refined the items you produce will be.
You can knit yourself a whole new wardrobe if you like, or be generous and knit for other people. As you’ll find out, there’s a unique joy in seeing a loved one wearing an item you knitted for them; it’s a very personal way of feeling connected to people.
If knitting doesn’t quite pique your interest, then we have a wide range of other creative skill guides on the learning section of our site. From photography and carpentry to macramé and origami, you’ll surely find something that you fancy getting stuck into.
Are you a knitter, have you recently taken it up, or have you gone back to it after a long time? We’d love to hear from you! Join the conversation over on the Rest Less community forum or leave a comment below.