Knitting is one of those social hobbies that most people don’t learn from a book when they’re first starting out. Usually what happens is you see someone else knitting and think “Huh. I wonder if I could do that – it looks kinda fun.” And you either go ask that person to show you a little of what they’re doing or attend some kind of official event and have someone teach you there later.
I knit in public fairly often, so this happens to me a lot. I’ll talk with the person about how anyone can knit and no, it’s not as complicated as you can fool people it is, and hopefully when they leave they head straight to a yarn shop. ::grin:: Sometimes a person even has time to sit down and go through a few stitches with me. But what happens then? How do you actually get started? Here’s a few things to keep in mind when picking out your first project or guiding someone else choosing one.
- Make something for yourself. A lot of people starting out pick a project that they plan on giving away as a gift when they’re done. It makes sense, after all many people knit specifically to have the ability to make awesome homemade gifts for others. That’s great, however I would argue that for your first project, you should make something just for you. There’s a couple of reasons for this. First, it’s a lot easier to get excited about finishing a project if you’re looking forward to wearing it. If you’re just laboring under the burden of “it has to be done by Christmas”, it’s easy late October when you’re struggling with a section you’ve ripped out 3 times to just decide to buy something for them instead, and toss the project somewhere never to be seen again. Second, if you’re knitting for yourself, you know it’s something you’re going to like. Nothing is worse than presenting a gift that took you hours and hours to complete to someone who puts it in a drawer and never wears it. And if you try to cut that problems off at the head by asking the person what they want knitted first, they will almost always choose a very boring pattern that you will really get tired of knitting, because they don’t knit and don’t understand what yards of stockinette can do to a person. And you’ll end up resenting the gift and maybe even the person. (I’m not saying never knit for other people, just that it can be frustrating and is usually better reserved for a second or third project, once you’ve had the thrill of making something all the way through.)
- Don’t make a garter stitch scarf. I know that most people want to start out with an easy project, and yes there’s no easier pattern than the traditional knit-only scarf. But that’s not really knitting. Not the kind of knitting that made you want to start this hobby, anyway. I don’t have a problem with garter stitch, it’s just that it’s kinda boring to do for long periods of time. And in order for a scarf to be the length most people want it, you’ll have to do garter stitch for a pretty darn long time, especially if you choose a skinny little yarn (see below).
In fact, I’d say picking a scarf in general will probably be a bad idea. Just too long to make. Why not start with a great bag, a Christmas stocking (if you’re not afraid of heels), a dishcloth, a potholder, a vest, a wrap or a hat? Ok, I’ll admit that I did make a scarf for my first project (but a patterned one that was about half-length), but right after that I made a sleeveless sweater. (followed by about 20 hats for various friends…)
- Pick a yarn you love, on the bulky side. It’s easy to see that if you’re going to be working with a yarn long enough to finish a project, you’re going to want it to be something you really love to work with. Everyone has different tastes here of course, but just keep in mind a few things: 1) You *never* have to use the color or yarn that is shown in the pattern. Ask your friendly Local Yarn Store people to help you out with substitutions – they can do any scary math for you if you don’t want to work it out yourself. 2) You probably will not find the perfect yarn at Walmart. Make an investment and splurge for the good stuff – a lot of the yarns that look cool at a discount store can be a nightmare to work with. And 3), you really want to start with a pretty thick yarn. Some people love wool. I’m a cotton fan myself, but go with something that feels good, isn’t full of sequins or fake fur or something, doesn’t shed or pull (think mohair), and is at least worsted weight. Big yarn is easy to work with and helps you finish your project quickly.
- Use needles you never want to put down. Some people love the feel of those cheap metal needles you can find anywhere and adore that “clacking” sound they make. I am not one of those people, however, and chances are good that you aren’t either. Don’t let nay-sayers scare you off by saying that the metal ones are the easiest to use – yes, the yarn slips on and off them easily, but sometimes that’s a bad thing. Using needles that catch a little, like wooden ones, can also teach you not to cast on/knit so tightly, which is something every beginner struggles with. I love wooden needles, both hardwood and bamboo, but I also know people who swear by the flexibility of plastic, so find something that appeals to you.
Basically, just remember why you want to do this – knitting is fun. That’s really it, right? So if that’s the goal, just to have fun, there’s no reason to waste time on projects, yarn or needles that you don’t enjoy. Your first project is not a chore to get through, but an experience to be savored. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.