July 20, 2008

Knitting FAQ: Beginner Materials

Knitting FAQ index

"What materials are recommended for a beginner to get?"

The simple, albeit somewhat flippant answer, is that all you need are sticks and string. If you're stranded on a desert island, you can knit with grass and twigs. As long as you have something to make loops out of and something to make them on, you can start knitting. That said, some materials are easier for a beginner to work with than others.

Obviously there will be differences of opinion from one person to another about what it's best to start with. This is my own advice:

- Material: I recommend wood or bamboo. It's lightweight and not too slippery. Some prefer plastic needles for beginners because they're cheaper, which allows you to try out more sizes with less initial expense. Metal needles are your worst bet; they're heavier, which is hard on hands that haven't built up their knitting muscles yet, and the stitches are prone to slipping off.
- Type: Straight, single-point needles, not too long. Eleven inches is a good length. That's short enough to be portable, but long enough to make a nice wide scarf or a knit-flat hat. These will serve you well in beginner projects, and remain useful even when you're comfortable with other types.
- Size: Somewhere between 7 (4.5 mm) and 10 (6.0 mm). That's large enough that you can easily see and manipulate your stitches, but not so big that you end up with weird elongated knitting that doesn't look like the pictures on instruction sites.

- Fiber: Start out with something that has a bit of stretch to it. Wool is a very good bet; if wool is no good for you, test whatever fiber you choose by stretching out a length of it and see if it has some give. Non-stretchy fibers like cotton can be hard to work with and make your hands sore. On the other hand, a very stretchy yarn, like elastic-core sock yarn, is frustrating when you don't have a feel for your stitches yet. Avoid mohair; it sticks to itself, and gets threadbare fast if you unravel and reknit it.
- Weight: Worsted, also known as Aran -- around 12 wpi (wraps per inch) -- is a comfortable weight to work with on needles in the 7-10 range. It's a useful weight for scarves, hats, mittens, etc.
- Type: Choose a smooth, structurally solid yarn for your first few projects. Trust me on this. No novelty yarns; no fluff, fuzz, sparkles, dangles, loops, or lumps. You need to know what your stitches look like as you're learning, and that's just about impossible if your stitches look like a feather boa. Also, you'll probably be ripping back and starting over a few times, doing experiments and then unraveling them; a smooth yarn stands up to this treatment much better than a fuzzy or uneven one.
- Color: Yes, this matters. It's much easier to see what you're doing on light colors. I found this out the hard way. I was quite the goth when I was learning to knit, and my first few projects were all dark red, dark purple, or black; I got some spectacular headaches from this. No matter how deep your gloom, you can surely make a case for cobweb gray.
- Price: Do not get cheapo crap just because you're a beginner. I can't emphasize this enough. Pay the extra couple bucks and get something that looks and feels wonderful. Remember, this yarn will be in your hands and in front of your eyes for hours at a time. If you don't like to look at it or touch it, learning will be a chore instead of a pleasure.

Other items:
- Something to cut with: You don't need special knitting scissors, just normal ones. In a pinch I've used nail clippers, my pocketknife, or my teeth. You won't be doing a whole lot of cutting and it doesn't need to be fancy.
- Something to measure with: Again, nothing special, just something that will measure inches. (Patterns which give gauge in only one or the other invariably give it in inches; the rest give both inches and centimeters.) Since you'll be using this mostly for measuring gauge at first, one of those little plastic school rulers would be fine. Clear plastic quilting templates with a grid marked on them are especially useful and quite portable.
- Large-eye needles: Yarn needles or tapestry needles with a blunt point and an eye big enough to get your yarn through. You'll use this for weaving in the ends of the yarn. The blunt point is so you don't split your stitches.
- Crochet hook: Useful for a lot of things, like picking up dropped stitches, adding edgings, making provisional cast-ons, and weaving in your ends when you inevitably lose your yarn needle.
- Attitude: Easy does it. Everybody sucks at first. Everybody was a beginner once. Give yourself time to make mistakes and do experiments. Even when it doesn't feel like it, you're getting a little better with every stitch, I promise. :)


To discuss this question and answer, please comment on this post. To ask other questions, please comment on the FAQ index post. Hope it's helpful, and have fun knitting!


Walnut said...

Bit late posting this but I wanted to say thanks, this is extremely helpful~!! 8]

Jesse said...

Sweet! That's what I was hoping to hear! ^_^

Anonymous said...

Hey Jesse, Ren here! I wanted to know where I should drop the frog hat instructions.

I also have a knitting question: How do you recommend holding the needles? Not just finger and hand position, but also arm position and general posture. I had the damnedest time holding regular needles when I first tried knitting; they felt really awkward, too long and hard to find a good position for. Judging from your post their matieral (aluminum) had to be partly to blame since they did feel quite heavy, but since I taught myself I have a feeling I was missing something.

Jesse said...

Hiya Ren! If you don't mind the frog hat instructions being public, you could put them in a comment here or in RHQ. Otherwise -- you're on Ravelry, right? I'm Kastor there. You could PM them to me, that'd be awesome. And thanks! Woot, frog hat! I can't wait!

As for the needles, it sounds like they were too heavy and too long. I find metal needles and long needles pretty awkward myself, especially once there's a fair weight of knitting hanging on them. Try 11-inch or 13-inch wooden needles and see if that feels more comfortable.