The other day I had a thoughtful question from a blog reader, along the lines of “how do I get past the beginner stage of knitting, now that I’m ready to move beyond plain scarves?” Which is a pretty good question, and one to which there are many possible answers. (Also, in case this bears observation, if nothing else Stephanie’s recent travails with her Doctor Who scarf are a good reminder that moving to beyond-beginner projects doesn’t mean you abandon scarves altogether. Also also: scarves might be technically simple but they can demand a mammoth-sized amount of patience and perseverance. Technical skill isn’t all that gets things done around here, just saying.)
So, let’s say you’re there – you’ve done some time with scarves or other forms of plain rectangles or squares and want to move on, but aren’t really sure how to do it yet. If you have the advantage of having access to a Local Yarn Shop (LYS), this is always a nice place to start because they often have project recommendations or classes to peruse, or shop samples of knitted items to stare at and think about what you’d like to make next. If you don’t have the luxury of a nice LYS nearby, though, and are left mostly with your wits and a vague multi-directional sense of “I WANT TO KNIT THINGS,” then you’ve got a lot of options. Almost too much choice, in fact.
I would start here by acknowledging to yourself that almost everything is going to feel new to you – therefore, there really is no wrong choice here for what kind of project you decide to work on. A lot of people will tell you that a specific kind of project is the right choice – hats, for example, are very popular (they teach you about working in the round and decreasing, plus are fairly small), others would say dive right into socks (hand knit socks are eminently satisfying and teach you many similar skills to hats as well as the heel turn or short rows), and they might be right. The thing is, those people are only right if they are recommending a project that you yourself want to make.
The best possible choice you can make is to pick a project that you really want to knit – if you desire the finished object enough, then that will give you motivational fuel and excitement to keep going and learn the things you need to learn to make it. It’s true that stockinette hats in the round are going to require you to learn fewer new skills all at once than, say, a cabled pullover, but there are no rules here about what you must do. Knit as pleases you and see what happens.
I have only one proviso to the above, which is DO make sure you are capable of doing the following: Knit, purl, and at least one kind of cast-on and one kind of bind-off method. Every knitting project out there will require you to know these things – although if you stick to garter stitch only you can happily avoid purl stitches for as long as you like. Definitions of “beginner” and “non-beginner” vary almost as much as knitters themselves, but as far as I am concerned, if you can do those 4 things I list above, you are ready to move on.
Another fairly specific recommendation I have is DO set yourself up with at least one knitting reference manual that explains a variety of knitting techniques, cast-on and bind-off methods, finishing techniques, and so on, with helpful photographs for reference. I mention a few of them in this blog post, which I would still recommend, but there is also Stephanie’s Knitting Rules book for fun and perspective, Kate has two ‘beginner and beyond’ style knitting books, there’s Margaret’s Knitting Answer Book, Leslie’s book is nothing but cast-ons and bind-offs, and so on and so on.
The reason I suggest acquiring a physical manual (or e-book form if you prefer, if you find one with electronic versions), is that it is one of the best ways I can think of to combat the “I don’t know what I don’t know” situation that most of us find ourselves in at the beginning of any new pursuit. You can certainly find a whole host of knitting information out there on the web, via YouTube videos, in various magazine or company websites – and the more you knit and explore the knitting internet, you will discover these things. The trick there is that it is much easier to find this kind of information when you already know what it is you are looking for. If you don’t know what you’re looking for to begin with, it helps to have a collection of that information at arm’s reach. (Also: I like books. Hurray for books!)
What do you want to make next? Find an answer (or five) to this question and you will be all set. You don’t need to worry about what you might be able to make in a few months or next year or after you’ve learned X, Y, and Z, just worry about what you want to make now. Once you know what that thing is, narrow down what yarn and supplies and skills you’ll need to do it, possibly also track down a knitterly friend via web or physical space (“hi! I’ll buy you a latte/lunch/whatever you want if you’ll show me how to read a chart! Love and kisses!”), and go ahead and make it.
If you don’t know what you want to make, there are a lot of ways you can start to narrow down an answer. For starters, if you’re a member of Ravelry (it’s free if you’re not), take a few minutes with yourself and peruse the Advanced Pattern Search feature. (I blogged about this feature previously in this post, if you are curious for more). The wonderful thing about this feature is that it allows you to target your search by item (show me all the hats!), weight of yarn, construction, fabric characteristics (show me all the hats in bulky yarn with cables on them knitted in the round!), and it will vastly narrow the number of patterns you are choosing from. The pattern listings will tell you where/how the pattern is available, for how much, and so on.
You could also get ideas just by perusing your local newsstand or magazine rack – publications like Interweave Knits, Knitscene, Knit Simple, and many more, are often available right there on the shelf and you can see physically on the page what the item is and how complex the written instructions are, before you start to make it. The nice thing about magazine publications is also that they give you a variety of kinds of items – most will include some accessories, some garments, and one or two items for the home. They will also highlight a few articles on technique and knitter stories, which are always interesting to have around when you’re soaking up knowledge.
Other ways you can narrow down what you want to make:
-Something you want to wear
-Something you want to make as a gift
-Something you saw another knitter making and you wanted to make it too
-Something you saw in a store/movie and you wanted to make something similar
-Something to teach you a new skill that you want to learn (I must learn to knit in the round! I will find something made in the round!)
(You get the idea.)
Once you start making new things (do not be surprised if that one cabled hat leads to matching mittens, and a sweater that you saw in that one magazine so you decided to try it out for the hell of it, and maybe a little baby cardi because your nephew/kid/child you met once would look cute in it), the biggest challenge will be managing the new skills. Things you will likely start encountering once you move towards projects beyond a basic scarf will likely include some subset of the following:
-Working in the round, on either circular needles, double-pointed needles, or Magic Loop with a long circular
-Working increases and decreases
-Working with a charted pattern
-Sewing seams, such as the shoulders or sides of a sweater
-Working button holes
-Picking up stitches
-Executing cables, with or without a cable needle; Or any of a number of other specialized techniques including lace knitting, colour-work knitting, entrelac, beaded knitting, and so on. Within a single technique there will be enormous variation in level of difficulty, so try to see past the technique itself and consider how much of it is used in that project and how comfortable you are with it going in.
Mostly, remember that everyone is a beginner at something; Nobody is a master at everything. Also, nobody is perfect at everything, and we all get frustrated with our knitting at some point or another. If you have a moment of confusion or frustration or tearfully showing up at your friend’s door/running to the yarn shop/throwing yourself into a knitting class/hugging your confused cat while you figure out what you were doing wrong: congratulations, you are doing knitting correctly. We’ve all been there, and we have t-shirts.
Go forth and knit things, knitter friends! If you have a favourite tip for “beginner” knitters out there, please feel free to leave one in the comments. Catch you next time!